Listen, it’s simple. You’re a ninja. Your name is ‘Moonlight’ (because you probably watched too much Sailor Moon as a child). And there are people who need killing. Lots of them. A whole bloody army of them. Because they killed your family, and honor requires you to return the favor. So you sign up, you slaughter them, and come home to your princess (who is probably named ‘Venus’ or ‘Mercury’ because you watched too much Sailor Moon as a child) so you can rescue her from her virginity. Right? Yeah…right. Maybe if you were playing some other game about ninjas. But this is Saigo no Nindou: Ninja Spirit, released today in Japan for the PC Engine (or TurboGrafx-16 if you insist) back in 1990. And if you think Moonlight is good enough to stand alone against an entire army, you’ve got another thing coming.
Despite what you might think because of his name, Moonlight is smarter than your average Joe or Ryu. He knows if he goes it alone, he’s totally boned. He might be a ninja, but he’s not a Robert Hamburger, Real Ultimate Power Ninja ninja if you catch my drift. Sure, he’s good at infiltration and introducing your esophagus to the outside air. No, to cut down an entire army, you need the help of your ancestors who were also powerful ninjas in their day. It may not seem like much, but it’s amazing what one real ninja and two ghost ninjas can accomplish when they all work together and have access to infinite shuriken. Come to think of it, there are a lot of things even a non-ninja like me could accomplish with an unlimited amount of throwing stars. [Like churning out more regular work, Zorker? — Ed.] Then again, infinite shuriken would weigh more than I could comfortably lug around while leaping from building to building. Maybe it’s best to leave that to Moonlight. He’s got better training and deeper pockets than I do.
Ninja Spirit came to home systems as a port of the arcade game of the same name, without very many differences save unlimited continues. It maintains a crushing Contra-level difficulty, since Moonlight expires from touching even a single sword, bamboo spike, or bo staff (unless you’re playing on the dishonorable ‘PC Engine Mode’ which gives you five hit points per life and presumably a diaper under your ninja garb) though the ability to have two ghost ninjas running around absorbing hits for you makes the game slightly easier. And while your enemies are the standard mook-level bad guys we’ve been slaying by the millions in side-scrolling platformers for decades, the bosses are the real treat. Irem pulled out all the stops on these guys, making them bigger than life, unique, and deadly (first stage boss Ashura rises out of the ground to tower over your pathetic form while hurling deadly white exploding light balls, for instance).
The only real weakness the game displays is in the sound department, as this is a HuCard release and not on CD-ROM. The music is standard 8-bit fare, the sound effects are about what you’d expect, but you’ll be too busy filleting evil monks into sushi with your katana to notice most of the time. While we’re celebrating the Japanese release today, Ninja Spirit did receive a competent US port and TG-16 owners would do well to add it to their collection alongside the likes of Keith Courage and Splatterhouse. As always, we leave you with our standard retro ad goodie (a nice two-page spread this time!) and thank you for taking this journey back in time with us today…in retro gaming!