You know, I really tried. I really, really tried to go back and have a second opinion on this game, hoping that I could overlooked something. Perhaps I was just furious with the fact that I blew $49.00 on the worst Ninja-based video game since Wrath of the Black Manta (Oh, it will be your time eventually. You and your FPS star throwing mini stages!!), But no, the second I popped this sumbitch into my Playstation, all of those horrible memories came flooding back and my rage erupted immediately!!
I’m always under the firm belief that you can take any scenario and instantly make it better with the inclusion of ninjas. Weddings, birthdays, the grand opening of a Chili’s Bar and Grill, presidential inaugurations, presidential kidnappings…..anything!!! Keep in mind, this only works the generic, Americanized ninja, i.e., the goofballs who run around in broad daylight with dark-colored pajamas and get their asses kicked by 3 grade schoolers in Home Alone fashion. Okay, EVERYTHING can’t be saved with ninjas. I’m getting off track here. The point of my incredibly useless, reference-filled rant there was to say that even the best treasures can be destroyed. Enter Ninja Shadow of Darkness, developed by Eidos Entertainment and Core Design in 1998, the team that brought us Tomb Raider, a once cherished game series that lost it’s identity around the time where Lara Croft was so overexposed as a sex symbol, the actual gameplay suffered by the time the third entry was released (That, and those terrible movies starring Angelina Jolie, nearly bankrupted the franchise to the point that people lost their jobs over the debacle and Lara Croft has gone through countless facelifts and reboots in desperate attempts to get back into the spotlight. Great casting choice, by the way, since Jolie’s collegen-filled lips can be siphoned and injected into her breasts and cement the role).
Based off the smash hit Tomb Raider became, it only seemed logical that Eidos and CORE seemed set to spearhead a new generation of game developing to butt heads with Konami, Capcom, Sega, and Nintendo. The Playstation hadn’t yet nailed that marquee developer or character to tell the world that the REAL games are here, so Eidos would’ve fit the role nicely, but with following big release, Fighting Force, an attempt to bring arcade beat’em ups to 3-D consoles, was met with lukewarm results. The next biggest project on their agenda was the much-anticipated Ninja!! I was a bit psyched about this, since I have been craving ninja action in games since Shinobi III, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this game. Boy, did I regret that feeling.
VISUALS 5.5/10: I may as well start with the best aspects of the game, and while the graphics aren’t super awesome, some of the stages look kind of decent, but at a price. Most of the textures in some stages look very muddy, even putting it in your PS2 and smoothing them out only helps a little. Most stages are littered with traps that are very hard to make out (that’s why they are called “traps”, Fancy! Deedle-dee-derp!!!) until you step all over beartraps, spears, and falling debris. I’m not asking for a handout every time I play a game, but I do think it’s customary in games to present an obstacle and at the very least, give you a chance to configure a strategy on how to avoid it. Zelda Orcarina of Time gave you plenty of opportunities to solve traps and puzzles with trial and error without outright punishing you for it. Now let’s talk a bit about your character model. Is it me, or is this the bulkiest, most ripped ninja you’ve ever seen in your life!!? The guy looks bigger than Super Shredder! If Vince McMahon saw this guy, he’d sign him to a WWE contract and he would be beating CM Punk for the title in a week! If you were a shogun and needed a stealthy, quick assassin, would you go for the ripped, 220lbs slab of man muscle who can barely throw a decent kick, or any kind of martial arts. And what the hell is wrong with his face!! Is this guy passing a stone!!? Maybe they were going for “intense”, or he’s really impressed with how blocky his fist is in this shot.
The fighting animation is a joke. if there is one thing someone should expect when they pick up a controller and play a game called “NINJA“, is to see a repertoire of awesome martial arts action and mystical techniques. No, not here. This ninja will amaze you with his series of punches, kicks, and spinning backhands that your 8-year-old niece could pull off more fluidly and with more force than The Phantom here. The standard enemies are about as vanilla as you can get. Unimpressive foot soldiers and kunoichi that meander around the screen as clumsily as you do, throwing attacks that Glass Joe would shrug off. Guys clad in samurai armor, and some bats (I frickin hate bats!), skeletons (sure, can’t find a more stock enemy than goddamn skeletons), and these multicolored demon guys that shoot lighting?
The bosses at least look kind of decent, though I’m certain I fought the same horned demon several times. So, in a nutshell, blurry visuals give you cheap hits from traps, your ninja fights like a wimp and looks ridiculously huge, and your bad guys couldn’t be any more generic if their feet were held together by plastic bases and they were sold in a 100 count bucket. Keep an eye out for a cameo by Plant 42 from Resident Evil!!
SOUND 7/10: Though I will seldom say that a game’s soundtrack is its saving grace, that might be the case for Ninja. Most of the music is very well produced and varies between eerily tranquil to dark and foreboding. It’s easily the real bright spot of the game. Sound effects are pretty good as well, punches and kicks sound clear, identifying that I am hitting something, unlike Victorious Boxers and Soldiers of Fortune. Sounds DO actually alert you when a wave of baddies arrive or a trap is activated, like collapsing columns and falling rocks. I have no gripes with the sound, as it seems to be the only thing this game managed to do without screwing it up.
