Be glad you live in the horrible future that is our modern age, because, in the old days of gaming, “localization” could mean a videogame would become a lesser, dumber copy of the original.
Wrath of the Black Manta was such a game.
Wrath of the Black Manta is a NES game based on Ninja Cop Saizou, a Famicom title released five months before. Somewhere in that interval, Taito found the time to chop Ninja Cop up into little pieces, take out all the fun parts, and produce a game that attempts to be serious and moralistic, but somehow winds up being a dramatically lesser experience. Our first big loss is…
Anime is Dumb
The first big change here is that someone dropped any and all references to the more… Eastern aesthetic that originally permeated this ninja-based game. Ninja Cop Saizou once had a lovely manga sheen, and all sorts of flourishes from the golden age of 80’s anime. It’s no Akira, but it does have an exciting, “living manga” vibe going on.
Across the pond, all Wrath of the Black Manta has is one sad ninja.
Brother, it’s just a phone call. I’m sorry you got woken up in your ninja jammies, but you’ll recover.
Unfortunately, any and all references to Glorious Nippon were wiped from existence on this cart, so any and all manga influences were switched to items drawn in the Mighty Marvel Way… uh, literally, considering there is some blatantly stolen art from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema in there.
Yep, that looks like someone that might have a bone to pick with that blasted Spider-Man.
Oh, and while they might not have been wholly lifted from X-Men comics, the captured children of Ninja Cop are all kind of generically Gamora-loving kiddies, and the “troubled teens” of Wrath are… Well, I’m not sure why I’m saving these weird looking kids.
I think someone got captured by evil drug kingpins after that failed Full House audition. Oh yeah, that reminds me…
Plots are dumb
I do not understand Japanese. There’s a lot of text in Ninja Cop, and I’m not going to expend the thirty seconds it would require to read a plot synopsis. I have better things to do, like play with Voltron toys. That said, while I do not understand the plot of Ninja Cop, I can tell you that the final boss turns out to be an alien (complete with giant space ship) that flies around in a figure eight pattern. That seems… vaguely familiar. Mega-plagiarism aside, I can safely say that our Japanese Ninja Cop is fighting an evil organization headed by aliens, which theoretically explains why there are so many lasers, lightning creatures, and giant robots running around this story. The History Channel is with me on this one.
In Wrath of the Black Manta, the ultimate enemy is a generic kingpin (though at least not another Marvel rip-off this time) of some manner of drug cartel/cult. A random mook provides the deets.
Blah blah blah super drugs yada yada yada kidnap children, take over the world, and so on and so forth. It’s a pretty generic motive all around for the bad guys, and, frankly, you’d think our amazing Black Manta would have figured out the whole evil plan really early in his adventure (by, ya know, maybe finding some drugs), but he doesn’t discover this information until about 80% of the way through. And, presumably because this whole thing is an invention of the American localization team, you don’t even get to blow up some nefarious “drug tanks”, meth labs, or colossal mechanical heads. Lame.
Oh, and how does a drug kingpin afford giant robots? Don’t say aliens.
Bosses are dumb
It’s one thing to change a few cinema scenes or whatever, but the Black Manta team decided to go full hog on changing a few of the bosses. “Tiny” in Ninja Cop is huge, but rather cowardly looking, which is appropriate for a level one boss.
While Wrath’s Tiny is gigantic, imposing, and tattooed for some reason. He’s also just about as animated as Mr. Game & Watch, but who cares, because he’s totally American and a big toughie.
But don’t worry, that’s not the only boss that got changed. While Tiny’s switch was perhaps there simply to frighten children away from completing the first stage of Wrath, another boss was changed from Ninja Cop’s weird lightning monster…
To Wrath’s big bad voodoo daddy.
Is… is there any explanation for this change other than racism? There are robots and lasers and other “alien” creatures in Wrath of the Black Manta that are holdovers from Ninja Cop’s otherworldly plot, so a lightning beast wouldn’t be out of place in Wrath. Heck, I’m pretty sure that creature wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Scooby-Doo. But, ya know, this is a drug plot, so there’s got to be a random black guy with magical drug powers in there, right? And, again, this isn’t some weird “Japan thinks this is how things work” Huck Finn situation, this is straight up a dedicated change for American audiences because… voodoo. Good job, guys. Way to get some representation in there.
The Final Boss is dumb
I’ve already mentioned how the final boss got transformed from an alien with a rad spaceship…
… To a generic drug kingpin for American audiences, but that change also came with a completely different final boss requirement.
In Ninja Cop, that thar’s an alien, best shoot it as best you can until that varmint’s toast. In Wrath, the final boss is holding a kid hostage, and you have to shoot the boss without pegging the poor child. Oh, and you have to use four different ninja arts, which were all completely optional throughout the rest of the game, and if you accidently use the same ninja art twice, it refills the boss’s health, and makes the battle practically unwinnable. There’s the faintest light of a good idea here in this new final boss, but it’s lost in the darkness of almost certainly never seeing the ending thanks to finicky controls. Oh, and there’s no credits in Wrath, either, because if you’re going to squeeze all those new kid faces into Ninja Cop, you’ve gotta cut corners somewhere.
Which reminds me…
Localization broke the game
Aside from the lack of credits and an impossible final boss, Wrath also made the “improvement” of dropping Ninja Cop’s entire second level. It’s just… gone. Sorry, kids, but we need to preserve all that scintillating dialogue like, “I don’t know nothing,” or, “You’ll never win.”
And there are a lot of little mistakes, too. There’s a boss rush in the final level. In Ninja Cop, you must defeat all five earlier bosses before moving on to the final challenge. In Wrath, they had to drop one of those bosses (because he was associated with the lost level), and, presumably thanks to a coding error, you now skip immediately to the final boss after battling the earlier boss of your choosing. I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, I mean, I enjoy playing less Wrath of the Black Manta, but it still seems like a pretty obvious mistake. And speaking of bosses, the graphic changes damaged the proper hitboxes for some characters, so, for instance, Tiny is completely immune to homing attacks because his homing point is still where his Ninja Cop vulnerable point used to be. Sorry, players stupid enough to pick up Wrath of Black Manta!
So thank your lucky stars, reader, that you live in the modern age when the only localization changes we get are improvements to gameplay, or maybe a legging or two. Wrath of the Black Manta is a seriously cobbled game compared to its parent version, and it’s all thanks to a “well meaning” localization. Or maybe it was deliberately terrible? Only the Black Manta knows for sure.
FGC #229 Wrath of the Black Manta
- System: Nintendo. The Virtual Console is likely a bridge too far for this ninja.
- Number of players: One ninja. That makes him stronger.
- Favorite Power: Black Manta earns a new power every time he completes a level. The last couple of abilities fill the screen with fireballs… but they only do the tiniest bit of damage. Boo. I’ll guess I’ll go with the Invisible power, which, like its Wizards and Warriors forbearer, does absolutely nothing.
- Speaking of Bosses: You pretty much fight the ED-209 of Robocop in both versions of this game. So, ya know, Ninja Cop isn’t exactly free of the plagiarism.
- Special Thanks: I was not going to play this game twice for screen captures, so any screen grabs of Ninja Cop come compliments of this Ninja Cop Saizou FAMICOM – Full Playthrough.
- Did you know? The power “spider” doesn’t allow you to climb walls, it allows you to dig underground. There are approximately zero places in this game that that ability is useful. However, it works on the final boss. So good luck figuring that out.
- Would I play again: This ninja has tossed his last shuriken.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fatal Fury: 1st Contact for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! Some more pint sized fighting in the future! Please look forward to it!