Tuesday 10 August 2010

The Ninja

You don't hear much about ninjas anymore do you? Back in the 1980s, it was all the rage. Even more so if you put some reptiles into the mix.

The Ninja was one of the Master System's earliest of titles, and it shows. It gets into everything, being included in numerous compilations and re-released half a dozen times for the three people who want it. It's essentially the Sega System 1 arcade game "Sega Ninja" retooled significantly with added scrolling and removed females, and I bought it for a couple of quid a few years ago.

And man do I hate this game. It's a scrolling shooter with very few redeemable qualities that highlights the worst in the Master System's lineup. Though a noticeable step up from the SG-1000 library, it doesn't go as far as other titles such as Alex Kidd in Miracle World.

One of the issues with Ninjas in general (which was probably why some games are loved while others are hated) is that although the western world enjoyed a good Ninja game, they didn't really care for the Japanese culture that surrounds the concept. Case in point, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles constantly refrains from becoming Japanesey - so much so that they're eating fast food and calling each other "gnarly".

The Ninja, however, is all about feudal Japan, with Japanese princesses living on hills and pink blossom landscapes with wooden bridges over streams. The west liked Ninjas because they came to the city, stopped gun crime with traditional methods and saved the day, like a set of dark superheroes. But that's not the case here. What's also worse is that in the Ninja... you never look like what the west would call a Ninja. You fight Ninjas... but who wants to do that? The Koreans? Pirates?

The Ninja is a very simple game similar to Commando - get to the top of the screen. You can fire shurikens in one of eight directions... and so can the enemies... of which there are many. Pressing both 1 and 2 turns you invisible for a short period to keep you alive for a few seconds, but it soon becomes futile when you're faced with a screen full of bad guys. The tactic is just to keep going slow... and going slow is never a good tactic if you're looking for entertainment and action.

Of course a modern day gamer can just make use of savestates... which although spoils the fun at least guarantees you'll get somewhere.

At the end of every stage you're presented with a boss, of which usually isn't too painful. There's a handful of levels so it's not a completely pointless purchase, but is a very frustrating one. Lots of enemies turn into rocks, and you're often faced with half a dozen people attacking you at once, meaning the odds are always stacked against you.

Graphics wise life is pretty bland, but this was released in 1986 and blandness was the style of Master System games of the time. An early SMS game still tends to look better than an early NES one, but it certainly hasn't aged well. Surprisingly the music isn't all that bad. Lots of repetition, but you got that with NES games and some of those themes have become classics. The Ninja's gameplay theme fits into that category too.

Can I recommend it? No. But even if it was a great game it would be difficult to recommend buying the cartridge by itself. Pretty much every Master System compilation or re-release not tailored around Sonic has this game bundled in, along with the likes of Alex Kidd and Columns. I seem to remember only picking this up out of curiosity because I had seen it in second hand shops so often. It's an extremely common game.

But if you like an unfair challenge, it might be right up your street.

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