#3. Wrath of the Black Manta 10 Craziest NES Games @ jjmike.com

Contrary to what you may think, this is not an 8-bit rendition of a Michael Jackson music video. The ninja and the retro breakdancer are not dancing to Beat It in the misty Hackensack twilight. Think about it: if Taito had included my little idea here in Black Manta, it may have become the coolest game ever made. But no! Instead Taito based the game on the craziest anti-drug propaganda since FBI director William S. Sessions slapped his logo on all my favorite arcade machines. This meant that before each time I tried to use the Ninja Turtles to rescue April O'Neil from a burning building, Mr. Sessions first had to "break it down" to me that "tobacco is wacko" and marajuana is "seriously not-not-heinous, bro!" (wikka-wikka-wikka)!

This game manages to be stupid before it even starts. Not even Star Wars: Episode 1 could do that. When George Lucas sent his yellow-texted back story slowly zooming into the background of space, you would have never thought that you were about to watch a movie in which Starbucks-sipping college sophomores flew around the galaxy complaining about how their existential dildos didn’t fit in their asses correctly. Likewise, when you turn on Wrath of the Black Manta and see the initial sweet ninja logo, you probably assume that you’re in for a Ninja Gaiden-like experience of slicing demons and peppering other ninjas with shurikens.

Not so. Instead the game opens up with a long, involved back story about kidnapped children and a lone ninja’s sense of justice. And get this: you CAN’T SKIP IT. The game forces you to watch it, as if Taito seriously cared about giving you a humanitarian motive to playing a game about ninjas kicking ass.


Wow, no shit, you really think that these kids are being kidnapped of all things? C’mon, they may just have decided to all run away and form a pre-pubescent sort of mafia. Or maybe Peter Pan is at it again, whisking them off to Never Land. Psh, kidnapping. Seriously, if kids were vanishing from NYC, you’d think Rudy Giuliani would go super-sayin on somebody’s ass. If he didn’t let people jump turnstiles, then he sure as hell wouldn’t let kids vanish into thin air.

Then the intro cuts to a scene with a phone ringing, and Manta, in his full ninja-garb, says Who could be calling in the middle of the night? Hello? And while this scene is playing out, this weird hop-n’-bop platform adventure music is playing (imagine Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon set to the soundtrack of Muppet Babies). This is the first time we get a glimpse of Manta up close, so observe carefully: does he look like he’s about to sneak up behind someone and strangle them with piano wire, or does he look like he’s about to take your order at McDonald’s?

I also find it funny how Manta uses modern technology so unabashedly and politely. You’d think he’d communicate with his cohorts via telepathy, carrier pigeon, or some sort of tie-two-soupcans-together communication wire. Instead, he just has a phone. A dial phone. I wonder what Ma Bell thinks when she sends the monthly bill to Mr. Manta, Black, and all the calls are charged as overseas charges to Japan. Sorry Manta, but ancient ninja magic no guard against AT&T bill collector.

Anyway, Manta’s sensei is on the other line . . . although in the next frame, he appears right at Manta’s doorstep! At this point I wonder just what the hell a master ninja would be trying to prove by calling up his student and then instantly appearing within arm’s reach. My first guess is that he’s treating Manta like Kato treated Inspector Cluseau in those Pink Panther movies. “Ah, you think we speak over phoneline mile away? Ha ha Manta, you begin to lose spirit of Tiger-Crane in empiricist America, where is no room for silence of the water-lilly, and pave paradise put up the parking lot! Stupid monkey-ass white-belt bitchman!”

You’d think that a ninja with a badass name like “Black Manta” would have a small arsenal of swords, poisons, fireball spells, piano wire, throwing knives, and some serious jiu-jitsu skills. But Manta just has the ability to throw one ninja-star at a time. Oh wait, I stand corrected – he also has four different powers: The Art of SHADOW, GROUND FIRE, THE FIRE RING, and MISSLES. However, these special powers are kind of superfluous. They’re usually just your default shuriken re-animated to make it look larger or on fire or whatever. That’s like having the ability to choose whether you’re going to wear Rambo’s headband or Indiana Jones’ fedora into the field of battle.

Aside from this, you spend most of your time walking around throwing your shurikens at thugs who shoot at you. It’s honestly like having a two-dimensional snowball fight, only less fun. But the one element of variety here is your ability to interrogate any thug as long as he’s wearing red. When this happens, Manta will usually say something like “Come on now, be a good boy, who are you working for?”, and the villain in red will say something like, “I don’t know, but they’re a big and very mysterious organization!” This G-rated stupidity progress with slight alterations every time you interrogate a crook wearing a red jumpsuit. It finally reaches the pinnacle of retardedness here, forever altering the criteria for comedic unbelievability:            

Sorry for my inability to edit animated gifs (otherwise I'd cut out the excess space). But I'll learn.

