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July 5, 2017 8:34 AM   Subscribe

The Best and Worst of '80s Ninja Video Games [Den of Geek] “Saboteur? BMX Ninja? Ninja Golf? Shadow Warriors? The Last Ninja? We dissect the ninja videogames of the 1980s. As with the movies, not every game with 'Ninja' in the title could guarantee actual quality ninja content but I was willing to take the risks. I saved my pocket money and slavishly bought everything I could. It was tough at times but, if enduring the highs and the lows of ninja gaming served any practical purpose at all, it at least laid the groundwork for me to write this article. So let’s take a look, starting from the bottom, at the best and worst of '80s ninja games...”
posted by Fizz (44 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
As with the movies, not every game with 'Ninja' in the title could guarantee actual quality ninja content

We'll just have to agree to disagree.
posted by Fizz at 8:38 AM on July 5


I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of screenshots, but I honestly thought I was the only one with fond memories of Ninja (1986).
posted by Fish Sauce at 8:38 AM on July 5


So they can include a golf game, but they can't include whatever that ninja thing I played on CGA/greenscreen in the 80s that I'd love someone to remind me of? Shithouse.

Anyway, if "tori by the sea" rings any bells to anyone, please advise....
posted by pompomtom at 8:46 AM on July 5


Ninja Gaiden will forever be one of my all time favourite games, despite my never getting past stage 4-2 and those god damn flying birds/bats.
posted by Fizz at 8:46 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


No mention of the greatest ninja challenge of the 80s: the 1989 NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game? The Dam stage dampened more children's ninja fantasies than late-stage Steven Seagal. Most kids didn't even bother pretending to have beaten it.
posted by Svejk at 8:59 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


The Dam stage

That damn dam stage indeed. I never managed to get beyond that level, but I did find that I had a bit more success by turning off the sound. That insane repetitive high pitched beeping noise that is on repeat creates quite a bit of panic and is more likely to cause you to make a mistake as you move in between that poisonous reef.
posted by Fizz at 9:09 AM on July 5


The author appears to have played most of his games on DOS, which makes TMNT an even better fit, because the PC version was actually impossible to beat without glitching - there was an impossible jump somewhere, hopefully after the Dam stage for maximum psychic devastation.

Perhaps the European version was released too late to make the 80s cutoff.
posted by Svejk at 9:09 AM on July 5


The definitive 80s ninja game for me was the Amiga release, Master Ninja: Shadow Warrior of Death. It was like a lot of dodgy cracked Amiga games we got our hands on when I was a kid in that (a) compared to NES graphics it looked amazing and (b) that didn't stop it from playing like shit.

But it looked amazing and I didn't own Ninja Gaiden, so Master Ninja it was. It played like a mix of Karate Champ and QWOP, with all the visual promise of some sort of proto-Mortal Kombat but a framerate and responsiveness that makes flipbooks look good.

To play was to wrestle with the controls and lose. You were always it felt like about a second behind, entering some direction and button combo (me on my shitty, shitty Epix joystick) and wondering whether and when and how it would manifest on screen. Nothing felt natural. Nothing felt like a ninja. At best a win in a round involved only limited awkwardness as you rolled back and forth with the AI and hoped not to spend too much time facing literally the wrong direction while throwing punches and kicks. So prone was gameplay to devolving into you and the AI ninja-somersaulting back and forth to one or the other side of each other that the backward punch move would have been a tremendous asset if I could ever figure out how to produce it reliably and in a timely fashion.

It was very bad. It felt like an undercooked semaphore training simulator. It was the least ninja-y game ever to have the word "ninja" in it. I played a lot of it.
posted by cortex at 9:13 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


Oh shit, thanks for linking to Karate Champ. I was trying to recall the name of that game. It's probably best for me not to think about the amount of money I put into that game during the late 80s.
posted by Fizz at 9:16 AM on July 5


Also, Karate Champ has a cameo appearance in Bloodsport. It's quite delightful.
posted by Fizz at 9:17 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Pulling from a different post on the blue, seems the NES TMNT was beatable with the latest (2nd place) being done a mere 16 days ago.
posted by k5.user at 9:17 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


The PC TMNT is broken in level 3, the big sprawling one that sends you all over the city. There's a spot in the sewer where a block which is necessary to jump from is missing; the arc of the Turtles' jump won't allow you to make it from the block behind it.

As to the NES version, I played it enough as a kid that I could get through the underwater Dam section in one shot, as long as I had enough health to blitz through that one curvy room. You know the one. Only beat level 3 once, though, and never got far in level 4.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:21 AM on July 5


I used to have the coolest ninja game, but I haven't been able to find it in ages.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:26 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


pompomtom: Anyway, if "tori by the sea" rings any bells to anyone...

Perhaps you mean "Torii by the Sea"?
posted by hanov3r at 9:27 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


If you have a bunch of ninja games, they all suck. If you only have one ninja game, it's the greatest ninja game ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:28 AM on July 5 [5 favorites]


Perhaps you mean "Torii by the Sea"?

