First released in 1987, The Last Ninja is a classic isometric action adventure game originating on the Commodore 64, and later being converted to other systems.
It has to be said, though: the control system used in this game does leave a lot to be desired when playing it nowadays. Getting your ninja guy to do what you want him to do is tricky – even when you know what you’re doing…
Why is the control system “tricky”? Well, because it uses a one-button joystick system, and getting the ninja to pick stuff up is frustrating. Most of the interesting items you pick up in The Last Ninja are tiny, so you end up ‘punching’ the scenery repeatedly just trying to pick stuff up… There’s a knack to picking stuff up, and learning how to do it is essential.
Also: turning the ninja around is weird. You have to almost rotate him to turn him, and it’s not a very intuitive system. Although – if you want to get anywhere in this game – it’s one that you’re going to have to tune in to.
The Last Ninja features six different stages, each loaded one after the other, and the weapons you have carry over to the next stage, which is good because this is quite a tough game. The combat is a bit hit and miss, and a bit overly-ambitious maybe, for a one-button joystick game, but it is what it is.
In spite of the frustration with the controls, The Last Ninja is still actually a pretty decent game overall considering that it’s been squeezed into only 64K of RAM. There is just about enough variety in the graphics and gameplay to make it worthwhile and there are some nice touches, like opponents committing ‘Seppuku’ if you run past them and don’t fight them. The music is excellent too.
If you’ve never played it before and fancy giving The Last Ninja a go, I’d recommend looking at the controls first, then following a YouTube video to get yourself going. If you play it blind you’re almost certainly in for a world of ninja hurt… 🙂
The Last Ninja was followed by two sequels – the first came the following year, in 1988, and the second sequel was released in 1991. All three games have since been re-released on the Nintendo Virtual Console, which is pretty amazing considering how old they are. Love it or hate it, games-players of a certain age all remember The Last Ninja.