These lists are always subjective, but I’ve put together a list of 8 of the best ninja action games. Why 8? There wasn’t a set number, I just jotted down some of the most memorable for me, and it just so happens there’s 8.
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Rewriting this intro after compiling the list, I realise most of these are retro games, but you know how it is; you associate old memories – especially childhood as this sort of ideological viewpoint. That’s why when we revisit some of these games, later on, they aren’t as good as how we remember them, probably because we’re attaching other subjective experiences to them.
What is our obsession with ninja? Is it lurking in the shadows or being anonymous? Deadly, efficient and feared? Or is it simply because they’re so badass? Only you know the answer and the reason why, ahem, you’re reading a list featuring the best ninja action games (according to me).
Whether you’re into American Ninja’s, foxes disguised as people in orange boiler suits, or have a shrine dedicated to Hattori Hanzo and all his vast incarnations in pop culture; you probably like ninjas. Maybe you think you are one.
For ninjas, fans of ninjas, and people bored on the internet, here’s a list of the best ninja action games over the years. There might be ones I’ve missed that I’ve forgotten or some of your own favourites. List them in the comments so I can respond with ‘Ah, yes… I meant to put that one in’ or to seek it out for myself/revisit.
Without further ado: 臨 – 兵 – 闘 – 者 – 皆 – 陣 – 列 – 在 – 前
Surely this was everyone’s introduction to the ninja of a certain age? You kids call us boomers; us boomers call ourselves cool. Shinobi may have been many gamers’ introduction to the ninja, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master and Shadow Dancer were more popular with my friends.
Perhaps if I had it around when it came out on the Sega Mega Drive, I might have had the same connection, but what resonated with me was the first one when you play a boy. But I am a mere boy! I, too, could be a ninja and launch shurikens effortlessly from my palms?
That’s not true (identifying as a boy ninja), but that didn’t stop a lot of us walking in a crab squat, mirroring his shinobi ashi, and technique that paved the way for bass deity Robert Trujillo. If I had transferred the same money I put into the arcade into investments, right now, I’d be typing this on a golden keyboard.
The Last Ninja (Amiga)
These entries aren’t in chronological order, as the source material for this feature is all from memory, so largely inaccurate. However, from memory… I first played The Last Ninja on the C64. I never owned one, nor to this day have one (and no, I don’t class myself as a retro gamer if that’s what determines it).
My friend had this game, and I loved the isometric viewpoint and its systematic approach. However, it was bloody hard, and in all reality, ninja should be a little more discrete than walking through gardens going toe-to-toe with samurai – they’ll never win!
Restricted to game time purely when I went to see my friend, there wasn’t enough time to play this until it came out on the Amiga a couple of years later. Some months down the line, a different friend (I had more than one in those days) gave me a cracked version with built-in cheats. Sure, I finished it but felt a little bit dirty, but that’s what ninjas do: get the job done, however necessary.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (PlayStation)
Metal Gear Solid was one of the best games on the original PlayStation, but when I truly felt an affinity with Sony’s plastic box of tricks, I bought Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.
This was around the time the internet was a bit sketchy, so you only heard about games via your mates or magazines. Alternatively, if you had a few pennies, you could take a risk and buy a game on release – a habit I formed a couple of years later when I was buying 10 DVDs a week. Ah, single life…
I knew nothing of Tenchu: Stealth Assassins other than it was about ninja and set in Japan, and MVC had just put the case on the shop floor when I picked it up. At the time, the visuals were brilliant – full 3D, grappling hook at the ready and dashing across the rooftops. As can be expected, one-on-ones with samurai wasn’t encouraged, and that’s when I found that caltrops were better than throwing bread. Bugger, I meant better than sliced bread…
Still the best Tenchu, in my opinion.
Shadow Warriors (Amiga)
Yes, there have been decent new ninja titles, but I’m steering this sinking ship, and jotting them down as they come to me. Another ‘friend’ experience (not those where you experiment), they copied me Shadow Warriors on the Amiga as I had to play it.
Unfortunately for me, it wouldn’t copy, so I had to play it around their house (a copied version – game, not house), until a birthday or some manufactured reward day where I could ask for it. When that wonderful day arrived, it didn’t play. The reason? NTSC. I haven’t researched it, nor am I going to now, but the skinny was, my TV could only do PAL. It wasn’t until I got a monitor that I could play it.
Leaving just the last paragraph to write about the actual game as I’m not under false impressions that you, dear reader, are diligently reading my gaming memoirs, Shadow Warriors was great. Even better: you could do this to your gaming partner too. Cue Double Dragon-like fallings out.
Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition (PC)
Shifting to the modern world now, as I just saw a Hayabusa image. While it’s not a dedicated ninja game, you could base the Nioh 2 experience as a servant to the shadows. Plus, Hattori Hanzo’s in it regardless of your build.
For me, like many beginners and members of the Cheesemeister’s Guild, the ninjutsu build guarantees early success and levelling up. Taking out any enemy from range with a bow is fun, but wearing them down with poison shurikens then finishing them off with a kusarigama is so much fun.
Besides that, the sheer speed you can run around with weightless items means you can do a Naruto run through villages to the nearest shrine or run rings around some of the slower bosses. At well over 100 hours, I’m still using a ninja build, and it’s ace.
Mark Of The Ninja Remastered (Switch)
Mark Of The Ninja Remastered was one of my early Switch purchases and easily one of the best. It’s almost like some disgruntled Samurai Jack animators – or anyone from Cartoon Network around that time got complacent with the industry and wanted to make games.
The visuals are wicked, but Mark Of The Ninja Remastered can back it up with gameplay and some of the most satisfying stealth tactics I’ve used on the Switch. We’re talking better than hiding dead bodies and clearing up the blood.
Mark Of The Ninja Remastered is one of those games where the developers, Klei, realised that they had a fanbase and rewarded them with a brilliant game and plenty of features and unlockables. It’s still bloody hard at times, and because my version was on the Switch, it was pretty easy to throw it at the wall in frustration, like a really, really crap shuriken. And an expensive one to replace, too.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)
Earlier I referred to Hayabusa and Nioh 2, and with the latest entry, Mark Of The Ninja Remastered suggested that I may have thrown the Switch. That’s not true – I’ve done it a couple of times, but on the bed and because of a shitty indie game and its stupid controls.
Back in the days of living in Japan, I went all native with ‘doing what the Romans do’ and became a ninja. Indirectly through the PS3 and Ninja Gaiden Sigma. Unable to read the Japanese, I managed to snag a US version and blitzed it for a good few days until completion.
However, as I’ve repeated time and time, this was my first proper rage quit – launching the controls at the wall, shouting and swearing – well, that’s not new, but this game made me livid. It was so frustrating as I love the game and did well until I reached the lava area and kept dying due to a mixture of bad camera angles and incompetent gamer syndrome. That won’t deter me from repurchasing the Ninja Gaiden Collection this summer, as ignoring that hissy fit, it was my favourite Ninja Gaiden game (no, not a fan of the NES title).
The Ninja (Sega Master System)
The grandaddy of ninja games growing up, and a story I tell on loop. Well, it’s not much of a story, but in the days of Blockbuster Video, they used to rent out consoles as well as games. Managing to put aside some pocket money or robbing a bank (this was years ago, I can’t remember the reason), my cousin managed to hire a Sega Master System as his broke.
A diet consisting of 7UP and Fizzy Chewits, the only reason we stopped playing was my aunt returned home and asked if we’d been playing video games all day. Naturally, we said we just got in and started, but she kicked us out to get some fresh air after the hour she saw us play. That was my first longest time playing a game, and both of us suffered from some ghastly headaches – also the first negative experience playing a game without breaks.
Up until The Ninja, all of these best ninja action games stem from that thing that resembles a cauliflower in my skull. Of course, I looked online afterwards in case I missed anything.
I note that Bushido Blade cropped up – a game I adored back on the PlayStation. Though ninjas are present, as they do in Soul Calibur – or the Dead Or Alive series, which is packed to the nuts with ninja, I wouldn’t say it’s a ninja game. Sure, Nioh 2 is more samurai-based, but I guess you can see why it’s on this list. Sekiro wouldn’t be.
When jotting down Shinobi, I remembered Dragon Ninja, but despite the enemies you fight and the actual title, two wannabes from a JCVD movie punching people in their vests shouting “cola” (I’m sure it’s something else) and going for a burger with the U.S. President is as subtle as a brick. Not ninjas.
Anything with TMNT could count, but to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered. Everyone has their favourite, but for me, it would have to be the arcade game followed by the first NES one (loved that). Watch out for the upcoming TMNT title too.
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Metal Gear Rising Revengeance showed up, too, so why isn’t that on the list? I haven’t played it! I’ve played all the Metal Gear games, except for that online one and Snake Eater, but that poncy ninja wasn’t really for me. I’ll eat those words, no doubt, and perhaps will pick it up on the next retro haul when I venture out.