Creeping up the blind side, shinning up the wall
Stealing through the dark of night
Climbing through a window, stepping to the floor
Checking to the left and the right
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:34 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Whenever I played Shadow Dancer I made up my own song for it

Shadow Dancer
dancin' for shadows
do what you want me to do

posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:41 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of screenshots, but I honestly thought I was the only one with fond memories of Ninja (1986).

So they can include a golf game, but they can't include whatever that ninja thing I played on CGA/greenscreen in the 80s that I'd love someone to remind me of? Shithouse. Anyway, if "tori by the sea" rings any bells to anyone, please advise....

Same game! The Commodore 64 version had some memorably awesome Rob Hubbard music that the article fails to mention.

(the best modern ninja game? Mark of the Ninja, of course.)
posted by neckro23 at 9:43 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


Pulling from a different post on the blue, seems the NES TMNT was beatable with the latest (2nd place) being done a mere 16 days ago.

Speedruns generally make heavy use of glitches and exploits (which is part of what makes them fun), and I believe Svejk was trying to say that the DOS version is unbeatable unless you glitch pass the one impossible jump. I don't know if this is actually true of the NES version as well, but a speedrun unfortunately doesn't provide evidence of that by itself.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:47 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Man, "The Last Ninja" was such a beautiful game with amazing music and ahead-of-its-time pseudo-3d gameplay. It was also outrageously frustrating.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:54 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Ninja Kid 2 was my favourite arcade game of the 80s. It had a good variety of levels, creatures and bosses, but the best was the physics of the character, how with practice you could bounce your way up walls, much faster than climbing.
posted by Flashman at 10:00 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I still love Saboteur 1, and more so 2, to this day. The intro section alone in Saboteur 2 is still vividly in my mind, arriving by hanglider and choosing when you let go. In fact, as far as I recall, I've never finished either of them successfully. Perhaps I need to go back and play with same intensity for completion that I do modern games.

Everytime I think "Spectrum games weren't that hard, surely I'm better at them now", then return and play them, I discover that yep they really were that damn hard. The only exception seems to be Jetpac which I can pretty much play indefinitely or until I get bored now.
posted by diziet at 10:05 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


(the best modern ninja game? Mark of the Ninja, of course.)

Oh is that what we're going to do today, we're going to fight.

You said Mark of the Ninja, but what you meant was Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.
posted by Fizz at 10:25 AM on July 5


No mention of Legend of the Mystical Ninja? (I have the 'travel agency' theme as my ringtone :)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:46 AM on July 5


No mention of Legend of the Mystical Ninja? (I have the 'travel agency' theme as my ringtone :)

I'm only not sad that LotMN is Japan-only on the SNES Classic because I don't expect to be able to buy one anyway.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:55 AM on July 5


Ninja Gaiden

My brother and I used to play this back in the day, but we called it Ninja Gaijin. Our headcanon (not that we had a word for that yet) was that the guy we played was the loudest, most clueless, touristy, foreign ninja ever. We called him Larry, I think.

"HEY GUYS, WHATCHA DOIN'? STEALTHING, HUH? AWESOME! MAN, THESE CLIMBING CLAWS ARE GREAT! HEY, ARE THESE TABI BOOTS CHAFING IN BETWEEN ANYONE ELSE'S TOES?"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:31 AM on July 5 [10 favorites]


My brother and I used to play this back in the day, but we called it Ninja Gaijin. Our headcanon (not that we had a word for that yet) was that the guy we played was the loudest, most clueless, touristy, foreign ninja ever. We called him Larry, I think.

Please turn this into a movie. It probably already is a movie. Wait, I guess what I really want is a Ninja Pink Panther.
posted by Fizz at 11:45 AM on July 5


> As with the movies...

Why is it that there are so many good samurai movies, but so few (zero?) good ninja movies?
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:20 PM on July 5


After his father is killed in a gruesome cosplay accident, Ninja Gaijin uses his inheritance money to go on a pretty wicked vacation to South America.

You said Mark of the Ninja, but what you meant was Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.

Oh snap, I forgot to get this on the Steam sale.
posted by neckro23 at 12:23 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


The Ninja Warriors was one of the coolest ninja arcade games, simply due to its awesome triple monitor magic.

Pity the game itself kind of sucked. Darius made far better use of the hardware.
posted by CaseyB at 12:28 PM on July 5


Why is it that there are so many good samurai movies, but so few (zero?) good ninja movies?

Same cultural dynamic that results in almost all medieval movies being about knights. The only one I can actually think of with an assassin protagonist is Assassin's Creed. And you can't really rehabilitate ninjas into lovable rogues like Robin Hood did with thieves.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:31 PM on July 5


the guy we played was the loudest, most clueless, touristy, foreign ninja ever. We called him Larry, I think.

Please turn this into a movie. It probably already is a movie.


Of course it is.
posted by CaseyB at 12:32 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Scrolling this page on my phone is nigh impossible.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on July 5


Why is it that there are so many good samurai movies, but so few (zero?) good ninja movies?