GAMEPLAY 2/10: So, perhaps the easiest way to complete a very crappy game is to plague it with God-awful controls, and not only does NINJA have crummy controls, but it’s a game that just begs to be Dual Shock compatible. I say that because throughout most of the game, the camera is set at a 3/4 isometric view, similar to Sonic 3D Blast, and since it worked so poorly for that game, it had no chance of merit on the Playstation D pad, which usually works wonders for platformers. But NINJA‘s efforts at being a beat’em up fails miserably.
Attempting to attck from an angle and fidgeting with the pad to do so will only ensure that you take massive amounts of damage before getting foes off your back that you just wind up using the kunai so you can at least attack from a distance. Close range combat is not your friend since the lackadaisical whiffs this game call “punches” lock you into position as you nudge forward. Actually, I don’t even know why you HAVE punches and kicks in this game, since they seem to do the same amount of damage, have no variation of attack range or speed, and you can’t jumpkick!! Let me repeat that: A NINJA…….NIIIINJAAA can’t jumpkick!! Sure, you can jump, and kick, at the same time, but if want a launching attack to let loose with a furious combo by staring it out with a neck kick, or a defensive strike against a larger enemy, then take that shit somewhere else!! Here in NINJA, you stumble around like a moron hoping the soldiers are dumb enough to wander within your short attack range. My strategy was to find a sword, or buy it and never use that stupid kick again! Did these fools not play Double Dragon!? At least ONE had a target lock, for frick sake!!
And I haven’t even gotten started with just standard actions, likes jumping ledges and evading dangerous hazards. This is seriously the laziest NINJA I have ever controlled. He lumbers around with the same silly looking running animation, he has no dash, no tumble, no wall jumps, no somersault! The bastard doesn’t even flip when he jumps!! THIS…GUY……SSUUUUUCCKSS!!! I’m supposed to be a NINJA, not Ghost Dog!! Do some yoga, you fucking creatine-filled slab of steroids!!! I thought this was the slowest character I ever controlled until the creation of Wayne from Lost Planet!
This lack of speed and agility will become apparent as you have to do a lot of backtracking and walking around to find keys in this game’s lame attempt to be a quest adventurer. You just plod around at the same dull pace until your vision starts to swim, it’s unbearable. Then, you have to try to jump over gaps and holes, and it is now when the camera begins to mess with you depth perception. Jumps in Spyro were manageable because you could adjust the angle to get a better view of what mark you’re trying to make. In NINJA, when the camera is pointing directly behind you, the X Y axis is just high enough to disrupt how far you have to properly make your mark and avoid the spikes on the other side. Combine that with the dark, muddy textures that makes it tricky to see the shadows of a swinging log, and stacked on top of that is the NINJA‘s jumping animation in which he crouches a bit for a split second to brace for the jump (you still slide forward during mid-crouch, so you can easily slip over an edge) and you have an experience that will have you tearing your armpit hair out! It’s aggravating to make it far, obtain a weapon, and have your magic skill boosted to the max, only to plummet off a ledge because you had experiment with how to properly jump without dying ALL the time. AND WHY CAN’T A NINJA SWIM!?????
DIFFICULTY 6.5/10: I don’t think NINJA is legit challenge so much it is a rushed, poorly programmed mess. If you could adjust the camera, it would ease some of the problems, but there’s still the paltry fighting engine that will lull you into a state of boredom. The obstacles are more headaches than jump puzzles, and each boss I’ve beaten the same way; run around in a wide circle and unleash a flurry of kunai until he falls. All of your deaths will only add up in frustration, you can’t really accumulate any skill with the platform jumping and you just hope to hit a hot streak and get all the jumps finished in one flawless stroke. Oh and you do get continue credits, and they are kind enough to return you to your previous checkpoint….if you don’t mind losing ALL the money you acquired from your last loaded save!! That’s right, you cash is reset back to zero, so if you are one checkpoint away from a boss fight and have to continue, you better survive that fight with minimal damage or else you’ll have to shell out $500 for a rack of lamb to heal, which leaves you little to nothing to buy any other kind of power-ups or essentials!! As if this game needed to be more infuriating.
OVERALL SCORE 2.5/10: I have no idea how the people who made the first Tomb Raider game compiled a lousy game like NINJA Shadow of Darkness. I know that 3D platformers were still in their infancy, but looking at how well Spyro, Super Mario 64, and Zelda Orcarina of Time came out, this could’ve been at least decent. Instead, what you have a very poor beat’em up game disguised as a mediocre attempt at an adventure quest title. What’s maddening the most is that if they spent a little more time on it, this would’ve been a pretty good game, but it’s such a lazy effort! It’s one of the worst games in the original Playstation library and thankfully it faded into obscurity rather fast. Awful presentation, unimpressive graphics, garbage controls, terrible fighting skills, it’s slow, boring, has no story, and Eidos was just hoping people were foolish enough to get swept up in their own created hype and chest beating to buy anything with their label on it that “From the Makers of Tomb Raider!!” is the first thing that strikes you about its stock cover art. Have fun being Square Enix’s bitch, Eidos! I hope they force your staff to animate Cloud Strife in a thong!! In the meantime, if you want to fool around with purple ninjas, trust your instincts and stick with this guy. His cheesy moves actually work!!
PROS: Nice music, handrawn artwork looks kind of cool
CONS: I could’ve been playing Colony Wars instead