The Last Ninja Review

The Last Ninja c64 box art

Epic ninja adventure that is sure to leave you wanting more!

Story

The evil shogun Kunitoki searching for the secrets of ancient ninjitsu has killed all ninjas except Armakuni. His is thus the last of his kind and must avenge the clan and kill Kunitoki. Many traps lie ahead and Kunitoki’s minions are strong and use shurikens, swords and all kinds of weapons to stop him in his tracks.

The game

The Last Ninja is an action adventure game in which you play as the ninja Armakuni. The game is seen from an isometric top-down view, and focuses on exploration and fighting. You are never told in which direction you need to go. This is something you must find out yourself. Typically you could start walking in a direction and see where it takes you. There are often multiple paths to explore, and backtracking becomes a big part of the game.

Just enjoying the atmosphere...

Just enjoying the atmosphere…

Content

There are six different levels and each one has new dangers and puzzles for you to solve or avoid. Some places you will explore include temple grounds, palace gardens, dungeons and of course the fortress of the shogun. The game is unforgiving in that if you are not aware of some trap, you will most likely die because of it. There are some clues to some of the puzzles in the games manual, but even with that extra help it can sometimes be hard to figure out what to do or how to solve the more obscure puzzles.

To make things harder there are some swamps and rivers you need to jump through. If you make one wrong move you will fall in the water and die instantly. You will have to learn which jumps and in which order to perform them with pixel-perfect accuracy.

If you die enough times to run out of lives, you are forced to start the level over. Your lives are replenished to the state it was at the beginning of that level. This can of course feel punishing, especially if you finished the previous level with only one or two lives, leaving you in a tough spot to recover from. There is also no way to replenish lost health, so each hit you take will slowly but surely lead to death. There are extra lives to be found here and there, but they are a scarce resource.

Granted that you won’t be forced to replay some level too many times the game never gets repetitive, even though you will probably end up fighting a lot. There are numerous guards patrolling Kunitoki’s domains. It is very possible to avoid them, but they will try to kill you on sight.

You have some different fighting maneuvers to use, but the fighting in this game is very much by the ”rock ’em sock ’em” principle, because you can’t really avoid being hit while exchanging blows with your enemy. It seems the best strategy is to just keep attacking as fast as you can. To my knowledge, there is supposed to be a blocking move, but it’s never really needed, and utilizing it is cryptic – it’s impossible to tell if you successfully blocked an attack or if the enemy simply missed.

So the fighting parts in this game are not the best, because there doesn’t seem to be any strategy to it. However this is overall a very good classic and original game. Throughout the different places you will be faced with not only Kunitoki’s servants, but also fire-breathing dragons, sea serpents, skeletons and giant spiders. Strangely enough there are numerous fantasy-influences in this otherwise realistic game world, but it all stays believable creating a mystical atmosphere.

The weapons you can find include a staff, smokebombs, shurikens, nunchakus and a sword.

Once you master the tricks and traps of all levels you will reach the great evil Kunitoki, and once you kill him, you have finished the game. The game does not have much replay value, even though one could argue that it is worth revisiting this mythical ninja world more than once.

Graphics

The graphics are simply awesome and very atmospheric, animations are fluid and the scenery in which the game takes place is really appealing in both style and look. The levels are detailed and while not huge, still demand your constant engagement. There is just something about the scenery that captures the imagination – and all the oriental influences just adds to the exotic feel.

Sound

The game has no sound effects, but that doesn’t matter because this game has one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. The music is catchy and is strongly influenced by oriental melodies. It fits the game perfectly and is truly powerful and emotional at the same time. If you haven’t heard the music in this game and happen to like 8-bit video game-music I pity you! You owe it to yourself to experience it – preferably in its original context for maximal effect.

Summary

The Last Ninja is a truly epic adventure game filled with groundbreaking stuff for its time. The game world is very imaginative and you’ll have a blast exploring it and conquering its dangers. If you beat the game you will most certainly be wanting more of the same. Good thing that there is a sequel: Last Ninja 2: Back With a Vengeance!

Developed By: System 3
Published By: System 3
Version Reviewed: Commodore 64
Genre: Beat ’em Up / Adventure
Players: 1
Also Available On: DOS PC, Nintendo Entertainment System, Amiga 500, Wii
Released: 1987

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