Capcom's Mega Man Legacy Collection hits (again) today, finally looping both 3DS fans and digital-purchase-averse Xbox and Sony loyalists into the wonders of the landmark 8-bit game series.
Despite some minor visual glitches that have inspired some vehement criticism online, MMLC as a collection (as our resident Mega Man expert Nadia has declared) absolutely shames the more expansive but horribly made Mega Man Anniversary Collection from the PS2 era, especially for Nintendo fans. It also makes for much less of an eyesore than the 3DS Virtual Console versions of the Mega Man hexology, which suffer from the dark and smeary graphics that afflict NES Virtual Console on both Wii U and 3DS.
For my money, though, the version of MMLC to play isn't the 3DS release but rather PlayStation 4, despite some intermittent audio issues some players have experienced. This is entirely down to the horrible placement of the 3DS's D-pad, which sits at an awkward spot and makes my left hand cramp up in a matter of minutes for an intense action game like Mega Man. PS4's D-pad still doesn't offer the precision of playing Mega Man on original NES hardware, but it's the least-compromised of any option for playing these six games that doesn't involve shelling out about $1000 for modded equipments and crazy-expensive cartridges. Plus, on PS4, I can jump over to Ninja Senki DX when I get tired of yet another run through the Mega Man games. (It happens.)
I've been wanting to play Ninja Senki for a couple of years now, holding out for a console release... and, coincidentally enough, it arrives on PS4 and Vita today, right alongside its inspiration, the original Mega Man games. Ninja Senki's credits offer a "special thanks" mention to "INAFKING," which was long-time series producer Keiji Inafune's 8-bit pseudonym. Not that I've seen Ninja Senki's credits in person just yet; it's a ridiculously difficult game, and after beating my head against it for a few hours today I still haven't seen the credits roll.
For the most part, Ninja Senki comes by its difficulty honestly. It feels a little cheap in a few areas — the bits where you're expected to skip along water are awful thanks to the clumsy control mechanism — but generally speaking it walks that tricky tightrope between fairness and frustration with thoughtful level design and some perfectly placed bad guys whose appearances are calculated to get the best of players for using their platform gaming instincts. Enemies tend to land or attack optimal platform spots, but at the same time Ninja Senki does a nice job of not being impossibly nasty about it — you're going to deal with foes when you make an easy jump, but a super difficult bit of platforming offers a little more leniency with enemy placement. It's rarely easy after the first stage, but it plays like the good kind of NES platformer rather than the crappy hateful ones.
This is by deliberate design: Developer Tribute Games has built layers of challenge into Ninja Senki. If you want a decent challenge, you can play through the game on normal mode and brute force your way to the end. But you can also play on "hardcore" mode, taking an Ironman approach without access to saves or continues. And with either of these difficulty levels, you can aim for three different trophies per stage: One for taking no damage, one for killing every single enemy in the stage, and one for collecting every coin. The enemy-slaying "assassin" achievement is always the trickiest, because in many cases it forces you to go out of your way to destroy enemies before they can meander off-screen or, worse, plummet to their demise by hopping into a pit. You don't get credit for an enemy that dies from its own stupidity.
The collision detection in particular deserves praise — it plays a huge part in the game's playability. Protagonist Hayate tosses huge shuriken, and their wide hit boxes make firing at enemies while making little half-jumps more challenging than in the Mega Man games, where the hero shot tiny little pellets. It works the other direction, too: At one point I found myself standing on thin bamboo poles as an enemy drifting overhead dropped flames at me. Despite my tiny foothold, I still managed to scoot slightly to the side to let the flame land beside me without taking damage. Little moments like that help set Ninja Senki a notch above your usual 8-bit imitations.
I can't see any scenario in which I have enough free time to ever try to complete a perfect playthrough of Ninja Senki DX, but I'll definitely keep flinging myself at its mercies until I see the credits for myself, at least. It's pretty rare to find a retro-style action game that manages to pose a challenge without being unreasonable about it. Ninja Senki pulls it off thanks to sharp level design and incredibly tight controls (water-skipping excepted). Sure, the game lacks the variety and depth of its inspiration, but when you need a break from Mega Man, you could do much worse than this sharp platformer.