After the first class, one of my friends pointed out his starry history and we cracked open youtube to confirm it. There was our teacher, as a kid, playing Rocky while giving the ninja to a bunch of bearded middle-aged men. At the time, 3 Ninjas Kick Back was only a minor success. But if you were 9 years old when the original was released and you were part of your own neighbourhood Ninja Squad it was the best thing since a rat scratched a man’s face. I was shocked to think one of these kids had now moved onto the loftier pursuits of development studies.
3 Ninjas Kick Back was a big enough success to warrant a console game, released in 1994 on Sega Megadrive, Mega CD and Super Nintendo.
I didn’t play the game at the time, but even at 12 years old I would have said the game was destined to be forgotten. You choose between the 3 Ninjas (naturally I chose Rocky) and your quest is to retrieve a famed silver dagger. You get inspiring words from the sensei: “a Ninja is heart, body, mind and spirit”, and your first task is to find and destroy 8 training dummies in a deadly forest of spikes, boulders, and disappearing Japanese men. The dummies take more hits to destroy than the ninjas, and they explode. I don’t trust a sensei who sends out kids to fight exploding straw-men.
Controlling the characters is a case of jumping with the B button and using the A button for all manner of sword fighting, kicking and throwing, as with most games of the time. Sure enough, it’s the standard fare for a Megadrive movie tie-in, but also lazy since it was released a year after the far superior Shinobi 3 (1993), in which ninjitsu is dark and scary, and old men don’t try to kill kids with booby-trapped dummies.
But if it does one thing, it reminds me of a pleasant by-gone era when the youth were the kings of karate and ninjitsu was the sport of the playground.
And even as an adult, the Ninja Kids are still literally with me at school.