Monday, September 13, 2010

Video - Ninku (Saturn)

And now, if only to prove that I am not a Sega Saturn fanboy, here is a look at an early Saturn fighting game that has not aged very well.  It's name is Ninku, and it's based on a Japanese anime series.  For some reason, a lot of anime shows were turned into fighting games; probably because those types of games were popular in the '90s, and it's an easy way to bring together a cast of characters.  If you're used to importing or downloading Saturn titles, then you've seen a few examples of this.

Ninku was developed by Sega and published early in 1996.  The graphics are a mixture of 2D animation sprites and 3D polygon backgrounds.  It's a very interesting idea, and I have to admit, I am still impressed by these locations.  The textures are detailed and everything looks very good, even though there's still that slight shaky movement as the camera pans around.  Also, as there are no lighting effects or variations in color tones, the scenery does have a certain flat look.  It's certainly a time capsule from Saturn's early days.

The character animation was good for its time, and I do try to be generous.  It looks okay.  Later fighting games on Saturn and Neo-Geo would feature far more fluid animation, and that makes Ninku feel a bit stiff.  It's as though only key animation frames were used, and the in-betweens were entirely cut out.

To its credit, Sega did an excellent job of moving 2D sprites along a 3D world.  The fighters knock each other back and forth, and they quickly spin around in circles.  It's pretty cool to hit an opponent into the screen, even if they do become all pixelated.  The camera quickly rotates and always keeps the player perspective locked in place.  You can see the designers trying to think their way around the limitations of 2D, and whether sprite graphics could be integrated into the growing field of 3D fighers.  Remember that 1995-6 was a period of experimentation for video game developers.  The new 3D paradigm of Super Mario 64 and Tomb Raider had yet to arrive.  Until then, everyone was just guessing.

The Saturn overflows with so many excellent fighting games that it's easy to become jaded.  Ninku was never going to become more than a cult hit (although it should have been released in the West).  The fighting engine is very basic, only a few standard and special moves, and little in the way of combos or complex techniques.  This feels more like an early Street Fighter 2 knockoff from the 16-bit era.

Again, I'm feeling spoiled.  Ninku will certainly entertain Saturn fans, and particularly anime and fighting game fans.  It's not outstanding, but it's not terrible.  It fits squarely into the, "Meh" category.

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