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Retro Game of the Week: Wrath of the Black Manta

On 11/08/2014 at 03:41 PM by The Last Ninja

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You kick butt and take names in this mediocre ninja action game

If you haven't noticed, the NES is home to tons of ninja games. I guess ninjas just feel at home on the blocky 8-bit console. Among all the ninja games is Wrath of the Black Manta, developed by AI, published by Taito, and released in 1989. As is usually the case, it's an action platformer starring a radically cool ninja. WotBM (I'll simply refer to it as "Wrath") tries to be like Ninja Gaiden, but fails miserably. The action is not as fast and the cutscenes not nearly as good.

The story is very basic. Children are being kidnapped in New York City, so the ninja known as Black Manta decides to rescue them. He uses the info obtained from one of his master's students to locate some of the kids. The story is told via cutscene (similar to Ninja Gaiden), but these cutscenes are very bare bone. The same picture is used over and over again throughout the course of the game, and sometimes only a head is shown without the neck or body. Seriously? The laughable dialogue doesn't help either.

pic 1

Before the game starts, you get to choose one of four special attacks, known as ninja arts. These are done with certain button presses. You can hold B to charge up your fire ring, or down B to use the art of invisibility. As the game progresses, you learn more ninja arts and can switch them at any time by pressing select. These are pretty cool, although most of them are useless and they last for too short a time to do any real damage. Ninja stars are your main weapon; Black Manta has an unlimited supply of them. Get close enough to an enemy and he'll pull out the knife!

Wrath has a much slower pace than you would think. Black Manta is not crouched and ready to move like Ryu Hayabusa; he stands upright and walks like a gentleman. You'll find notes scattered throughout the game, usually telling you to shoot at a wall to reveal a hidden door. Don't believe these notes, as shooting at walls does nothing. If you manage to grab a bad guy by the throat, Black Manta will interrogate him, but most times nothing useful comes of this.

pic 2

Levels are not in simple left to right order, surprisingly. Your mission is to rescue kids, meaning you'll have to explore a little. However, this isn't Metroid, so "explore" simply means look for rooms and check them. Every now and then you'll find a kid, who will give you a hint about something. Somehow the kids you save always know about hidden doors in walls. The sprite art is also horrendous! These are some of the ugliest kids you'll ever see.

The level design in Wrath is just awful. A lot of things get recycled, such as sewers (every level has a sewers section where you jump up and down pipes). At first, the level starts with something unique, but quickly reverts to old tropes (meaning sewers). Most rooms you enter have the exact same enemy placement. All of this same-old feel makes the game drag big-time. Enemies are a bore since they use the same guys throughout the whole game and throw in some army dudes at the end to switch it up (except they still use the other guys too).

pic 3

Near the end of the game, you find out that the bad guys want to get the kids mixed up with drugs. In other words, drug dealers kidnapped the kids. So Wrath actually has an anti-drug message! Kinda cool, I guess, since this was the 80s. Black Manta says "You guys are scum!" Actually, pretty much this whole game is scum.

I say "pretty much" because the boss battles are actually unique and interesting. They're bizarre, such as the second boss--a totem pole that shoots fireballs at you, and even more bizarre--a voodoo warrior who floats around and just looks creepy. How did drug dealers get these guys? The boss battles are decent, but certainly don't save the game.

pic 4

Wrath does have unique parts to it, such as at the end of the game when you ride up an elevator and have a behind-the-back ninja star throwing section. But these unique parts are in the minority of the game, meaning most of the game is boring and monotonous. The music is also bad. The same song plays for every level, and that song gets annoying! Finally, to defeat the boss of the game, you have to use four different ninja arts on him. Which ones? How? I couldn't figure it out, sadly. This bizarre game is beyond me!!!

pic 5

Final Verdict--3 Stars: It's Okay

And so, Wrath of the Black Manta gets my wrath. This game is scum. With a ho-hum story, terrible dialogue, awful level design, and sheer monotony, this is one ninja game which needs to stay in the shadows. It's not completely awful, but those good moments are far too rare. Even those cool ninja arts can't save it. What a shame, Black Manta, what a shame. And those kids! Creepy!

