NINJAS! July 09 2002

Ah, yes. Ninjas. Who on this plane of existence could possibly claim to be more obscure? They enter, they kill, they leave through the kitchen window, and they don't leave a trace. Anyone who claims to have seen a ninja is lying or dead before you can say "She sees Esau sitting on the sea shore she sells sea shells on the sea shore". They're that stealthy. All right, I just tried saying that myself, and it turned out to be a lousy axample. You get the point, though.

I have often wondered why ninjas (or is it 'ninja'? Damn inconsistent pluralis) seem to captivate so many people. The eighties were all ninja. According to Namco, Acclaim, Konami and the other video game companies, ninjas kidnap the president every other weekend, they secretly run all organized crime in the US, and if turtle cartoonists Eastman and Laird speak the truth, they even have their own pizza chain aptly named 'Ninja Pizza'.

The reason I'm fascinated by the ninja craze, is that I've always observed it from a distance. Not by personal choice I must stress, had I been sufficiently exposed the hype, I'd be hiding behind the sofa wearing black clothes as we speak. The thing is, here in Norway, the word 'ninja' is illegal in marketing. So unlike most of you guys, I have never owned an item that comes in a box shouting 'NINJA!' in glorious pseudo-Asian letters. Don't believe me? Then how do you explain THIS?

S'truth. I can't give you a satisfactory reason. We can rule out the possibility of a viking shadow cabinet fighting ninjas off to secure their own marketing interests, as there simply isn't any viking merchandise out there apart from those crappy plastic opera helmets hooligans wear at soccer games. Perhaps the authorities figured ninja toys could turn kids into black-clad stealth assassins. I have no idea. The effects of the ban are clearly visible, though. Let's look at an example:

Nintendo games! Fifty percent of all video game titles produced in the eighties included the word 'ninja'. I'm pretty sure this nearly caused the demise of Unsaco, official Norwegian Nintendo distributor:

You want examples? Ninja Gaiden became Shadow Gaiden, Shadow of the Ninja became Blue Shadow, and Legend of the Mystical Ninja... I think they're still debating that one. In essence, the Scandinavian eighties were all about heroes, shadows and blue. Poor substitutes for the real thing. But enough about the ninja ban, let's look at some Nintendo games.

LEGEND OF KAGE (NES)

I think now is a good time to mention I'm not really working towards any point, moral or goal in this article. I simply left my grandparents' dinner table with a burning desire to write about ninjas. And I know you have felt the same craving at several occations, so don't you roll your eyes.

Legend of Kage doesn't waste any time explaining the presumedly long and fascinating legend of Kage. No sir, this is positively the heftiest in medias res opening I have ever seen: opening credits > princess Kirihime walks > ninja kidnaps Kirihime > Kage falls from a tree > action galore! This is probably the only game where chances are you're already dead seven seconds after you turned the power on.

On your right is a screenshot taken two seconds before Kage enters by air. What the shot fails to illustrate, is that once the ninja has snatched the princess, he flies away in an impressively straight 30 degree angle. I was pretty amazed at first, but soon realized that this story must take place on some low-gravity planet or other: everybody in this game are able to jump forty feet into the air and land on top of monstrous trees.

The level design confused me at first: I walked/ran/limped/flew eastwards for a couple of seconds, discovered I couldn't go any further, went the other way, and reached the other end. Then, I discovered the only way to finish the level was to kill the one enemy that was chosen the be the boss. I'm not kidding, there are three kinds of enemies here: red ninjas, blue ninjas, and ninjas dressed in Rocky Balboa's robe. The latter ones are fewest in number, and one of them apparently won the end-boss lottery.

This goes on for a couple of levels, until we get to a stage where you're supposed to climb up a mountain/building hybrid. While exiting earlier levels was next to impossible due to secret bosses, this one is easily beaten by keeping your thumb on the 'up' button. In case you forget, there's always a big blinking arrow on the screen reminding you which direction to go.

