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NES Obscurity Quicky!

This week I decided to check out a very early NES game called...
I'd seen a few pictures of it online, but hadn't heard much about how it actually works.
It turns out it has some neat ideas, but enemies often appear from the edge of the screen and kill you before you can react. However, it has an incredibly bizarre ace up its sleeve that would make Raid on Bungling Bay (and its famous creator) green with envy!
Basic Game Play:
Well, to choose your next action-level, your ninja verrrry slowly walks around a map like the one below:
Notice how I said "LIKE the one below;" though Level 1's trees, forest and the two yellow buildings are in the same place each time, the location of the white Skull Temples changes every time you play...even the design (the little skulls/candles/doors/teeth on the white picture on the map) is different. Hmm.
Anyway, you walk around until you collide with a Skull Temple, then you're taken to one of four different kinds of levels, which I'll talk about later. With one exception, they're basically infinitely side-scrolling multi-tiered platform things, and your character looks a little something like this:
In each level, you have to gather/kill/ignite a set number of things. Periodically different weapons/power-ups appear at random, as do dozens of different point-icons.
Shockingly, not only do your extra weapons fire in addition to your basic shot, but you can carry as many extra weapons as you want. You can use the "select" button to switch between them (or choose to just use your basic shot) if you want to conserve ammo (which is an option that run-and-guns seldom gave you as late as 1996, let alone 1986!)
Anyway, once you've completed the level objective, you have your choice of two doors and you may or may not fight a miniboss (perhaps determined randomly by which door you pick?). Once that's over you're return to the map, which is now minus one Skull Castle:
Whenever you hit the "Yellow Birdhouse" building on the map, it checks if you've completed the "Can I fight the boss" conditions by picking up a Scroll in one of the skull castle levels.
If you've got the scroll when you touch the Yellow Birdhouse building, an negative inverse-image of Cher appears:
...and you're allowed to enter the Yellow Skull Pagoda to fight the level boss:
Assuming that goes well...you get to repeat it again in a differently-colored map:
Once again, Level 2's obstacles and yellow buildings are the same each time, but its skull castles are sprinkled around at random, just like the first level.
And so on, and so on...
Evidently you keep going from level to level until you die...which happens pretty quickly: you get 3 lives and no continues.
Also enemies very frequently leap in from off-screen, firing the second they arrive. Your character is rather slow-moving and has trouble cornering or jumping quickly, so I often didn't have enough time to react to the new threat and suffered a lot of cheap deaths.
Great; now, what are those 4 kinds of levels in the White Skull Castles?
Well, I'm going to summarize them quickly (showing their title screen, an in-game picture, and then describing their victory condition). Then I'll go into more detail after (for reasons that will become apparent):
Guerilla Warfare: Kill any 10 enemies.
Poison Field: collect 10 (poisonous?) cloud bubbles (you have to collide with them; shooting them doesn't count!)
Blazing Inferno: use the harmless Mr. Fire Spark thingie (which slowly follows you around, but which you have no direct control over) to light 10 candles.
Dog Fight: Do the ol' "Ninja Flying on a Kite" trick to fly through the air and shoot 10 of those orange sky worm things.
Ok, that's kind of cool. But what's so weird about all this?
Well, you know how many games have palette swaps of enemies to make "new" enemies?
Ninja Kid goes in the opposite direction: each Level Type has two, three (or more?) different versions, with their own distinct backgrounds and mostly-different enemies!! Usually they behave the same as the enemies in the other levels of that type, but...well, let's just say this game's menagerie makes Monster Party look staid.
And it's not like "level 1 contains three Skull Castles, and they are of type A, B and C, with THIS background every time." No -- EVERY SINGLE SKULL CASTLE IS RANDOM. It's randomly determined at the time you enter the castle, too! I used emulator save-states to re-enter the same castle 6 times, and it wasn't the same thing twice: either the type of level was different, or the background style (thus monster sprites) were different.
I'm not sure why they even NEED a level two in this game -- you could just hit the reset button and re-play Level 1 over and over again (though because you have so few lives and no continues, you'll end up basically doing that anyway).
Well, there's nothing else for it: I'll just post a whole bunch of the variations of level background and monsters, broken out by Level Type.
Guerilla Warfare:
Basic Ninja Enemy, shared between "town" and "cave" Guerilla War levels. (Also I lied above when I said you have to kill any 10 enemies to leave Guerilla War levels: these guys don't count towards your kill-count, but all OTHER enemies do)
Guy with Eyes on his hands A "town" exclusive!
Visor-Wearing Ghost Only available in the "cave"!
