This is surely one of the best series ever made for the Commodore 64. It was quite revolutionary in 1987, and immediately took on the status of a legend. The first game in the series, The Last Ninja, was followed by two sequels and a remix. If you've never heard of it, now you know a little more. For everybody else, well, come on - it's The Last Ninja; is there really anything more I could say?
I guess I could, since there will be youngsters that have never heard of this game: Besides lovely graphics and great music, this game was very advanced for its time. There were some isometric games even before 1987, but The Last Ninja used the perspective in such a proficient way, that it was able to achieve near perfect gameplay. You have eight directions in which to move, as well as jump and perform various moves and attacks with your arms and legs, or with several ninja weapons. You could even block. The existence of your character's inventory wasn't new, but I never saw a game before this one in which you could really "pick up" items. In every platform game, you just moved across an item in order to pick it up. But this was different.
The Last Ninja is a game that contains a mixture of action, puzzle solving, and elements that will test your accuracy and exploration skills. You will find various weapons and meet diverse and well-equipped foes. Some jumps and movements will require a stressful amount of precision on your part. You need to solve some puzzles in order to complete each level, which makes the game interesting to play. There aren't many, but they are rather simple and shouldn't be too hard to figure out. You will need some practice and it'll require some patience and wit, but this sets it apart from other straightforward action-fighting games, and adds depth to the gameplay.
The story is as follows: You are Armakuni, a practitioner of Ninjutsu (the ninja way), left to guard the shrine while the other members go to the island of Lin Fen. Every ten years, all ninjas (except for this one guardian) must travel to the island to visit the Shrine of the White Ninja and receive further teachings from the Koga Scrolls. However, the evil Shogun Kunitoki has called up creatures from the Nether World and destroyed your comrades, so that he can bring his own minions and learn the power of Ninjutsu. When he was a child, Armakuni went to the island by using a secret passage. Now he must do it again, but the way is not as it used to be. So he (with your help) must travel alone through the unknown, avenge his brothers, and retrieve the Scrolls. (This is a VERY short synopsis of the story.)
The PC version came out a year after the C64 version. Everything looked like it did on the C64 - well, almost everything. The game was a little rough. This is very bad, since you'll have a lot of trouble picking up some objects (your ninja must reach out his hands exactly on the object) and jumping over water, lava, or mud. Jumping is the worst; you'll have to step perfectly on a stone to jump to another one. Your ninja moved smoothly on the C64 (with a joystick), but here you use the numpad, and the ninja keeps on moving until you press another direction key or 5 to stop. Jumping over rocks is simply too hard. You'll even find it difficult to turn your character in order to change direction.
The graphics are great for the time that the DOS version was released. The PC speaker's limitations left the game without the great musical themes by Ben Daglish and brought a new one instead, which is a very nice tune in its own right. Still, it's too bad we can't hear any tunes from the original.
If you can manage to handle the controls and aren’t turned off easily by difficult games, you'll like this one: Even now I run a C64 emulator to play it again. I can never forget the first level, when you go south and actually pick up a katana from some rocks. Although the game looks good, you'll have some problems playing the PC version, and that's a real shame. The game gets better and better later on, but those frustrating things may get in the way. The DOS version receives an average mark because of these flaws.
Part of The Last Ninja games Series
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