Think back to when shell suits were at the height of fashion; there was big hair and even bigger shoulder pads. This was the time when gaming titles were filled with characters and aesthetics from the East. These titles were pretty bad, with a few questionable entities, but one captured the spirit of what was excellent in the 80s and the hearts of countless players. That game was System3’s The Last Ninja series.
The series’ story began with a secret ritual in which the evil Shogun (warlord) attacked and killed all of the Ninjas, excluding one. In Shotgun, a player aims to obtain a scroll containing all Ninjitsu’s secrets. As the last ninja to survive, it was now your objective to retrieve the scroll from the warlord’s land and place it back where it once was. It is a simple plot filled with lots of opportunities for adventure and storytelling, sometimes lost in the much more advanced evolution of games and devices we have seen through the years.
Graphics and Sound
The Last Ninja is played through an isometric perspective, with everything on screen being clear, thanks to the drawn graphics and simple color palette used throughout. The great thing about how the graphics have been developed for this game is that they can still be enjoyed today, showing the timeless nature of a game like this. However, the same timeless qualities cannot be attributed to the sound. The Commodore 64 (C64) needed to be more powerful or nearly advanced to produce sounds that could have elevated a game like this to new heights. The C64’s lacking qualities left a combination of various annoying high-pitched noises. The sound quality is a bit of a shame, but it is something that retro games around this time are often expected to create, which has left us with a sense of nostalgic charm every time we hear the jingles.
Moves and Weapons
One remarkable thing for a game in this era is the sheer amount of attack moves and weapons available in The Last Ninja. As the ninja is played through each level, they can punch, kick, and block, along with the ability to somersault through the air along a complete three-hundred and sixty-degree axis — the ability of a true ninja. To complete each level, you must harness the power of the ninja’s versatility, as many complex and unforgiving jumping sections are ready to test your skills. A simple mention of The Last Ninja’s river and swamp sections will see many players shake with fear, thinking about how long it took them to overcome the challenge.
Regarding weapons, there are (along with many others) a long staff, katana, nunchucks, smoke bombs, and shurikens. Each weapon has particular characteristics, giving lots of depth to how a player fights, changing style depending on what their opponent is armed with at a specific time. In-game puzzle-solving can be aided throughout the gameplay by picking up various items. One of the most extraordinary things the developers of this game decided to do is arm you with almost every weapon and object in the first section of the game, giving every player a feeling of preparation as to what lies ahead.
Throughout the entire Last Ninja series, the standards of level design are very high, although as you continue to play, a few are a little less enjoyable than others. However, this being said, it only partially spoils the gaming experience as each level is different from the last in how they are designed and the graphical representation that has been created. Levels range from being located on the outskirts of the Shogun’s lands to fortified palaces, courtyards, and dungeons.
Extra Touches of Brilliance
One of the ways that The Last Ninja is revered as being so good is through the little extra touches that the developers added. The experience of finding items and weapons brings an added layer of enjoyment, while having to get particular objects requires players to think. Little touches like trying to take a claw from a stone lion statue to help climb in other areas of the game or using a large Bamboo cane as a staff are just a few subtle examples of how the developers have gone above and beyond in their innovation.
The Last Ninja overall has achieved something extraordinary in a time when games were not. The Last Ninja looks and feels great today thanks to the fantastic control system and stylistic graphical approach. With an alteration to the control system and a slight update to the graphics, this game could easily be played on a handheld console. There are some problematic places within the game, but that comes with the era of puzzle genres on consoles like the C64. The Last Ninja is a classic, a game that everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.