Maui Mallard is a “medium-boiled” detective visiting a tropical island when the mysterious Shabuhm Shabuhm idol goes missing. Shabuhm Shabuhm is considered the island’s native guardian spirit, and unless the idol is recovered, the whole island will explode. Maui is put on the case, and his investigations lead him through a creepy mansion to ancient ninja training grounds -where he gains the ability to change into Cold Shadow- and a native village, where Maui is thrown into a volcano as a sacrifice to the native gods.
Maui survives the volcano, and the islanders put him through the “test of duckhood”, which Maui passes, gaining the natives’ trust. The natives tell Maui that the only one who knows the location of Shabuhm Shabuhm has long since died, and Maui goes to recover his remains from the bottom of the sea before going through the land of the dead to escort his soul into rest. Ultimately, the location of Shabuhm Shabuhm is revealed, and Maui goes head-to-head with the witch doctor at his Mojo Stronghold over the idol.
Maui is triumphant, and as a sign of their gratitude, the islanders name their island after their hero, despite their misgivings that the name “Mallard” has little potential for attracting tourists. Besides typical platform game gameplay (running around, jumping from platform to platform), one of the game’s most distinctive gameplay features is allowing to switch the player character’s form to suit one’s needs. The player begins the game as Maui, whose only means of self-defence is an insect-launching pistol that can launch several forms of bugs, some of them combined for greater effect.
However, once the player reaches the second level, Maui transforms into Cold Shadow, his ninja alter ego, who defends himself with short-range attacks using a bo staff. Cold Shadow’s staff is also primarily used to explore the level further, such as climbing a narrow tunnel. After the second level, the player can switch back and forth between Maui and Cold Shadow at will, provided he has enough ninja tokens for the transformation. The amount of ninja tokens Maui or Cold Shadow holds determines Cold Shadow’s strength – who can then chain more and more attacks as his skill improves – when played as him in the SNES version.