Sometimes you play a game that’s not especially great but is so silly that it becomes quite endearing. Bad Dudes Vs DragonNinja from Data East is very much one of those games. It starts out with you being told that “President Ronnie” (no, the game isn’t even remotely subtle, why do you ask?) has been kidnapped by a group of nefarious ninjas and asks if you are “bad enough” to rescue him. After that quick cutscene, you are thrown straight into battle with a hoard of ferocious fighters looking to tear you limb from limb.
The gameplay itself is relatively straightforward. You have an attack button and a jump button, with your fighter being able to fight both at the top and bottom of the screen depending on the level design. For instance, two levels are based on both a moving truck and train, respectively, so dropping down to the lower level tends to result in instant death. This adds an element of strategy to the game, especially when taking on bosses with big attacks you need to dodge.
Most of the enemy ninjas can be killed with one hit, but there are so many of them swarming the screen that you’ll need expert timing to ensure you don’t take any damage. To be honest, it can be a little bit frightening at times. Thankfully, the arcade ports of the game allow an additional player to help out, but even then it’s difficult to see off all of the ninjas without taking a scratch. Those cats really are as fast as lightning.
The enemy types are quite varied and play with the usual ninja stereotypes. There are ones that throw ninja stars that you can literally punch out of the sky, others with big swords who attack from above and there are even sassy scantily-clad female ninjas who unleash rabid dogs upon you. By far the most annoying foes are the ones who set themselves on fire like the Human Torch and sprint in your general direction. It’s best just to avoid these guys as they’ll eat away at your health bar without mercy.
Sometimes enemy ninjas will drop nunchucks or daggers that you can pick up and use, as well as drop lifebar replenishing cans of cola and big clocks that add a few extra seconds onto each level’s time limit. I personally never had an issue with completing levels before the time limit ran out, but it stops you from dawdling at any rate.
Each level has its own boss, my personal favourite being the ninja who can make doubles of himself, meaning the screen fills with numerous clones that you have to bat away before getting a chance to battle the original. Possibly my least favourite boss is the Wolverine-like clawed one at the end of the truck level. He stoops down very low and has decent range on his attacks, meaning it’s difficult to get a clean shot in on him.
As the game progresses, you eventually have to take part in the obligatory “Boss Rush™”, where all the previous bosses come back to challenge you once more before you can partake in the final battle. It’s about as enjoyable as all boss rushes are, which is to say not very enjoyable at all. I’ve never met a boss rush that didn’t feel like padding, and this one is no exception. Still, the final boss battle makes up for it as you have to fight a dangerous mask-wearing ninja on a moving helicopter, which is the sort of high octane silly closing fight that a game like this deserves.
Once the president is rescued at the game’s conclusion, he exclaims, “Thanks, dudes!” before then offering to take you out for a burger. It’s the sort of ridiculous ending that only this game could get away with, but get away with it it does. There’s something to be said for a game that knows how silly it is and just outright embraces it. It’s really the only time you can make silly work, and Bad Dudes Vs DragonNinja definitely makes it work.
The game did see some ports to the home consoles, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, but unfortunately most of them saw the multiplayer either being changed or outright removed. I actually played this with my sister of all people, who is so bad at games that she can’t even get past the first level in Super Mario, and together we managed to fight our way to the game’s conclusion. It took a copious amount of credits, of course, but we got there eventually.
I personally think the best way to play Bad Dudes is the original arcade version in multiplayer. The game is one of the 5555 you can find on the Retro Gaming Box, which is where I played it, but it can also be found as part of “Data East Arcade Classics” on the Nintendo Wii. I’d certainly recommend giving this a go if you’ve never played it. It’s great fun, especially in multiplayer.
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