I don’t normally review video games on this site, but when it comes to ninjas I think that they are a little hard to ignore.
Moby Games tells me it’s Ninja Warrior for the TRS-80), but it was in the late eighties that the two longest standing ninja franchises were born.
SEGA got to the arcades first with the release of Shinobi in 1987. Joe Musashi uses his shuriken throwing, sword swinging, and ninja magic-wielding as he tries to fight the criminal syndicate Neo Zeed. The game is a classic of the side-scrolling arcade genre and was regularly known for its more intelligent enemy motions. The game would quickly be ported to every system available at the time, even SEGA rivals Nintendo.
The NES version of Ninja Gaiden revolutionized action games in a way still being built on after two decades.
It may not quite have been the first game to do it, but Ninja Gaiden brought cut scenes to the masses as it unfolds the growing plot of Ryu Hayabusa’s quest level after level. It also borrowed very heavily from Shinobi as it moves to a 2D side-scrolling perspective and ninja magic becomes an integral part of the franchise.
Meanwhile, Shinobi became the hallmark of the Genesis with the sequels Revenge of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi. Each game brought the graphics level up another notch. Shinobi became one of the prettiest side-scrollers available in its era. Three more (mostly original) games appeared for the Game Gear. The franchise moved forward on to Sega Saturn with the release of the final original side scroller in the franchise, the absolutely gorgeous Shinobi Legions. I still have fond memories of playing this one in a store Japan months before the Saturn’s US release. It wasn’t as mind-blowing an experience as the PlayStation floor at Sony headquarters, but I digress. With this game, Joe was gone, replaced by Sho, and many of the franchises fans went with it.
Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden have now shaped two generations of gamers experience with ninjas. Perhaps more so than any other stories I review this week, they have had a major influence on the modern view of the ninja. While I cannot recommend the newer games to anyone other than very experienced gamers, the classic side-scrollers for both franchises come Recommended.
Both Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi are available at Amazon by clicking their names here.