Your Sinclair

Ninja Spirit

Author: Matt Bielby
Publisher: Activision
Machine: Spectrum 48K/128K

Published in Your Sinclair #53

Ninja Spirit

Now, I'm not familiar with the coin-op at all here, so I could be a bit wrong about this, but here's what the game's all about (as I see it). You play a ninja-type character (to be more precise, the spirit of a white wolf reincarnated as a ninja character), on a mission to kill some evil warlord/rescue a princess/avenge your brother's death/something like that. But oh no! There are hundreds of other ninjas all over the place, each with but one thought in his mind - to stop you managing whatever it is you're out to do. Nothing all that unusual so far, but just such a simple premise has formed the basis for many an excellent coin-op conversion before. Let's have a closer look.

It seems like you're in for some pretty rough going, doesn't it (about seven levels of horizontally-scrolling rough going actually), and indeed you are! But don't despair - help is at hand! Help in the form of some spooky collectable items! Hurrah!

You see, a goodly number of the baddie ninjas drop a floating orb thing behind them as you bump them off. Collect them by simply running over them and you're provided with a 'ninja spirit' (hence the name of the game). This is a ghostly mirror-image replica of yourself, who runs along a few steps behind you, hacking when you do, jumping when you do and generally being not that much use at all really (becaue you yourself have already killed off 99.9% of known baddies, by simple virtue of the fact that you're the one in front).

Ninja Spirit

All seems well and good so far for an enjoyable arcade romp, wouldn't you agree? And indeed, things continue to look quite rosy as we take a closer look at the main character. Fairly large and well drawn, he comes equipped with a wide variety of fighting moves. To deal with head-on attacks there's a sort of forward slash move with the katana (which is what you call those curvy Japanese swords, or so I'm told). Then there's the sort of 'up in the air prod' move (for getting people that jump on you) and the 'kneeling and poking your knife into the ground' move (presumably for those occasions when people or thingies attack from beneath the floorboards, not that I've got to that bit yet).

Not too shabby a selection so far, but better than that (much better!) is our hero's jumping ability - it's mammoth! Here's a hero who could probably leap three quarters the length of the screen in a single mighty bound! Who can spring over the heads of the enemy like they're not even there! Who makes even Strider look a bit of slouch in the bouncing department!

And the bad guys are no stick-in-the-muds either! Whether swordsmen, giant ninjas, 'mystical kite-men' or, um, the other ones, pretty soon you have everyone on-screen bouncing around like mad things, slashing their swords through the air and screaming "Haaiii-agh!' at full volume (except theey don't, but we do get an insistent oriental-type tune to make up for it in 128K). The whole effect is like one of those loopy Japanese TV shows you occasionally see at the end of the night down the Chinese takeaway, with oodles of people screaming, chopping away with swords and leaping about all over the place like a bunch of giant, human-shaped grasshoppers! Marvellous, ludicrous fun.

Ninja Spirit

And that's exactly what Ninja Spirit is like, with one gigantic, massive, pointless glitch fouling up the whole business. Yup, have I got a 'but' to land on you now! (You knew there'd be a 'but', didn't you? I've been leading up to it all along.)

And the 'but' is... there is no possible way on this earth you can tell what's going on! The screen might as well be in another room for all the good it does you! it's ridiculous! Activision goes to all this expense (presumably quite a costly licence, getting programmers to come up with some pretty smart scrolling and then perfect what looks like it might be quite smooth and jolly gameplay) only to shoot itself quite severely in the foot by making a total hash of the graphics.

They're in monochrome, right? The little characters are fairly well drawn, well animated and of decent size (or at least, they look like they might be) but those backgrounds - aargh! Some graphic artist has just got totally carried away with himself, done some (admittedly rather nice) pictures of buddahs, rocks and Lord knows what else for the backgrounds, and somebody else, rather than bin them all and leave a plain black background or something, has gone and left hem in! It's a ridiculous joke - they've totally forgotten that people are meant to play the damn thing. Bullets, arrows, whole character sprites, simply disappear from view, then reappear again (after a fashion) seconds later! Ludicrous. (Ahem. Sorry. Getting a bit carried away.)

Right, where were we? Ninja Spirit - it could be a perfectly good game, but it's not, because in one fell swoop the graphics undo all the other good work put into it and render at near as dammit unplayable. Those with very sharp eyes and very clear monitors to play the thing on may have hours of fun, but for the rest of us it's a bit of a non-starter. How very unnecessary.

What could have been a neat arcade slash-'em-up is practically ruined by confused graphics. Silly.

Matt Bielby

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