The giant bosses of Black Manta normally attack by hopping around within a tiny five-foot area, and the imact of their feet hitting the floor makes bricks fall from the ceiling. I've never seen anybody, fictional or real, fight like this. This would be like defending your home from a robber by stepping around him and mopping tiny areas of floorspace in the hopes of him chasing you and slipping.

Here, Manta gives his “I don’t want to have to hurt you!” spiel a rest, and threatens this leather-faced, hardened criminal with the idea of talking with the Police Commissioner himself! Faced with such a threat, the villainous child-kidnapper caves in and tells Manta EVERYTHING about the child-kidnapping plot. In the face of such human wickedness, Manta does not disembowel the crook or strangle him with piano wire. He doesn’t even hit a pressure-point that makes the crook’s chest explode, or scramble his brain with ancient ninja magic. Manta just stands there with his little may-I-help-you face and cries “You’re just dumb!” It’s almost too retarded to believe, but people actually used to buy and enjoy games like this. Damn it, I know I've just reiterated what you see in the animated gif, but I just seriously can't believe how anyone who's not Al Gore or William S. Sessions could make a game like this.

And honestly, this has got to be the stupidest drug-promotion program anyone has ever come up with. There are plenty of people on this planet who will sell your drugs for you. Kidnapping children and brainwashing them into becoming drug-dealers would be like our president kidnapping Kim Jong Ill and indoctrinating him to paint houses. It’s really not worth it. Just hire the high school kids or drunk Mexicans in your town, you idiot.

Lessons from Wrath of the Black Manta: A Study of True Ninjanity

I may not be able to throw teleportation smoke-bombs, but listen to me: I’ve grown up playing Ninja Gaiden and watching stuff like American Ninja all the time, so I know when ninja-related media is done right . . . and when it’s done wrong.

What ninjas are supposed to be:

Ninjas are supposed to be dark, conflicted, and bad-ass. If they help children, they only do so if the kid in question had a clue as to where the evil Tengu Clan is keeping the lost Black-Lotus Sword of Shinto. Black Manta, on the other hand, is like some fucked-up cross between Ronald McDonald and Gothic Chuck Norris. Ninjas don’t have to be totally emotionless, but if they really do have to show emotion, they show it by avenging the loss of a dead master, or taking in a young waif into a secret dojo to baptize him in the fires of combat.


What ninjas ARE NOT supposed to be:

Ninjas are not supposed to own dial telephones and exclaim “Goodness! I wonder who’s calling me at this late hour?” or some shit like that. Ninjas like this often blow their cover, since evil drug lords can follow the scent-trail of the delicious Martha Stewart Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies that these ninjas bake for each other at their Purple Dragon Dojo.



Black Manta's Ratings:

Fun: Goodness! I've not had this much fun since my ninja training camp days in college! Camp was great. I went to the same neon playground-camp that the enemy ninjas trained at in American Ninja starring Michael Dudikoff! It was fun training on the monkey bars with Rick and Tony.


Gameplay: Goodness! The city sure was a scary place. I remember fighting thugs who had things like DIRTY SOUTH written on their jackets. Also, there were these women with too much make-up on, and they would walk up to me and said things like "Want me to be yours?" and "Wanna buy me?" Tee he he! Silly women! Don't you know Abrahan Lincoln helped end slavery many years ago? You can throw your whips and chains away!           Mom, are my carrots and pita bread ready?

Graphics: See? I told you my nephew is a wonderful artist! He'll be in fourth grade next year.




Sound: Wonderful! The soundtrack is wonderful! William S. Sessions would be pleased.




Challenge: My GOODNESS! I sure had a difficult time rescuing Taro and the other children! But once I did, we walked home into the sunrise while bursting into an ensamble of "We Are The World." See? If you just stick to your dreams and don't do drugs, everything works out right in the end!


JJMike's Ratings:

Fun: Sticking your cock in the garbage disposal represents masturbation more than Wrath of the Black Manta represents any form of fun whatsoever.



Gameplay: All the controls are intact! Walk around using the left and right arrow keys, jump using button A, and throw your ninja-stars with button B! Just to spite Taito, I played Wrath of the Black Manta while taking hit after hit of pot.


Graphics: Manta is basically Ninja Gaiden with all the cool sucked out of it.



Sound:Like I said before, imagine Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon set to a midi-soundtrack of Muppet Babies music. 



Challenge: The real challenge of Manta lies not in overcoming difficult challenges, but in overcoming your boredom so that you can care about overcoming slightly-above-mediocre challenges.




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