[I ♥ The PC Engine] The Ninja WarriorsPosted on June 25th, 2010 2 comments
Release Date: 6/30/89
Price: 6200 yen
Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.94 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A side-scrollingg action game in the same style as the arcade original, but the characters are smaller and the graphics overall more plain. The player can choose between a male or female ninja, both of which can attack with a kunai (dagger) or a limited number of shurikens.”
In 1989, worldwide, children were infatuated with ninjas. It was just, like, ninja ninja ninja, all the time. Our parents played cowboys and Indians in the back alley; we played ninjas and some other ninjas in the cul-de-sac. You had to be there to fully understand it, trust me. The Official Ninja Homepage is hardly an over-the-top parody — it would’ve been treated at total face value by my 11-year-old, Ninja Turtle-lovin’ arse at this point in time.
All this was true despite the fact that, even if they weren’t 80-percent myth in the first place, real ninjas would not go around wearing flashy red outfits and walking down the street in broad daylight. There’s nothing even remotely “shadow arts” about that nonsense. We didn’t care. We preferred them that way, in fact.
The Ninja Warriors marks both the height of this slightly skewed ninja sensation and the apex of Taito’s technical achievements of the late ’80s. The 1987 arcade version was the second game after Darius to use a three-monitor setup for a wide-screen effect that completely wowed me at the time but must have cost a fortune for the operator in electric bills alone. The screens were filled with huge characters that animated with astonishing smoothness. The music, sampled shamisen and all, was spectacular; it took other arcade devs a good couple of years to catch up with Taito in sound hardware expertise. The game itself was…hard, yes, but a mixture of pattern management and a bit of help from the control system (things get a lot easier once you realize that your ninja’s invincible during a flip) allowed you to get pretty far on a single credit once you picked up the basic skills. (Not even that could get you through the last level, though, a stage that combines a fiendish time limit with your ninja’s worrisome lack of urgency climbing up and down stairwells.)
The PC Engine port scored high enough in the PCE Fan rankings, but frankly it doesn’t stand the test of time the way the earlier Kyūkyoku Tiger has. The music’s super sparse — something that can’t be helped, given the difference in sound tech, but surely Taito could’ve managed a better job than this. The graphics are okay, with a surprising amount of animation intact, but most of the little details from the arcade version’s backgrounds are gone. Few, if any, of the strategies from the arcade game can be applied here, something that always annoyed hardcore gamers during this era. Worst of all, there’s no tank in stages 2 and 4 — one of the most jaw-dropping bits of the original when you had to fight it, and an enemy that made it into both the 1993 Mega CD version and the 8-bit computer ports released by Virgin in Europe. Given the PCE’s powerful sprite capabilities, there’s no excuse, just like there’s no excuse for the flicker that plagues the game whenever four or so characters are onscreen.
Still, Taito got the most important thing right with this port — the atmosphere. The world of The Ninja Warriors is desolate, oppressive, and brutally fatal. You are a merciless murder machine in a bedsheet, and you have to be, or else you’ll explode spectacularly at the hands of 150 knife-wielding African-American soldiers. For the consummate ninja junkie of the late 1980s, few other games slaked your thirst in such a comprehensive manner.
Many PCE fans, myself included, wonder what Taito could have done with an extra 1 Mbit to play with. I’m not saying it would fundamentally change the game (it wouldn’t have), but surely we would have gotten a bit more polish and eye-candy.
Also: If you haven’t played Ninja Warriors whilst listening to Europe’s catchy song on the subject (with a refrain of “Ninja survive!”), then you are doing yourself a disservice.
There is something decidedly disconcerting about seeing wave after wave of black people run throat first into the dagger of a very blonde ninja.
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