Some companies are good at masking their influences. Taito is not one of those companies. Released in 1989, Wrath of the Black Manta is clearly a response to Sega's Shinobi (which in turn was a response to Namco's Rolling Thunder). Throw in the narrative hooks of Ninja Gaiden and you have a well-constructed, though wholly unoriginal ninja game.
Stop me if you've heard this before: A shadow organization has been kidnapping children all around the world. Unimpressed with the snail's pace of the local police, the Black Manta springs into action to rescue these innocent kids. Sound familiar? That's essentially the set-up to Shinobi, a game that had been out for two years by the time Wrath of the Black Manta hit store shelves.
Told through detailed cinemas (a la the Ninja Gaiden franchise), Wrath of the Black Manta sees our hero kill baddies in New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and a crazy death tower. Along the way you'll run into all types of ninjas, huge bosses and varied gameplay mechanics. Over the course of the five stages you may actually forget what game Taito was ripping off.
Most of the game is told through 2D side-scrolling levels. Here you'll throw ninja stars and investigate the buildings and sewers for missing children. Later stages have you flying in something of shoot-em-up. In yet another twist, our hero will climb the tower from the first person. Sometimes it feels like Taito had a lot of ideas and decided to funnel them into one cluttered package.
Although players are able to choose different types of special attacks between levels, I was disappointed by the lack of moves. Most of the time you're just throwing stars, which is a lot more limited than what I'm used to in a ninja game. And while the title cards said we were visiting different parts of the world, a lot of the backgrounds looked awfully familiar.
Thankfully the game delivers in the boss department. Right from the start we are forced to go head-to-head with a giant that is the entire height of the TV screen. Sadly, not all of the bosses can live up to the first encounter. In fact, the final boss at the end of the game looks almost exactly like the Yellow Bastard from Sin City. Disappointing!
With solid gameplay and good production value, Wrath of the Black Manta has a lot going for it. I was impressed with a lot of the bosses and the graphics are generally pretty good. Plus, the story elements are expertly done. Even though this game doesn't reach the level of Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi, all it would have taken was a sequel or two to really make this a franchise to remember. It's never too late, Taito.