After you rescue the princess, you take her by the arm, jump to the top of the building you're in, and then juuuump back to the tree where the game started four levels ago. Then, the idiot Kage loses the princess to the same ninja again. This happens three times! Kage is an idiot, hence the ninjas he kills are even greater idiots, and I am the greatest idiot of all who let the game trick me into thinking there were new levels whenever the colour sceme was rotated. Fool me once shame on you, fool me four frigging times shame on me.

Just when I was about to give up, I met the end level boss: a samurai who couldn't hurt me if I wanted him to. This explains why ninjas are such morons in this game: they're just samurai (samurais? Pluralis schmuralis) who have disguised themselves as ninjas. I knew something was wrong. Well, at least the game is over...

...OR IS IT!?

That's right, Kage manages to lose the princess again! You're the worst hero ever, Kage! Oh well, at least the ending could provide my Engrish fix. I love Engrish. Let's do one where ninjas aren't flying monkeys:

WRATH OF THE BLACK MANTA (NES)

I used to love this game when I was younger. I have no idea why; It didn't stand out in any way and it was tougher than Gradius, so I never made it past the second level. But I loved it all the same.

Now that emula... huuurrr, now that I'm more of a seasoned player, I'm finally able to explore this game further, and what I've discovered is this: Black Manta is the world's first moron ninja hero. He's got no clue what's going on around him, he's dependent on kidnapped children to inform him what to do, he can't tell purple from black, and HE CAN'T FIND A SINGLE HIDDEN DOOR EVEN WHEN PEOPLE TELL HIM IT'S RIGHT WHERE HE STANDS!! I'm not kidding, everyone in this game tells you there's a hidden door to the left or right, but finding them is impossible! Perhaps they're purple against the black background. I guess the moral of this game is that even colour-blind retards can save children. Taito got gypped when Mother Theresa won the Nobel prize.

I guess I shouldn't bash Manta without producing some evidence of his stupidity. Here's a conversation between our wacky hero and his enigmatic sensei (he doesn't fool me, though: that's clearly Mister Miyagi):

Ring!... Ring!
Who could be calling in the middle of the night? Hello?
Hello Manta.
Master! What's up?
You've heard about the disappearing children in New York?
Of course.
Well, it looks like the kidnapping theory was correct.
How's that?
They've taken several children, including my youngest student, Taro. But Taro is a sharp boy. He left a clue. We found a letter at the scene. It says: Please send help. We have been kidnapped and are being held near the waterfront.
It's time I got to the bottom of this. I'll find Taro, and put an end to this madness once and for all.
Good. May the force of eternal wisdom be your guide.

See? Even Miyagi knows Manta is unable to chew gum and not shit his pants at the same time. Unfortunately, the forces of eternal wisdom had caller ID, and simply refused to pick up the phone when they saw who was on the other end of the line. Tough luck.

I'll give the guy this, though: He's one crafty ninja. I took a lot of snapshots from this game, and now that I looked through them, he had managed to remove most of the files. A true ninja never leaves a trace. Oh well, I managed to salvage one shot. It's from the second boss stage, where we meet four ninjas that magically turn into fire spitting LEGO blocks.

You know what? I'm actually pretty relieved I lost the snaps, now I don't have to write about the rest of the game. Ha!

Before I end this thing, I feel I have to justify the fact that I devoted the bulk of this article to games that quite frankly doesn't give the ninjas much credit. On the other hand, I just realized I've used the word 'ninja' over thirty times so far, and supect you're just as sick of it as I am right now. You know what? If you want to see some impressive ninja action, go to Ninja Burger. Ninja ninja ninja. That's forty.

Author's note: I just got a good night's sleep (meaning I slept quite a few hours into the 'day' portion of Earth's orbit), and have re-read the above article. The verdict? It's the stupidest frigging thing I've written in my whole life. But I still kinda like it. Because it's about NINJAS! And ninjas are amazing no matter how much cake you throw in their faces. Did that make sense? Crap, I didn't get enough sleep. This is what happens when you take a couple of weeks off work. You go asleep at six a.m. and wake up when your mother calls to ask if you want to come over for dinner. Bah, I'll upload this mess anyway. Because it's about NINJAS!