Shadow of the Ninja
Box Shot
Shadow of the Ninja
Platform: NES
Publisher: Natsume
Designer: Natsume
Genre: Action
Players: 2 (Simultaneous)
Published Date 1991
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

When Ninja Gaiden came out, it was a tremendous hit. This combined with the fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were extremely popular told game developers that the ninja was, in fact, very popular. So, many video games were produced with these "masters of shadow". Almost all of them bring back memories too horrible to recollect (Wrath of the Black Manta, anyone?) However, there was one decent ninja game to be brought to the NES...Natsume's Shadow of the Ninja.

Shadow of the Ninja does not try to have much of a plot, because it's like most other action games. Emporeror Garuda is oppressing people in the 21st century, and it's up to two ninjas to stop him. Yes, two ninjas (one male, one female.) In a rather cool move, this game is two player simultaneous, which seems to be a bit rare in action games outside the Contra series. This adds up to plenty of flicker, but it's still plenty of fun. Anyway, you've got five stages to fight through, ranging from a rainy cargo ship, the sewers, a construction site and an airport. Many of the levels are what you'd expect...run, slash, jump on moving platforms, etc. Not exactly innovative stuff, but still fun. Additionally, you can grab on to most surfaces from beneath them and grapple hand over hand.

Although your ninjas fight with a plain old sword, it can be upgraded two levels to fire energy blasts across the screen. If a katana won't suit your purposes, there are also sickles lying around for you to use. These weapons are much longer and more versatile (with a sickle, you can attack up and diaganolly) but it's much slower to swing than a sword. In other words, don't expect to do too much damage with these. Shurikens and bombs are also lying around in containers, and depending on what level your main weapon is on, their performace is altered. If your sword is at its normal level, you throw plain old stars, but at higher power levels you can toss fast moving knifes and even homing shurikens. How bombs are thrown are also affected by your weapon level. If that wasn't it, you can also hold down the B button for a few seconds to summon lightning to kill everyone on the screen. Unfortunately, this will drain energy from your life bar. What's worse is that power-ups disappear once you take four or five hits.

Speaking of life bars, they're kept in the upper-right part of the screen (and the second player's right below it.) Although you can take a fair amount of hits before dying, you only really have one life to deal with. From then, you must continue. This usually isn't too bad, since even though the game doesn't always notify you of checkpoints, you usually don't get sent back to far. You only get a few continues though, so be careful. Playing in two player is easier, because you can restart right where you died, but the continues are shared between the people, so don't expect any bonuses. By the way, when you fall down pits, you don't die, just lose a few life bars.

There are some problems with the way the game is played though. First off, most enemies take a couple hits, making the game play a bit slower. Your ninjas don't move or jump as fast as Ryu Hayabusa, so dodging enemies isn't quite the same thing, and can get a bit annoying. What's really annoying are the bosses though...the first few are okay, but once you get to the general who turns into a mechanical bird once you hit him enough, it just gets way too tough. In fact, their life bar usually doesn't show damage on them until they're almost dead. The last level (and boss) just take the cake as being extremely hard. Luckily, there is an invincible code and stage select.

The opening level of Shadow of the Ninja is very cool, with rain coming down in the background and the ship you're on sways up and down. Although many of the other levels in this game aren't quite as nice looking, they still generally look pretty good. Many are very gritty, but adds nicely to the atmosphere. The music's a mixed bag...a few great tunes, one or two good ones, and the rest are average. The sound effects are great, with plenty of grunts, screams, and explosions. The controls aren't as precise as I'd like...with your normal sword being so short, it's tough to hit many of the enemies. You can't sling your sickle upward when leaping either (only while standing.) Plus jumping seems a bit odd...you don't seem to jump high or far enough. In a weird control quirk, if you swing your weapon while jumping, gravity seems to pull you down faster. Weird. The game emulates pretty decently, except for the lack of grunts and groans. This isn't a biggy though.

While Shadow of the Ninja lacks the immediacy, control, or plot of Ninja Gaiden, it adds its own charms like multi-player combat and a variety of weapons. It doesn't have the same replay value either...once you beat it, it's fun to play with a friend every once in awhile, but seems to get old afterward. It just never reaches a height of extreme intensity. Getting tossed to the beginning of the game when you die at a difficult boss is a bit annoying too, especially since they tend to be very cheap. My best recommendation is to give it a shot. It's not the best action game on the planet, but it still can be very fun.