Poison Field
The collect-a-cloud item is the same in all versions; but the "pond-and-tomb" level has the furry red eyeball tumbleweed...
AND this startled blue ghost who rains arrow-heads on you!
...while the "pagoda and rock-stack" place features that rolling squid/Scrubbing Bubbles™ thing...
When in lovely "three-layered rafter" Poison Field, see this even-more-baffled looking octopus,
And the raining-projectiles enemy here is a goofy red lion!
Blazing Inferno
Honestly, this one seems pretty rare. While I've seen another level type while playing (one where the platforms are all skulls), the only one I have a picture of now is the "purple-and-lumber" one, featuring this thing:
which appears to be a pudgy blue monster with bedraggled hair, whose torso is also his head, and who has a mouth-within-a-mouth type thing like H.R. Giger's xenomorph.
Dog Fight
This is the overcast mountain-y cloud-y dogfight; (pictured, the Orange Worms you have to kill in every dogfight level)
Hmmm, that blue ghost wearing a red hoodie is throwing pies at me.
Night-Time Dogfight featuring Big Puffy Clouds...and um, "Weight-Lifting Lucha Libre Lightning God"?
Also I believe that's a Lion or Walrus, wearing a toga or a sack of flour, and surrounded by toothpicks with wings. Of course!
During Purple Evening in Teal Treetop Land, a witch rides a broom and flings boomerangs at me.
Uh, if Ninja Kid died while flying under the dripping purple goo that compromises the world's roof...
...he wouldn't have to deal with this red one-eyed severed-head, surrounded by peppermint spirals. If you'll excuse me, I have to go barkingly insane for a few hours.

Good lord, that's strange.
Oh, we haven't even gotten to the best part! The minibosses have the same "lots of different sprites, same basic behavior" design that the levels do!
Each miniboss fight goes a little something like this:
  1. The miniboss sits about 2 screens above you,
  2. so you have to climb up some weirdly-stacked blocks,
  3. while being chased around by it's henchman,
    • (who re-spawns if you kill him,
    • but since it usually has to climb the blocks like you do,
    • sometimes it's still useful to kill him or her
    • and watch the next one fall to the bottom of the screen)
  4. Anyway, the miniboss can only shoot at you when he's scrolled onto the screen...
  5. but he usually gets a pretty hard-to-dodge shot at you the moment he appears,
  6. (well, it's not so much hard-to-dodge as it is hard-to-dodge-without-falling-back-down-the-screen)
  7. Then when you get on level with him, you have to jump up and shoot him in the eye(s);
  8. All it takes is one solid hit per pupil and you're victorious!
There's some variation (for example, some of their henchmen fly, some bosses have TWO eyes to shoot, some have a lid which protects their eye much of the time), but that's the general process.
Ok, let's look at some of these gruesome twosomes!
You know the drill: henchmen on the left, Minibosses on the right:
Angry Crucifix-Wearing Cat henchman and Blue Bearded Cyclops Miniboss.
"Little Girl with Giant Mouth on the Back of her Head" henchman, and "Googley-Eyed Muppet" Miniboss.
Flying Skull henchman, World's Angriest Shaggy Dog Miniboss.
To Summarize...
I know I'm missing some stuff -- aside from the other Towering Blazing Inferno level, I've undoubtedly missed some variations of other stuff, and there's another a Miniboss whose henchman is Frankenstein's Monster, and who has a big lid which covers his eye most of the time...but I think we have enough information for Pitfall Harry to provide our closing argument:
For more Ninja Kid fun, see Powering Up your Ninja Kid for fun and profit, where I talk about how the items work!
— carlmarksguy, 2013-03-15
1
I want to be friends with that googly-eyed muppet.
2
His other friend appears to be Wednesday Addams with Audrey 2 grafted onto the back of her skull, so that's some pretty stiff competition! If you throw knives at his nose, it stops twitching around...but I'm not sure if that would endear you to him or enrage him.
3
This looks like to me it's a Gegege no Kitarou game that they just replaced the main hero with a generic ninja. All the stuff in this game seems to be mostly from Japanese mythology just like the manga,anime it was based on.
4
In the NES era, it seemed like it was common for companies that localized games in the North American market to buy the rights to a game, but not to the anime that some of them were based on, hence changes being made to erase references. See also Dragon Power for the NES and Alex Kidd in High-Tech World for the Master System.
5
@Acidonia: I'm glad to have a hint that this game might be based on an anime or something, which is better than my first guess (that it was based on licking psychotropic toads). @FO: Ahhhgh, 'Dragon Power'. I totally have that and need to tell the world about it.
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