Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
Fruit Ninja. The Ninja blender. Despite supposedly being stealthy, Ninjas are seemingly everywhere nowadays, and they’re not leaving anytime soon. The Ninja movie boom, kicked off from actors like Sho Kosugi in the 80’s, started a huge worldwide interest in the Ninja as a sort of cult hero figure, and gaming definitely noticed. Here today at Play Legit, we’re going to count off the Top 5 Ninjitsu Warriors in Gaming.
Scorpion, otherwise known as Hanzo Hasashi is one of the trademark characters of the Mortal Kombat franchise, starring in nearly every installment of the long running series. A member of the Shirai Ryu, a deadly clan rivaling the Lin Kuei, the clan of Sub-Zero. Scorpion was chosen for this list over Sub-Zero as there have been multiple Sub-Zeros, but only one Scorpion, driven eternally by vengeance. It’s this dedication to his mission that caused me to nominate Scorps for this list over Sub-Zero.
Head of the Sega based “Shinobi” franchise, Joe Musashi is a popular former Sega mascot that dates back to the 80’s, right around when Sega was just starting off as a console developer. Shinobi was an extremely popular title for the Genesis and Master System both, with some entries even on the Game Gear as well. There have been other Ninja in the long running Shinobi series, but good ol’ Joe sent the series on a flying, hacking kick-start, being well-remembered by fans even to this day. We can only hope he picks up the katana and shuriken again soon for a new adventure.
Introduced into the Metal Gear series in the very first game, this well-known mini-boss started out as a Fox Hound member, captured in the first game and turned villain in the second, leaving players thinking he was dead. The massive shadow government group known as The Patriots had other plans for Gray Fox however, outfitting him with a new cyborg body to bring him back to the world of the living.
Armed with a vibrating, high frequency blade that allows him to cut through almost anything, as well as a high-tech camouflage device that refracts light, Gray Fox is as powerful in combat as he is stealthy, moving throughout the game to appear many times to both aid and fight against Snake in classic Ninja stealth style.
Gray Fox is the least traditional ninja on this list on the surface, but ends up embodying many of the most important qualities of a ninja, including stealth, deadliness, and loyalty, ultimately dying to help Snake stop Metal Gear Rex. He was playable only in Metal Gear VR Missions, and while he was imitated by both Olga Gurlukovich and Raiden, the original is always the greatest, and that’s why Gray Fox sneaks into our list at the number 3 spot.
The flagship character of the other long running Ninja franchise on this list, Ryu Hayabusa is one of gaming’s most beloved Ninja, and with more current appearances than poor Joe, who Sega has made sure is extra stealthy, Ryu remains in current and old school gamers minds. From the early days of his first appearances to entering the Dead or Alive franchise, Hayabusa is here to stay.
Ryu is a versatile character, being the only on this list to star in both side-scrolling, platforming, and fighting games, with cross-generational appeal. Even though I didn’t give his most recent adventure that high a review (which you can find on this site), I have faith the ninja will rise again. Most of his titles are difficult, yet fun classics, with major commendations going to the fight animations he uses in the XBOX Ninja Gaiden games, which are motion captured to perfection. Ryu uses also uses the most authentic, diverse weapons set of anybody else on this list as well: including swords, double swords, nunchakus, bow and arrow, even the Japanese chain and sickle AKA the Kusarigama, and many more.
Between his agility and ruthless combo moves, Ryu Hayabusa is not only a great Ninja, but a great action game character in general.
The Top Ninja out of all 5 on this list, and the only to actually star in a fully-stealth game franchise, Rikimaru is my pick. Well, he actually is a ninja. Historically, ninja were deployed mainly for information gathering and research on enemy camps, not combat. Information and knowing enemy positions and movements are a huge part of success in war, and real-life ninja were important in that aspect, hence the need for stealth. A spy wouldn’t do well if they were captured, or if anyone knew they were there.
Of course just information gathering wouldn’t make for an exciting game, and assassinations were another function of ninja in history as well.
The other characters on our list have ninja costumes, use ninja weapons and tactics, but not many are truly stealth characters. Each of them just as well will fight directly, or even prefer it in most of their cases, and aren’t depicted using stealth heavily, as a ninja should.
Rikimaru is the only character on this list whom, in his game, can complete his mission without ever alerting the enemy to his presence, skillfully and quietly slaying hordes of enemies as he accomplishes his goal.
The Tenchu games are well designed stealth adventurers, allowing you multiple ways of taking out your enemies in feudal Japanese style, similar to titles like Splinter Cell or Hitman. However Rikimaru predates the main characters of those franchises by several hundred years, making him the O.G. of stealth kills.
It’s also worth noting that in research for this article, I found out that in the original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins titles for Playstation 1, the motion capture was done by none other than Sho Kosugi, who I mentioned earlier in this list as having been instrumental in bringing the popularity of ninjas to the West, and modern times. Having Sho himself bring life to this character brings everything into a full, deadly circle, the tradition of stealth and Ninjitsu living on in consoles, and not in a blood soaked Pagoda.