Posted By Robert H. about 10 months ago
More than once over the course of this series, I’ve talked about games that are generally considered to be underrated. Despite the contradiction inherit to that description, there are some games that are accepted by the gaming community at large as not being as popular or well-known as they probably deserve. However, I’ll really be delving into the pits of obscurity, at least here in North America, with Mystical Ninja starring Goemon for the N64. Despite the popularity of the Legend of the Mystical Ninja series in Japan, I’ve rarely, if ever, met anyone who remembers or even knows about this particular gem myself and, considering the quality, that’s really a shame. The game had very enjoyable, Zelda-like gameplay, a really good sense of humor, and was simply a very fun experience on the whole. While I could probably talk about almost any dungeon in the game and still represent the game perfectly, I find the best example to be the Gourmet Submarine Castle.
At first glance, the name seems like word salad, but it actually perfectly fits the area. All dungeons in the game are called castles and, to put it as simply as possible, this particular location is a submarine filled with giant Japanese food. Mountains of rice covered in seaweed dot some rooms with floating plates of sashimi or bowls of udon soup serving as moving platforms. Even a good amount of the swimming sections in the sub, expected due to the underwater location, has you actually swimming through miso soup instead of seawater. The look is just plain strange, but the combination of a full-course meal and the tight, metal corridors of the submarine works surprisingly well. The designers really went all out to make the odd blend generate constant interest and, as a result, it’s exciting to see what’s in more or less every single room, even the more standard fare.
The setting also fits with the overall aesthetic the game presents due to the ridiculous nature of the game’s humor. Practically everything is played for laughs and all the dungeons, barring the first castle, are silly in their own ways, such as Ghost Toys Castle being full of various gigantic games like huge jump ropes and an enormous billiards table. As such, a submarine with overly large cuisine is most definitely not out of place and, unlike other castles, even had its contents directly hinted at with some comments in the nearby town about some food being stolen. Due to the relatively low number of dungeons, sitting at five if the final one is counted as well, there was a fair amount of buildup to each. However, this was the only one where there was an idea of what to expect inside, and those tiny hints made the eventual payoff that much more satisfying.
As there are four main dungeons in the game and four characters you can eventually switch between, each with their own unique abilities and items, each dungeon has a tendency to correspond to a particular character. This isn’t to say that the other characters go unused, as every dungeon has separate obstacles that require a unique ability to overcome, but the focus is obviously placed on a particular person. In this case, as the other three party members have already had their time in the limelight, the spotlight must go to the female ninja Yae and the dungeon does a great job of both requiring a full usage of Yae’s current abilities and expanding her arsenal of skills for more viability in combat.
Even entering the dungeon requires Yae’s abilities, as, being a submarine, the entrance is deep underwater. The other three party members can only swim on the water’s surface, but due to some exploring and trials undertaken in the surrounding areas, Yae has gained the ability to transform into a mermaid. Subsequently, you need to use Yae to dive down to the sea floor and swim into the submarine, as well as periodically swim through flooded areas that would be otherwise impassable. Considering the main focus on platforming and the ranged nature of a fair few enemies in the sub, Yae is also a good choice for regular exploration, as her jump is one of the cleanest in the game and her sword shield ability allows her to block enemy bullets fired at her. Unfortunately, Yae has no way to deal ranged damage herself … upon first entering the dungeon.
As you progress through the floors and corridors, you will inevitably come across the Yae Bazooka, stashed away in a small side room. Being the final weapon to find in the entire game, it has to both be a good item in its own right and worth the wait. Happily, the bazooka fulfills both of those conditions. The Yae Bazooka finally gives Yae the ability to attack from a distance and, to make it even better, has a lock-on function that shoots three bullets at once to really destroy the opposition. Additionally, the bazooka packs some significant strength to it, being the most powerful ranged weapon in the game, barring a literal charged money shot from the titular Goemon. Best of all, despite the fact that, like other weapons in the game, the Yae Bazooka is never truly required for anything and could never be used if the player didn’t want to, it still manages to be an incredibly useful and helpful item. It’s refreshing to see an unavoidable item not be a forced necessity and I was always personally happy when I found it, as that made my favorite character the most versatile of the bunch, at least in my eyes.