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The Ninja

1987 Sega

Sega Master System


The Game: Cuetsey run-and-gun type game but instead of machine guns you shoot ninja stars.

Review: In the 80s it seems like there was only one plot to all action games - save the girl from the evil bad guy. Didn't matter if the bad guys were gangbangers or terrorists, ancient zombies or invading alien monsters, they always seem to kidnap your girl, and you feel the need to go out and kill every one of them single handedly. This formula was adhered to so much so that Sega actually changed the sex of the protagonist of this game from female to male in order to fit this universal plot line.

Well, maybe not for that reason specifically. It probably had more to do with demographics in the United States (boys not wanting to play a game that stars a girl) than anything else. But the end result is this game is yet another game where you, as an action hero dude (a ninja this time) must go out and save your girlfriend/hostage/princess from some big bad guy. If it ain't broke don't fix it, I suppose.

You are a ninja, although you wear a samurai outfit. You can chuck throwing stars and turn invisible. There really isn't much in the way of powerups or other weapons, which leaves the game a bit shallow. The bad guy ninja/samurais/attack dogs/whatever usually just make a beeline right at you, not much in the way of patterns to remember or whatnot. You are able to block their shots with your shots, which actually makes the game easier than it should be because usually you can just maneuver the bad guys into lining up for you. Even the last boss just follows you around blindly, letting you continuously pelt him with ninja stars. Could use a little more technique there.

To compensate for simple A. I. they just throw as many bad guys as they can at you, at any given moment you're being attacked at all sides. This gets really crazy in the final few screens when dozens of enemy ninjas converge on you from all directions. This does a lot to up the twitch factor but still leaves one with a hollow feeling inside. Couple this with a short play time (the game can be completed in less than ten minutes) and I can see how some people may have been highly disappointed in this game back in the day.

What saves the game is interesting level design in places. You run through villages, forests, rice patties, temples, etc. One area has you climbing a steep hill while boulders fall down around you (an effect which is really nicely done, with lots of fast moving sprites on screen without much flicker. Another area has you playing Frogger on floating logs, all while dodging enemy ninjas and rouge throwing stars. Towards the end before you get into the enemy castle you have to dodge an oncoming horse stampede, and through it all the action never slows down for an instant.

Overall it's a quick little twitch shooter that's entertaining for a short while but not really worth more than a few replays. Once one gets used to the game (and the extreme difficulty of the later levels) the game quickly loses value as anything more than a well designed time waster.

Graphics: Clear, and for the most part flicker free. Simple animations and limited colors are compensated by the sheer amount of moving sprites on screen in some areas.

Sound: The usual 8-bit zaps and such.

Gameplay: Basic follow-you-around A. I. is made up by the throw-a-million-guys-at-you approach. Well designed levels keep the game from bogging down, but it does get a bit monotonous at times.

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