(Review archived from November 15, 2018)
I’d go so far as to say that Shadow of the Ninja is one of the best ninja games released on the NES. And given the popularity that ninjas enjoyed during the lifespan of the NES, it’s a console that featured a fair number of games featuring them. Even when we drop the ‘Ninja’ qualifier and measure Shadow of the Ninja against the deep pool of action platformers for NES (ninja-based or not), it’s still above average by a considerable margin.
Like most action platformers on the NES, the story is fairly inconsequential. It’s the year 2029 and an evil overlord named Garuda has taken over the United States. Two lone ninjas of the Iga clan have taken it upon themselves to infiltrate Garuda’s stronghold and assassinate him using the ancient arts of ninjutsu. Of course when I say ‘assassinate’, I mean take on the entirety of his forces Rambo style. You may notice that I said ninjas as in plural. In the single player game you have the option of playing as either Hayate a male ninja clad in blue or Kaede a female ninja in red. But single player games are for losers without friends! Shadow of the Ninja also features simultaneous two player ninja combat, and I suspect this would be a fun way to tackle the game with a fellow ninja. I’m a loser without friends … so I really wouldn’t know. It’s a nice feature and something that’s rather uncommon in 8-bit action platformers.
Playing in simultaneous 2P might help to mitigate some of the challenge in the game though, because make no mistake, this is a challenging game. It’s not quite as challenging as some of the more notorious action platformers on the system, certainly not so much as Battletoads or even Ninja Gaiden, the game most likely to draw comparison with Shadow of the Ninja. But that’s perhaps not the best comparison here. As opposed to the non-stop breakneck action of Ninja Gaiden, Shadow of the Ninja invites a slightly more tactical approach. It’s obviously still an action platformer, but a full speed balls out approach will seldom be successful here. The boss battles too require patience and pattern recognition for success since they last long enough to prevent a simple button mashing approach. If anything, the gameplay in Shadow of the Ninja often felt reminiscent of Sunsoft’s Batman game appearing on the NES.
Graphics and music are both well done. The music is particularly good and occasionally reminiscent of 8-bit Castlevania tracks in some stages. Always high praise! Graphically I was once again reminded of Batman on the NES with levels combining elements of high technology and urban decay.
Shadow of the Ninja is a game that’s ‘good enough’. It doesn’t do a whole lot to distinguish itself from other similar games of its era, but neither is it noticeably bad in any particular area. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but doesn’t break any molds in the process; a workman like effort. All the same I stand by my initial comment that this is one of the best ninja games on the NES. If you’re a fan of other ninja games from this era, Shadow of the Ninja is definitely worth your time.