No, not the Last Ninja you’re thinking of.
You’re probably thinking of the Last Ninja created by Mark Cale and released by System 3 in 1987. It’s an understandable mistake. That Last Ninja was one of the best selling games for the Commodore 64 and regularly appears on Best Games Of All Time lists. But no, I’m not talking about that Last Ninja. I’m talking about the Last Ninja created by Cleveland M. Blakemore and published in the September 1986 issue of Ahoy! magazine.
We were big fans of the type-in magazines in my house. Not because the games were good (most of them weren’t), but because they offered a lot of games for a low price and because they created the illusion of using the C64 as an actual computer instead of just a fancy game console. In addition to Ahoy! we had a subscription to Enter, until Enter was absorbed by 3-2-1 Contact and it became 3-2-1 Contact With A Couple Of Type-In Programs Thrown In There To Placate The Old Enter Subscribers. (It didn’t work. We didn’t renew our subscription.)
In The Last Ninja (I suppose technically The Second To Last Ninja after the release of the other Last Ninja the next year), you control the last survivor of a vicious attack on your dojo by the evil Temple of Hakuro. With his dying breath your master instructs you to avenge the school. Actually, he instructs you to “revenge” the school, but he just saw his life’s work destroyed and is on the verge of death himself, so I can forgive him that slip of the tongue. Also, where was the main character while all of this was happening? Shouldn’t he have been there defending the dojo with the others?
Once you’ve retrieved your ninja uniform from the dry cleaner (that lame joke was lifted directly from the intro text on page 85 of the magazine and all credit for it should go to that writer, not me) you must make your way through the temple, fighting evil ninjas, dragons and, finally, your greatest enemy. I never made it far enough in the game to learn the identity of my greatest enemy (but, based on the hints in the magazine, I feel pretty confident saying it’s “myself”). I never even made it far enough to see any dragons. Because The Last Ninja is a hard game. Not hard in the Masterfully Designed To Challenge Even The Best Video Game Players way. Hard in the This Game Is Fundamentally Broken And The Parts That Aren’t Broken Are Too Boring To Slog Through way.
Penetrating the enemy temple (again, text directly from the magazine) consists mostly of shuffling loudly to the right while your character faces directly into the screen, dodging projectiles or blocking them with your sword and jumping over bottomless pits. Clearing the pits requires pixel-prefect timing. Jump too soon and your ninja falls into the pit, even though he appeared to be safely on the other side. Jump too late and he falls, even though his feet still appear to be on solid ground. After the required number of pits has been jumped a rival ninja appears. Enemy ninjas are defeated by hitting them with throwing stars, which is way more difficult than it should be thanks to the convoluted control scheme. First, your character must kneel, which is done by pushing the joystick UP. Continue to hold the joystick up and press the fire button to launch a shuriken. Supposedly the direction they will travel has to do with which way your ninja’s arms is pointing, but they pretty much just seem to go any old way regardless.
The monochromatic background has a clean, pleasing look and scrolls very smoothly, but the characters are blocky and poorly animated, the controls are counterintuitive and the sound effects range from bland to irritating. It’s as though all of the effort went into creating the ninja temple itself and creating a game set in it was an afterthought. If you find yourself faced with a choice between two games called The Last Ninja, do yourself a favor and play the other one. I haven’t played it personally, but I guarantee it’s better than this one.