“Kid Niki: Radical Ninja”
(Data East, 1987)
The summer between third and fourth grade, I made two presumably simple follicular requests of my mother. The first was to let me get my hair spiked. The second was to let me sport a rat tail.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “You’ll look like a greaser.”
My mother’s attempts to shield me from presenting as a greaser — whatever that may be — unintentionally shut off my potential to become a radical ninja. But Kid Niki, the star of “Kid Niki: Radical Ninja”? His mother was more lenient. Kid Niki’s hair? Super spiked. His rat tail? Luxuriant. His belt? Metal-studded. His sleeves? Non-existent. Boys wanted to be him. Girls, like Princess Margo, wanted to be with him. And villains, like the evil Stone Wizard, wanted to defeat him.
Data East, the publisher of “Kid Niki” was no stranger to oddball games. Their first big hit, “BurgerTime,” was basically about making gigantic food with your feet while avoiding villainous eggs, hot dogs, and pickles. And “Karnov,” the tale of a half-naked fire-breathing Russian strongman, was being developed at the same time as “Niki.”
The plot of “Kid Niki” is the most conventional thing about the game. A damsel is in distress; our hero must rescue her. Luckily, Niki’s radical hair wasn’t his only weapon. He had a spinning sword, power-up bells, and secret scrolls to aid his fight. He’d need it all, because he faced the most insane collection of villains of any Nintendo Entertainment System game.
Take Death Breath. The appropriately-named first-level boss has toxic breath, an absolutely gigantic head, and a habit of, like most “Kid Niki” characters, hyperactively jumping around. Every time Niki attempts to slice and dice Death Breath with his signature sword, the sword is knocked from his hands to the far left side of the screen. Players were initially surprised to find such a seemingly difficult adversary as the first boss. That is until they realize that Death Breath is much like the seemingly-unbeatable King Hippo in “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” — aim below the belt with your trusty sword and victory is yours.
And then there’s level four’s Green Grub, a giant bug that requires Niki to remove all of Grub’s body parts one by one before decapitating him. Green Grub doesn’t let his loss of appendages deter him. He continues to fight even when he is less of a grub and more of a skeleton. And level five’s drunken, surly Mad Monk weaponizes his words by shouting “FOOL!” at Niki, which causes the word itself to crash down on our unconventionally coiffed protagonist.
Through it all, despite even the craziest monsters, Kid Niki kept every spike on his hair in place. More than a hero, more than a ninja, more than an awesome haircut, he was a role model. If only my mother could have seen it.
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