Ok, let’s begin!
Wrath of the Black Manta (WBM) was published by Taito in 1990 for the NES and was released in Europe the following year. Japan has its own version of WBM called Ninja Cop Saizou which was developed I think either by A.I Co., Ltd or by Kyugo Boueki in 1989. The reason for the discrepancy is that when researching it I would frequently get A.I Co., Ltd as the developers but Kyugo Boueki would sometimes be listed as publisher and developer occasionally. I suspect since A.I Co., Ltd has a longer listed history of developing games that it probably is the developer of Ninja Cop Saizou and Kyogo Boueki is or was a local games publisher at the time. That being said Taito is also credited for publishing it in Japan so it’s quite confusing as to where Kyogo Boueki fits in if it does at all. Regardless of this, Ninja Cop Saizou has quite a few differences such as a whole extra level with the extra boss, a different electrical entity boss rather than the Voodoo Warrior, cutscenes in the manga style as well as fighting an Alien mastermind for the final boss. There are also other differences in the music, sprites as well as a boss gauntlet at the end of Ninja Cop Saizou. Which I’m rather glad isn’t in WBM as I find Boss gauntlets just infuriating as a concept. I’d much rather fight the same boss with different abilities then fight the same five bosses I’ve already defeated. There is probably also quite a difference in the story between the two but I can’t know that for sure as I can’t read Japanese.
I’ll let the manual do the talking first.
“Crime and kidnapping grips New York City. Alone figure leaps out from the shadows and grabs an unsuspecting informant from DRAT (Drug Runners And Terrorist). Stricken with fear, the poor fool stares into a pair of cold blue eyes. This mysterious hero is no ordinary crime fighter. His name sends cold shivers up the meanest criminal's spine. Criminals beware - BLACK MANTA is on your tail.
WRATH OF THE BLACK MANTA consists of five levels. Each level is completed when the player defeats the criminals and their leaders. You must defeat the drug lord and rescue his prisoner to win the game.”
Okdoky back to me this is actually a rather basic outline of the beginning of the story and the game itself offers much more in the actual story throughout as does the manual, though not in the story section. I’d argue that this manual goes a bit too far in describing all the story, as there are some nice investigation bits giving you clues to the wider picture within the game. The manual though has a level description section that briefly synopses the plot of each level.
“LEVEL ONE: New York City
Black Manta receives a telephone call in the middle of the night from his aging Master. What’s going on? The city streets and underground sewers hold kidnapped kids and terrible whispers of an international conspiracy. Just who is Tiny anyway?”
This is basically what happens in that level Black Manta gets the call that Taro, the Masters current student, has been kidnapped. They, Black Manta and his Master, have suspected that these missing person reports were more than they seemed. Thanks to Taro though it seems they have their first solid clue in the form of a note that Taro left behind before he was taken. Black Manta begins a search of the streets by the waterside as the note instructs. During his investigation, Black Manta squeezes members of the gang for information and releases kidnapped hostages initially all kids. As the story goes on you begin to find out that it’s all about drugs. This is also when you start noticing the not too subtle PSA from Black Manta as he straight-up asks one of the kids if they’ve done drugs and then tells the kid drugs are bad and don’t use them. It’s very on the nose but it does tie into DRAT’s plans as they are using these kids to push their goods onto the streets so it’s not completely unjustified. Just reminds me of the Batman PSA that Adam West did for the UK, though that one wasn’t about drugs but about crossing the road safely. Just the way Batman and Black Manta both look on the screen I guess.
Anyway, the rest of the story follows thusly. The Black Manta journeys around the world, after DRAT, fighting 5 bosses such as Tiny, a giant, yep not too original I imagine even back then. The Voodoo Warrior, aka the “breaded Voodoo Warrior”, if you're going off the back of my box cover, looks to me like the ghost of Worzel Gummidge. The ninja clan which is just 3 ninjas that turn into 4 angry totem heads, 3 walking robots and finally “The Boss” who I might stress that you never find out his name. At least I don’t think you do as I seem to remember one bit where someone calls him by El Toro which really confused me as it’s one letter different from Taro but no, these two are definitely both separate as El Toro uses Taro like a human shield in the final encounter. El Taro, by the way, translates into “The Bull” from Spanish to English if you didn’t already know that. El Taro is defeated after you perform 4 ninja techniques which 4 doesn't really matter as long as they are 4 different ones. This, by the way, is hinted to you via a note found in the level. I have no idea if you can defeat this boss by brute force and I’m not going to spend the next 4+ hours finding it out after getting to the end.
In WMB there are a variety of interesting ideas as it dabbles with investigation mechanics, in the form of interrogation and searching for clues. There are elements of an RPG as you unlock techniques, and are able to choose your loadout of them. Another RPG element is the ability to power up your character by finding in world items thus making your ninja techniques more powerful. The ninja techniques themselves provide a range of attacks and allow for some creative thinking when dealing with the bosses and the enemies in general. One such technique which I’m just going to call “Shadow Clone” for that’s what it does is very effective against Tiny. There's side-scrolling beaten up sections along with flyings side-scrolling shooter section as well as a pseudo-first-person shoot'em up sections in the last level. This all allows WMB to have a fair share of variety to it allowing the game to stave off becoming stale in the first 10 minutes unlike a lot of old side scrollers. That’s not to say you won’t get tired of it because although there is variety here it is quite shallow but it’s nice to have and extends the entertainment value for me well into the 3-hour mark on my initial playthrough.
