The Fair Shake

Ninja: Atari 8 bit

One of the many things that have gone by the wayside as time marches on is receiving a copied disk from friends or family with a game on it. Even ‘retro gamers’ who eat sleep and breathe old computers and games usually turn to the internet at some point to find something new to play rather than physical media. Last week, when I was in my game room I went flipping through some of my old disks. I came across a sad 5 1/4″ floppy with a hand written label: “NINJA “.

Ah yes, This isn't just Ninja, its Ninja "Dagger Star".

Ah yes, This isn’t just Ninja, its Ninja “Dagger Star”.

I turned on my 386 33mhz PC with a turbo button. It roared to life.. No it really roared, as it has a pretty noisy power supply fan. Booting into MS-DOS 6.2 and changing over to A: I typed in ‘NINJA’, and was greeted with an ugly 4 color CGA game. Huh? I’ve had this disk for 25 years, but this is definitely NOT the game of my youth. Some research revealed that the game has a decent color palette on Tandy computers only, not IBM clones. I don’t have a Tandy anymore, but I did when I was much younger :sad face:. I thought I’d try the Atari 8 bit version of the game since I have an SIO2SD device hooked to my 800XL (think SD card reader for an Atari 8 bit computer.. Hey wait, wasn’t I just lamenting the death of physical media?) I was floored! Music! Nice graphics! Plays with an Atari joystick This is better than the Tandy version I remember.. it even has music!

CGA.. Nothing more needs to be said.

CGA.. Nothing more needs to be said. (PC)

Ninja was released by Mastertronic in 1986 and 1987 for most of the popular computers of the era (Sorry Apple II fans you missed out.) It’s a quick playing game that puts you in control of a ninja, complete with stereotypical black outfit, head-wrap, and katana. Your goal is to break into ‘The Palace of Death’ to recover several idols scattered around different levels, as you defeat a bunch of bad guys who are hanging around waiting for you to steal said idols. If this game were released a few years later it may have been turtle themed…

The appropriately named Rainbow Room (Atari 8 Bit)

The appropriately named Rainbow Room (Atari 8 Bit)

As a ninja, you’ll have your trusty katana (which looks like a metal pipe) and some shuriken stars (How do you pronounce that word anyway? Sure-ee-kin? Shrew-Kin?) To make this game more of an action game and less of a search game, there are several enemies all around the palace located in each room that you’ll be able to use your weapons on. Some will punch you, others will punch and kick you, while an Evil Ninja will actually use weapons against you. Throwing weapons can be picked up and reused, provided you can get to them.

He's not dead, he's sleeping.... heh.

He’s not dead, he’s sleeping…. heh. (Tandy)

Ninja has pretty decent graphics for its time, comparable to an Atari 7800 release. The colors displayed will vary from four to sixteen depending on the version you play. The ninja looks pretty cool, even though his mask makes him look like a scuba diver, and the backgrounds are all varied and decently detailed, giving the feeling you’re really in and around a multi-room palace. The Atari 8-bit version has an amazing theme song, that is probably one of the best I’ve heard so far, while the C64 version is what I imagine eastern temple music to sound like. IBM guys, inexplicably, you get the music of silence. Needless to say, when I got this going on my 800XL I was taken off guard at what I was missing. I love how to add drama, the music STOPS when you enter a room with a bad guy, until you defeat him.. Then it starts right back up.

Thugs won't dodge daggers (say that five times fast)

Thugs won’t dodge daggers (say that five times fast) (C64)

The controls in Ninja are pretty easy, once you understand them. Movement is easy with a  joystick, but to attack you must press the button and pull the stick. Towards the enemy throws something, diagonally towards will use your sword, while pulling away and pressing the button results in kicks. The worst part is you can accidentally fall down a floor simply by standing on an open hole in a floor. Oh. Enemies respawn when you leave and return to a floor. About that… No ladders. You sort of fly up to another floor or fall through the ceiling to the level down below via holes. I guess ninjas can fly?

Your health is only regenerated by picking up an idol. I highly recommend not grabbing the idols immediately for this reason, and using throwing stars as much as possible. Once you have them all, return to the entrance of the palace. You won! I seriously beat this in about 10 minutes (after several attempts) with no attempt to make any sort of score record. Ninja on any platform is a fairly quick play, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of bopping bad guys off the head with a katana pipe. Ninja is deserving of a Fair Shake.