Saturday 8 January 2022

The Ninja (Sega Master System review)

Developer: Sega R&D 2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1986

The Ninja is an action game and a redesigned port of the 1985 Arcade title Ninja Princess. 

The mission is to battle your way through to the Ohkami Castle and rescue the princess from the evil Ninja Warriors leader Gyokuro. You can throw ninja darts which can be powered-up by collecting red scrolls, run faster by obtaining blue scrolls, or press both face buttons for temporary invincibility. The challenge can be incredibly high at times and that's partly due to the controls, as trying to fire and manoeuvre around the playfield independently (and accurately) is nigh-on impossible with the mushy Master System d-pad. Enemies also swarm with little notice, but I do appreciate how they don't respawn; this gives you a fighting chance and once you realise you can retreat and scroll the screen downwards you'll give yourself much more room to outsmart them. Using the temporary invincibility option is also massively beneficial and helps to even  the playing field. There's a good range of enemies to keep things interesting too and the level design cleverly introduces hazards (e.g. rivers that split the playfield in two) that impede your progress and force you to think of new tactics on the fly. I also like the pre-stage map screen which is reminiscent of Road Fighter (1985, MSX), as it gives you a visual demonstration of your journey and how far you have left to travel. Where things do falter are the auto-scrolling levels where you must dodge horses and rocks while defeating enemies; here, there's no shadows to indicate safe zones which makes spatial distancing a nightmare to judge. The music is catchy though and one neat feature is how the tunes change depending on which scroll you currently possess.

The Ninja doesn't get off to the best start due to its awkward control scheme and high degree of difficulty, but once you adjust and experience the diverse level design it becomes a real grower. It's an acquired taste for sure, but fans of both the action and shooter genres might get some enjoyment out of this one.

Random trivia: The game wasn't released on the Sega Master System in Brazil until 1993.

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