Join me every Saturday as we take a look back at all kinds of retro games, good and bad.




11/08/2014 at 04:35 PM

I read about this game in Nintendo Power, rented it, and loved it.  I made it to the last boss and almost beat him.  That was many many years ago and I was in love with ninjas at the time.  I tried playing this game a couple years ago and my love for it is gone.  I doesn't look as great or control like I remember.  I would like to finish it though.

The Last Ninja

11/08/2014 at 07:19 PM

I got to the final boss and didn't know how to hurt him. You find a note that tells you to use four ninja arts on him, but I couldn't figure out which ones or how. Bummer. The whole game is just meh. Maybe it would have been amazing back in the day.

Cary Woodham

11/08/2014 at 05:01 PM

It looks like a cross between a ninja game and Rolling Thunder, and it looks like it takes two popular 80's themes: Ninjas and anti-drug messages.  Still looks rather un-inspired, though.  I do remember the bosses in this game, though, like the first level boss being that giant guy who just jumps around.

Have you ever played and reviewed Natsume's Shadow of the Ninja?  I wonder if that one's any better.

The Last Ninja

11/08/2014 at 07:21 PM

Very uninspired, I assure you. You're right, the first boss is a giant who jumps back and forth, and every time he lands one brick falls where you're standing. Bizarre!

I've certainly played Shadow of the Ninja, and it is a much better game. It's fast and fun, similar to Ninja Gaiden. I'd love to review it sometime too.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/08/2014 at 06:27 PM

whoa that cut scene is amazing!

The Last Ninja

11/08/2014 at 07:22 PM

lol! It's totally rad, dude! And while we've got you, don't do drugs!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

11/08/2014 at 07:44 PM

I remember when those cut scenes from ninja gaiden were so cutting edge. 

Super Step Contributing Writer

11/08/2014 at 09:17 PM

I feel like the score should be lower. It's out of 5 yeah? Seems like this would definitely fall in the below average category based on your description. To me, "not completely awful" is at best a 2. What made you decide on 3? This isn't to get a war over review scores started, I'm just curious. Good review in any case. Even with that score, I can tell from your text it's really not worth playing. But really, is any Ninja Gaiden clone worth playing when we have Ninja Gaiden? I guess if you've already played NG and want something similar from a different franchise, but seems like most of these games failed to match the quality of their inspiration.

The Last Ninja

11/09/2014 at 03:50 PM

3 out of 5 stars means it's not very good, but can still be enjoyable to a certain extent. In other words, it's "meh." I had a lot of bad things to say about this game, but it's not broken. It had interesting bosses and some neat things despite its overall feel.

Also, there are some great Ninja Gaiden clones out there, such as Natsume's Shadow of the Ninja. Very awesome game, and two player!

Super Step Contributing Writer

11/09/2014 at 04:08 PM


Remy LeBeau

11/08/2014 at 10:00 PM

I used to have this game in what now seems another lifetime ago. Even back then I probably knew it wasn't that great, and it's no wonder why I couldn't ever figure out how to beat the last boss. Not if you had to use four different ninja arts. Shadow of the NInja was a great game though. Definitely an underappreciated gem on the NES.

The Last Ninja

11/09/2014 at 03:51 PM

This game is crap compared to Shadow of the Ninja. There's nothing worse than a bad ninja game!


11/09/2014 at 03:38 AM

Neat. I just picked up a bunch of Flashback consoles from the generation previous to NES. Now I'd like a NES flashback system. Have like 80 games installed on it and put a cartridge slot on it so you can play anything not included.

The Last Ninja

11/09/2014 at 03:52 PM

That would be awesome! Someone needs to make that!


11/10/2014 at 01:12 AM

After thinking about it, I don't think it would be a Nintendo thing to do. That's what virtual console is for. I did think that maybe I should pick up a Retron 4 or 5 sometime.

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