According to the rather sparse manual which came packed with my copy of Ninja Golf, the player assumes the role of an individual who has trained for 10 years to be a ninja and now must face the final test in becoming a master ninja. The test? That's right - nine holes of ninja golf. And, after completing the nine holes of golf, the player must face his master in a final battle.
Odd concept, to be sure, but this game is surprisingly enjoyable. At the start of the game, the player sees the overhead view of the first hole and must simply select his trajectory and shot power to hit the ball. The golf aspect of the game is very simple and the player has no ability to select clubs, account for wind or any of that other stuff we expect from golf games. Once the ball is hit, the view switches to a side-scrolling screen in which the player fights ninjas, giant frogs (?) and mud-throwing gophers (?!?) on his way to where his ball has landed on the fairway (or, at least, we hope it's landed on the fairway).
Attacking, like the golf aspect of the game, is very simple. The player can use one button to jump (very, very slowly, by the way) in order to avoid attacks while the other is used to either kick or fling a throwing star. Throwing stars are rather hard to come by, and will be thrown at an enemy when he's too far away to kick. Unfortunately, calculating distances is difficult, so it's easy to get rid of a hard-to-find throwing star when you want to kick. The joystick is used to move right and left and to crouch. Ninja's will show up on the right or left of the screen and will attempt to impede the player as he goes toward his ball for the next shot. Oddly, the mud-flinging gophers are more lethal than the enemy ninjas.
Scenery will change when the player is going across, say, a sand trap or a water obstacle. In sand, the player must deal with snakes as well as enemy ninjas. In water, the player has to deal with sharks. In all of the "fighting" screens, the player has a health meter of which he must be mindful - run out of health, you get a new ninja unless, of course, you're on your last one.
Once the player manages to get his ball on the green, does he putt it in? No! The player must toss throwing stars at a fire-ball spitting dragon in order to complete the hole.
As for graphics, the colors are bright and everything is well-defined. The overhead view of the hole is very simple, and fighting screens in which the player faces enemies on the way to his ball are rigidly two-dimensional. In the fighting screens, bonus items such as extra health, invulnerability shields and throwing stars are easy to spot and grab. The most visually-impressive screen is the one in which the player faces a dragon. It looks three-dimensional, and the large dragon is drawn quite well, even if he looks very static.
The sound is nothing to write home about. There's a nice snake-charmer's ditty which plays when the player is fighting through a sand trap. However, the rest of the game is restricted to grunts, whooshing fireballs and other simple noises.
Controls, while a bit stiff, is pretty good, too. The slow jumps the player can take make timing difficult, and it's too easy to toss a throwing star when you just want to kick at an enemy. However, the controls won't get in your way of completing the game.
The difficulty level, however, can prevent you from completing the game. Even the easiest level is a challenge and you'll do well to get through all nine holes and to the final battle. Fortunately, the game is humorous enough so that you'll feel compelled to complete it at least once.
All in all, this game should be horrible, but it's very entertaining. The golfing and fighting elements of the game are very simple, and the game gets a bit repetitive after a time. Still, perhaps the very originality of the title carries it well enough. Whatever the reason, Ninja Golf is a worthy addition to any 7800 library and it's one of those games I like to break out and play every now and again.