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Level 1
Ninja Spirit (Level 1)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 17, 2010   |   Episode 9 (Show Archive)  


Welcome to Level 1. Every Thursday we are going to look at a random game's very first level. It doesn't matter what kind of game it is or what system it's for, we're here to dissect the game's first level and see what it tells us about the rest of the game. I promise you an eye-opening experience in each episode! This week we're going back to Japan to check in with our favorite ninjas. No, I'm not talking about Ryu Hayabusa, but rather the entire cast from NEC's phenomenal Ninja Spirit! This may well be the single greatest 2D ninja game ever created. But you don't have to take my word on it, because you can learn more about this masterpiece when you read Ninja Spirit Level 1!

Ninja Spirit (NEC)
[ Release: 1988 - Console: TurboGrafx-16 ]
Ninja Spirit (TurboGrafx-16) Cover
Based on an obscure arcade game, Ninja Spirit is one of the best games on the TurboGrafx-16. While it's easy to confuse this 2D action game with Ninja Gaiden, the two are very different. For one thing, Ninja Spirit has very little narrative. It's just you (a dead ninja) going up against a series of bad guys until you've defeated all of the bosses. The gameplay is also different, with Ninja Spirit being more of an all-out action game. One could successfully argue that Ninja Spirit is to Ninja Gaiden what Contra was to Midnight Resistance.

Sadly, there's only one Ninja Spirit game. NEC never went back and released a sequel and the game has lain dormant for the past 22 years. And that's a shame, because Ninja Spirit is easily one of the best ninja games of all time. In fact, I would argue that Ninja Spirit is better than the Ninja Gaiden trilogy and on par with Shadow of the Ninja. It's a superb game that should not be missed. But enough with the praise, let's press the "run" button and star t Level 1!

Level 1-1 - Torn-Up Building Number 1: Before I'm even handed the controls, a group of green lights fall from the sky and kill me. Nobody knows I'm here, I'm all alone. Actually, that's not true; a stray dog sees my lifeless body lying on the ground and runs over to check on me. He sees that I'm dead
Ninja Spirit - Torn-Up Building Number 1
Ninja Spirit - Torn-Up Building Number 1
and howls to the giant moon above. After that sad exchange, the screen fades to black and we're left with a string words and letters. Well folks, that appears to be it. I guess we can just close up this episode early and call it a day. I'll see you next week for another exciting episode of ... wait ... what's this? I'm not dead? And I have three lives? Dammit Ninja Spirit, what have you gotten me into?

So here we are in what looks like a bombed out theater out in the middle of the windy forest. Ninjas are coming from every direction. They aren't just rushing me from the front and back, they are hiding underneath the floor and up in the rafters. They wait
Ninja Spirit - Torn-Up Building Number 1
Ninja Spirit - Torn-Up Building Number 1
for me so that they can challenge me to a sword fight or fire traditional ninja throwing stars from a distance. But I'm ready, because I have four different weapons -- a sword, throwing stars, bombs and a weird grappling hook that doesn't actually grapple or hook.

The background continues to repeat, which only makes me wonder what exactly happened before I showed up. It looks like somebody who really hates drapes came through with a sword. The walls are completely missing, the doors are blown off and
Ninja Spirit - The Swamp
Ninja Spirit - The Swamp
the structure is barely standing up (not helped by all of the ninjas hiding in the rafters). Whatever happened here, I continue forward hoping to get to the end of this building and get the heck out of here. This place is a dump!

Level 1-2 - The Swamp: As I near the next part of the level I pick up a colored orb. All of a sudden, out of the blue, pops up another version of me. He's exactly like me in every way, except that he's a slightly different color. Everything I do he does a few seconds later. He follows
Ninja Spirit - The Swamp
Ninja Spirit - The Swamp
close behind me, maybe a little too close. I turn around to tell him to move back, but he doesn't listen. A few seconds later he turns around and does the exact same thing. And then another one popped up. It was the damndest thing. Now there are three of me, each following close behind me mimicking every movement I make. This is going to be the death of me.

While I ponder all of the terrible things that come with having mirror images of yourself, I forget that I'm stuck in a smelly swamp battling ninjas. There are ominous trees in the distance, but an old, partially destroyed wall stands in my way. Drat! Good thing I upgraded my four weapons and have two
Ninja Spirit - More Torn-Up Building Number 2
Ninja Spirit - More Torn-Up Building Number 2
spirit ninjas matching my every move. I slice and dice my way through the soggy exterior, still confused as to what is going on. In the distance I see another torn-up building.

Level 1-3 - More Torn-Up Building Number 2: What's this ... another building in shambles? Am I in the Twilight Zone? Did I just cycle back around to the start of this stage? What's going on here?!? It turns out that whoever is going around blowing up buildings didn't get his fill with the last one. It looks like all of the buildings are damaged beyond repair. It's a shame, since this looks
Ninja Spirit - Boss - A Large Statue
Ninja Spirit - Boss - A Large Statue
like a fun neighborhood. This could have been one of those places you bring your family on vacation. I mean, without all of the ninjas attacking and all. But what do I care? If the opening cinema was to be believed, I'm already dead!

Boss - A Large Statue: As I exit the demolished building, I find myself stuck in a small opening. It looks like whoever tore up these buildings stopped here, at the edge of the creepy dark forest (aka Level 2). But who could have done all of this damage? That's
Ninja Spirit - Boss - A Large Statue
Ninja Spirit - Boss - A Large Statue
the question on everybody's mind. And by "everybody" I mean, that's what on my mind and the two clones behind me think. All of a sudden I feel a rumbling on the ground. My mind races a mile a minute, worried that I'm about to find out just who created all of this destruction. And then I see it towering over my head. It's ... it's ... it's a really big statue!!

Wait ... that's all there is? Just a big statue? And hey, aren't those the green lights that killed me. You
Ninja Spirit - Level 2
Ninja Spirit - Level 2
know what? This statue is a bastard! I leap into the air, with my two shadows following me. I spend around thirty seconds slicing and dicing. Without putting up a fight at all, he blows up and flames out into the ground. It's a dramatic sight to behold, even if it was a bit anticlimactic.

What Have We Learned Today? As big and menacing as they are, statues are pushovers. Let's face it, they can't move their arms and legs, they just waddle about and throw green lights. Oh sure, green lights can be deadly, but it's not like it's keeping any
Ninja Spirit art
Who cares is Activision still owns the rights, I still want somebody to make a sequel!
ninjas up at night. So go ahead and tower over me, you stupid statue. See if I care. All it takes is a few slashes of my sword and you'll go down in fire. Wait ... fire? I guess we also learned that if you hit a statue enough times, it will inexplicably turn into flames. That's real science people.

What Did We Miss? How can you possibly top a giant light-shooting statue, blow-up buildings and swamp? Impossible you say? Well, you clearly haven't seen Level 2. In the next area we travel deep inside the heart of the dark forest and balance ourselves on tree branches. We also fight off large fireballs and a dude that can climb trees. See, that's way better than a giant statue!

What Ryu Hayabusa Says: "Ninja Spirit is for losers! In my game I travel across the globe without changing my clothes. Literally halfway around the world. Seriously people, I go to cities and the mountains and battle eagles and stuff. That's way harder. This guy fought a statue. Oh wow, a statue. I fight statues in my sleep, little man."



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