Friday, March 15, 2024

Shadow of the Ninja (NES, 1990)


One of the trio of games I got to play (some of) the first time I ever saw an NES. Which makes this...possibly the first NES game I ever played. It was either this, Super Mario Bros, or Destiny of an Emperor. Then in 2007 I actually played through it. It's been ages, so it's high time I took a gander at it. Going to see if it brings back any memories of that first time holding an NES controller. I bet this WAS the first one I played, because it had "ninja" in the title and I was like 7. Definitely would have reached for this first out of the three games. Also it's from Natsume, so that's pretty cool. Without further ado...

It's 2029 A.D. and the twin towers are still standing. Looks like pretty much all the other buildings in Lower Manhattan don't exist though. Weird city planning but whatever. For a kid who had only really seen Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego on the 1st grade school computer, these had to be pretty cool graphics.

This is the funny thing about stuff like this. The dictator is always some gruff, evil-looking bad guy. As if someone like that would ever be dictator of America. No, when we get a dictator it'll be some handsome young guy who looks like he rolled off a Handsome Politician assembly line and has the full support of the media, establishment, and our institutions.

Come on, Natsume.

A number of lives? What kind of number are we talking here? Zero? Zero is a number.

We've got two playable characters here and you can pick either of them, which is pretty cool. Not many NES games had a female protagonist at all at this time much less an outwardly female character (because let's be honest, you can't really tell with Samus)

This and Super Mario Bros 2 come to mind really. I go with Hayate since that's probably who I picked in 1990, but let's see Kaede real quick.

Yep, there's Kaede. Far as I know both characters play the same, but I didn't get far enough to see if their powerups were different.

Here's Hayate. Much like Shatnerhand, powerups are obtained from these white boxes that spawn in.

This plays a lot like a knockoff of Ninja Gaiden, and you can cling to ceilings and walls. The sword swing is very short-range, like NG. You get special weapons with a few limited charges, like NG. However it lacks the awesome cutscenes, intriguing story, and polish. They tried though, for sure.

First boss is this guy who throws punches and you end up just sorta standing and banging it out until you win. I think I beat this guy the first time I played in 1990 because I actually remember it. Kind of surprising that level 1-1 has a boss to begin with, but it isn't much of a boss. There are 5 worlds altogether and each one has 2 or 3 levels, for a grand total of probably around 12 levels. They're all pretty short too.

The rest of World 1 gets into some platforming, but it's short-lived and the rest of the game doesn't really have stuff like this. Think the designers just kinda gave up on designing platformer levels quickly. Oh yeah, and this would be a good time to mention that pits don't kill you in this game. That's right, an NES game where pits aren't lethal. You take some damage and reappear wherever you fell from.

Here's the sword in action. Behold the short range! Have to basically be right up next to things to land hits. Luckily there's enough range to not bump into them, and bosses don't move around horizontally too much. Unfortunately regular foes DO, and it's not uncommon to have an enemy just running all over you while you try to get enough distance on it to slash.

This big boss is some kind of giant construction machine, and you win by getting up here and wailing on it. Pretty cool fight. I definitely didn't get this far in 1990. I think I beat the first boss and then switched games. In Destiny of an Emperor I went and fought a couple random battles, got confused (though I did like the HP meters), and turned it off. Super Mario Bros was the one I got the furthest with. I got all the way to World 1-4 somehow on my first go and I'm not sure how. I even saw Bowser at the end of the level, lost, and from that point on was intrigued by not just Bowser himself, but video game bosses in general. I went and asked people at school who that was at the end of World 1 and people told me it was one of the Koopalings. Back then some people legit thought SMB1's world bosses were all Koopalings too.

Anyway back to the ninja game.

One of the power-ups turns the sword into a whip/grappling hook/not sure weapon that functions just like the whip in Castlevania. So yeah, this game is very derivative. This particular weapon is good because it gives you much-needed reach.

And you need it for stuff like this, where you can't really reach foes with your sword without getting shot. At least you've got a life meter and don't just poof in one hit like SMB.

Next boss is this bad dude with a sword. At this point bosses start having more health than one life meter, so their life meter just stays full until you do enough damage for it to change color and start ticking down. It's a little confusing at first because it seems like you aren't doing any damage.

Mid-game the levels start getting more complex and we get a little bit more platforming.

There's also this freaking gargoyle boss! I like that the boss health meters match their color.

This is it, World 5, the last one. This is a good time to mention that one of the first Nintendo Powers I read had a stage select code for this game. I remember seeing that and writing down the code so I could jump to World 5-2, the last level, next time I had a chance to play it. I really wanted to see what the last level looked like, and assumed the last levels of games were where all the best parts were.

That...isn't the case obviously, but this game does have a pretty cool last level. I never did a chance to use the code though. For old time's sake I tried punching it in on this playthrough, and couldn't get it to work. Like at all. Either the code (from GameFAQs) is wrong, or you have to enter it super duper fast. It's like 15 button presses long, which is ridiculous.

The last level is full of these bombs that can't be dodged and detonate when you get close. At first I thought there was no way around these damn death-traps, like the mines in that Game Boy T2 game, but I did find a trick to it. Get close and then immediately run away and you can trip them without getting hit.

Final boss, Garuda himself. You need to git gud at the mines on the way here because losing this fight sends you back to the start of 5-2. This game isn't that hard at all overall but this last level is. I'd have probably made the Garuda fight 5-3 by itself to be in line with the rest of the game's trickiness.

This fight is easily the toughest thing in the game, as Garuda busts out some kind of samurai battle armor. You can hide on the ladders, but if you do that the dragon statues start belching fire at you.

The keys here are: 1. Bring the Whip

2. When he jumps into the air, STAND STILL. He drops 3 exploding bombs when he jumps, and if you try evasive maneuvers you probably get hit. Stand perfectly still and they miss almost 100% of the time. Once you realize this, it's just a matter of following his pattern and whipping when he's standing still.

Alright! This would be a great moment for me if I didn't already knock this game out back in 2007. Still, it's cool to revisit something from my kid-hood. And not just anything, probably the first NES game I played. Which means this helped get me into games in the first place and thus helped ruin my LIFE which is awesome. It's a very derivative game that clearly copies several major NES games that were already out there, and isn't as polished as any of them, but it's decent and a fun thing to run through once.

Weird thing is, this game was never covered by Nintendo Power. I checked the 1990 issues, skimmed various back-catalog listings for other years, looked it up online... nothing. Zero coverage in Nintendo Power at any point. That's super weird considering the game was from a fairly major publisher and is of decent quality for the time. Not sure why this was the case, but now I'm curious. Ninjas were all the rage in 1990, another thing that makes its omission odd. Maybe Konami was mad and thought this game would take sales away from their ninja games, and Nintendo Power didn't want to upset them? I have no idea. Konami was pretty much the NES king, so I'd probably bow to them too.

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