This rather generic-sounding run-n-gun title (with generic box art to match) is actually a remake of a rather forgotten Sega arcade title Ninja Princess which was essentially Commando set in ancient Japan and actually featured a female protagonist. So it’s not too surprising that when Sega ported it to the Master System they went with the usual male hero while the princess was relegated to the standard damsel in distress. In any case this cart is quite similar in gameplay to Sega’s Rambo game that we discussed a few posts back, but does this game fare any better that its Sly Stallone counterpart?
Just like the title suggests, you’re a ninja named Kazamaru in ancient Japan and on a mission to free the aforementioned princess from an evil tyrant infiltrating the palace. You have battle through 13 stages, most of which are overhead vertical levels where you try to make your way upward while taking out the various enemy ninja and other ancient Japanese stereotypes in your path. Your ninja is armed with an infinite supply of knives to cut down your foes and can even deflect enemy projectiles if you time your shots right. Each button on the D-pad allows you to either shoot them off in eight directions or fire straight ahead while you move around, giving you a good strafing ability that Rambo sorely lacked. Your ninja also has the ability to vanish momentarily by pushing both fire buttons together, which often helps you get out of jams. Some slain enemies give up scrolls which increase your firepower to more powerful shruiken that can really down your foes as well as boost your speed. At the end of each stage you have a low-level boss fight with the same straw-hat wearing thug each time, though he does get slightly tougher with each encounter.
While most of the levels are your standard slay-athons, some of the stages offer different challenges to add some variety to the action, such as running uphill and dodging falling boulders, riding logs over a river, surviving a horse stampede and even scailing the castle walls. The unfortunate thing is half the stages have hidden green scrolls which you must somehow find and collect in order to complete the game properly; if you reach level 10 without all five scrolls in your posession, the game sends you back several stages to collect the ones you missed.
For the most part the game does offer some nice shooting action which never really gets dull, but at the same time the difficulty is quite high. You die after one hit and the enemies are always swarming you with their weapons, forcing you to always be on the move and requiring quick reflexes to avoid death. Thankfully the controls work pretty well and are very responsive enabling you to pull off some quick moves. There are some moments of unfairness, such as when the baddies often gain super speed for no real reason other than to annoy you. Not to mention when you do die, you lose your power-ups and start your next man with the same weak knives and slow speed. Each stage does have patterns that can be learned after a few tries, but once all your lives are gone that’s it, and there’s no continue code or anything like that. Plus having to look for hidden scrolls to reach the real final stage can get rather annoying, espeically since it’s easy to miss their arbitary hiding places. The game also doesn’t offer much visually or audio-wise; while the stages are bright and colorful, the sprites don’t offer much beyond the minimal details and so-so animation. The few background tunes are rather cheesy and doesn’t seem fitting for this game, espeically when you grab a power-up, and the sound effects are just there.
So overall The Ninja is a decent choice if you’re itching for some run-n-gun action on the Master System, and it’s certainly better than Rambo, but the brutal and sometimes unfair diffficulty keeps it from being a real ninja master.