Um, there are at least five American Ninja movies.
posted by Svejk at 12:47 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


I'm glad they included Ninja Gaiden but if you're not talking about the game's opening sequence, you're doing it wrong.

The kids these days don't have bother using their imaginations to see the creator's vision of the sequence without the limitation imposed by the technology of the time. These days it's all on the dev team to make the cut scenes look cool.

Some games do better than other at making the game-play look cool too but there are still situations where in-game animations can't keep up with what I think it should look like in my mind.

Sometimes there is an advantage to letting the player's or audience's imagination fill in some blanks because everyone will fill it in with whatever they think is ideal. I'll point to Larry, the loud, clueless, touristy foreign ninja as a recent example.
posted by VTX at 1:07 PM on July 5


Why is it that there are so many good samurai movies, but so few (zero?) good ninja movies?

I'm going to put forth the hypothesis that popular depictions of Samurai are closer to the real historical Samurai that they're based on. So there is a lot is real history to inspire movies and historical samurai themselves had a rich mythological tradition providing a lot of additional sources of inspiration. he strict code of honor make it easy to paint them as righteous heroes.

The popular image of ninjas as black-clad assassins sneaking in the night is basically fiction but either way their secretive nature makes them natural antagonists. Even most movies where a ninja is the hero pit that ninja against other ninjas. Otherwise ninjas are pitted against samurai, normal folks in over their heads, normal folks in over their heads but who happen to have a martial arts side hobby they're REALLY into, or Chuck Norris.

A movie about an assassin with a heart of gold and his new apprentice (who better to explain things too?) who, betrayed, must use all of their historically-accurate-ninja skills to save the day or something like that would be pretty cool. While movies with ninjas as heroes are relatively rare, I'm not aware of any featuring historically accurate ninjas.
posted by VTX at 1:58 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Are you saying that Ninja Assassin is not a technically and historically accurate representations of the ninja?
posted by Fizz at 3:02 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


re: NES TMNT

The dam wasn't so bad. I could make it to the Terrordome pretty consistently, but that boss sucked, and then there was another level and at least one boss fight after that. I finished it with save states and an emulator some years back, but it was a pain. Nothing like the battletoads crap, though.

re: impossible glitch
I see this a lot. One sewer screen had a one block gap with no room to jump, you had to just walk straight across. Its only once in the game, and I think it only works when something is directly above you, but I found that as an accident.
posted by lkc at 5:23 PM on July 5


No, but it's an excellent example of a cheesy ninja movie. I had a pretty good idea of what that movie was going to be before I saw it and I was delighted that I was exactly right. It's a straightforward plot and a unabashed and well executed celebration of the genre.

It's also nice in that it features an Asian protagonist whereas a LOT of older ninja movies are white dude heroes vs. a bunch of Asian ninjas. Said white dude is sometimes also a ninja. Either way there is some problematic subtext there that Ninja Assassin doesn't.

If I took what the opening sequence of Ninja Gaiden looks like in my head and made it into a movie Ninja Assassin would more or less be that movie.
posted by VTX at 5:28 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Ninja Assassin is a great example of a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin movie. But I have to point out that it's very much a good ninja versus bad ninjas story. (And it's always one (or three or four) good ones against a lot of bad ones. Conservation of Ninjutsu, and all.)

I think the TMNT movie with the time travel didn't have ninja antagonists? Yeah, I think the main antagonist was a samurai lord.

So, there you go. Turtles in Time with the trope subversion.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:00 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


So you guys are saying that the Master is not an accurate depiction of a ninja? (Why yes I did pick that YouTube clip because it featured the Transworld Entertainment logo. Why do you ask?)
posted by Ashwagandha at 7:57 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Before reading the article: "Hmmm, I wonder how many of these I played?"

BMX Ninja: "Huh wow, OK never heard of that."

Ninja Scooter Simulator: "Um, is this just a pisstake of the ninja game genre?"

Ninja Hamster: "OK I get it, this is a gag article with made-up shitty ninja games."

Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja: "Wait what? So BMX Ninja, Ninja Scooter Simulaor, and Ninja Hamster are actually real games? Mind. Blown."

I was more arcade than home systems though, so perhaps I missed the worst of the shitty ninja genre.
posted by russm at 5:30 AM on July 6


So you guys are saying that the Master is not an accurate depiction of a ninja? (Why yes I did pick that YouTube clip because it featured the Transworld Entertainment logo. Why do you ask?)

I grew up in the era of bad 80s action dramas and I've never heard of this. This is amazing. It's like someone combined American Ninja and the A-Team together, with a little Matlock thrown in. I'll be watching this in its entirety later.
posted by Fizz at 8:29 AM on July 6


It's like someone combined American Ninja and the A-Team together

Only cheaper. It was featured on MST3K so it isn't super obscure. I recall it being a summer replacement show. Sho Kosugi is in it so it has ninja street cred.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:16 AM on July 6


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