Sprite design in WBM is nice with some of it being quite colourful and distinct. You can tell pretty much what everything is at a glance, that's a henchman, that's a robot, that's the tortured spirit of an iconic TV character. Well, most things you can tell what's what. I don’t know if this is a homage or just laziness on the part of the designers but one of the cutscenes where you integrate the DRAT informer is a straight-up copied image from “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buscema. The image, in particular, is of a moustachioed villain face.
This is a minor Pro but WMB is not what you would call a typical, hard as adamantium, NES game. Don't get me wrong here it is hard, just not near unbeatable like some of the games in the NES library. You know the games I’m talking about. The ones where a cheat code for life seems to be less of a cheat and more of a standard move you have to perform in order to actually progress in the game. WBM is actually a game that is quite complete-able with some practice and a good understanding of the ninja techniques you need in order to make the level that bit easier to cope with. In fact, you can actually farm life and lives in the game by going in and out of rooms that spawn DRAT members. They come in a rather predictable pattern so once you’ve got the pattern down you can quite happily stack the level in your favour. That isn't to say though that WBM doesn't have some annoying methods to increase its difficulty which I’ll get into in the Cons.
It’s hard to nail down specifically what comes across as a Con for WBM. There isn’t really a single overriding major problem with the game but a slew of knit picks that pester overtime to frustrate your enjoyment of the game. The worst I would say of these is when you come back after having lost a life. In the game, you have quite a generous health bar allowing you to take, when full, about 5 to 6 hits. However, when you come back you never have a full life bar only half of one meaning that it only takes three hits to kill you. Now you're all saying to me that it's fairly standard of a platformer to be three hits and over but this is the thing, when I’m on the ground it’s never been a problem. I've usually always managed to get the health back and I can usually get enough points to recoup the life. It’s the flying sections though that I really struggle with, for one you’ve got to get a glider. To get a glider you have to steal it off another ninja, which I’m telling you is not easy if you don’t have the right ninja technique as once the ninja gets knocked off you have to grab the damned thing before it floats off into the never space that is the screen boundary. Once you're on the glider then things get simpler as you move to side-scrolling shooter and that’s when you realise two incredibly annoying factors in the game that previously didn’t seem so much of a big deal on the side-scrolling beat’ em-up sections. The controls are ever so slightly delayed not by much but it's noticeable. On the ground, this isn’t usually a problem in the first level as most enemies die with a single hit but in the flying sections, your enemies come faster at you and take at least three hits to kill with a standard attack so the delay gets very frustrating as you mistime your positioning and firing. Now I want you to know this, you can kill your flying adversaries in one shot. You just have to use a power shot which you have to charge increasing the delay.
It became apparent to me, after my first death, that I would need to remember exactly where these ninjas came flying into the screen and then charge my shots accordingly. Difficult to do when factoring in two sets of delays but what really frustrated me was now I have only two chances to screw it up because on the third one, well that’s it you’ve lost a life. As a result, I’d either lose most of my lives or all of them to these annoying flying sections thankfully there are only two.
Other than that the only other gripe I have about this game is the final boss, El Toro. He’s kind of disappointing. Yes, you have to use all four of your ninja techniques to finish him but all he really is on screen is a mob boss using Taro as a human shield while his head magically produces balls of destructive orange energy. He’s not really animated, looks rather cowardly and his colour scheme is rather dark and monotone. I’d say that really, I’d prefer the Alien end boss in Ninja Cop Saizou. Yes, it’s silly but at least it's memorable, This on the other hand just kind of seems half-assed.
Nerd O Metre Rating
High 3 out of 5
WBM is a game that’s trying it’s best to get you to like it by giving you a variety of gameplay whilst at the same time giving you a superhero ninja story. I have to credit WBM’s western esthetic choices for the cutscenes over the original Ninja Cop Saizou as the cutscenes may have been more animated but they are way more goofy and cartoonish. That said I don’t like all the choices that WMB made, such as removing a level, a whole other boss and leaving us with a rather forgettable final boss fight. Although the variety is plentiful in the game it’s all very shallow and not one thing is done particularly well, as I say the variety in the game feels like a desperate attempt to keep you distracted from all the minor problems. This does work for a time but once you're into your second or third hour you start to realise that the game is not all that complex and even the fighting beat’em up sections start to get a bit old hat. I’d say that the best part about the game is the ninja techniques as they do provide some proper real variety to the game where your choice of technique loadout can make all the difference when facing the level and boss ahead of you. Is WBM good, I would say if nothing else it's really, really trying hard and at no point did I feel as though this game was just average so even with the shallow gameplay variety and minor irritations and flaws, I have decided to give WBM a High 3. If the game had taken to focusing along a narrower path such as the investigation side or the RPG aspects of the ninja techniques then this may have been a standout game but as it is, it’s just a fun time-waster instead.