Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
There have been few historical figures in video games as exploited as the Ninja. Here at Play Legit we even have our own ninja mascot. Many ninja video game franchises have been made, and I notice that a fair amount of them are all fairly, if not very difficult. I suppose developers just marry the concept of ninja and hard gameplay because ninjas are supposed to be able to do the impossible, the jobs that nobody else will take.
In keeping with that tradition, you’ll find that Ninja: Shadow of Darkness for the Playstation 1 by Eidos Interactive, is not a walk in the Zen Garden. I’ll say right out that it isn’t a Ninja Gaiden experience by any measure, but is still a solid action/adventure/platformer. Eidos was a European game development firm, now a part of Square Enix, and the fact that it’s a Japanese subject made by European developers definitely shows in the game. It’s not something that really affects the gameplay, just something that I kind of found amusing after learning more about Japanese culture. In middle school, when I first played this, I didn’t know any better.
But let’s talk about the actual game! The best point about Ninja is the level design. The game features trap-filled stages that will definitely make you jump, and a few puzzles that will make you think as well, the Tomb Raider influence is very present all throughout. The obstacles have an excellent flow to them, gradually getting more difficult and introducing you to new abilities and concepts in the game itself as a way to move ahead. There are traps and pitfalls unique to every part of the game, each stage has its own ways to try to turn you into shredded Ninja. Each stage has a great look and design to it, and there’s a lot of variation from one place to the next.
This game was made when tutorial stages and helper characters were either rare or didn’t exist at all. Made in 1998, I think Ninja is one of the last of a dying breed, or a breed that probably won’t ever be as popular. I like the idea of teaching the player through what you have to get past, instead of the hand holding that can bring down even the most well designed games now (Arkham City, ahem!).
A lot of old school platformers, Mario included, required you to learn the level as a skill itself. Not just know how to fight, or what moves you can do, but to actually know what is coming next in the stage and to be familiar with it on a deep level to succeed. Your mileage may very on this concept, it takes patience to achieve. The one thing I couldn’t stop thinking while playing it again, was that younger gamers raised on tutorial-heavy, fast paced games might be driven nuts by this title.
I also have to mention the placement of secrets throughout the game as a plus. I’m a huge fan of games rewarding exploration, and this is no exception. You can progress a lot faster in the game if you’re willing to search out bonuses through every stage. Some are obvious, others are probably impossible to get without a strategy guide (I still have yet to get 100% of the secrets on even one stage).
However Ninja is definitely not without its drawbacks, and they aren’t all due to its age. The major criticism I have is the fighting system. For a martial arts themed game, and a type of character infamous for their agility and stealth, there is neither in Ninja. Although the level design is fun, it’s difficult sometimes to navigate it with the clumsy jumping mechanics the Tomb Raider engine provides. The original TR’s are known for their stiff movements, being based on that engine, it’s not spared here. This must be the least acrobatic ninja in all of games, with one of the most limited move-sets.
There are only 3 punches and 3 kicks you can do, and you can’t even mix those up. You can acquire various weapons throughout the game, however the techniques you use for them are literally about the same for each. For a game that makes you fight so much, the combat is very bland. There are smoke bombs and magic of course. The magic is interesting, as well as a power meter you can fill up with scrolls placed throughout the game, but you’re penalized for the use of them, leaving you mostly to relying on poor combat.
The standard for any action adventure game is to include leveling and abilities and skills you acquire over time, and this was pretty well established in gaming even in these years. There were plenty of good action and combat games on Playstation 1, Ninja has no excuse for having such a limited and poorly constructed fighting system.
All of the focus for this title was placed on the clever level design and traps, and none on the combat,which is unfortunate since that is the majority of what you’re doing. For that reason, I have to give Ninja: Shadow of Darkness (and that is a redundant title by the way) a low score.
Ninja: Shadow of Darkness Gets
2.5 Out of Five
+Great Level Design
+Good use of secrets
+Difficult enough to be challenging
-No form of leveling or skill advancement, what you get in the first stages is what you stay with throughout the game.