Rated PG-18 -
Although the NES is very well known as the dominant console of the 1980s, loaded with classic after classic, the early '90s featured some of the absolute best 8-bit games in existence that were never given serious attention while advertisers favored "new" 16-bit technology. Although 1991 is right around the time when the Super NES launched a new era in gaming, the NES was still pumping out unforgettable games that same year, including Ninja Gaiden III and Shatterhand. Both games are among the best in the entire NES library, and hold up to the test of time quite nicely. I remember thinking to myself, "Shit, it would be really awesome if they combined the gameplay mechanics of each of those into one mega super asskicker game. Turbo!" I also remember screaming that out loud in school and being told by several peers and my teacher that I was an unstable maniac. Little did they know that such a game actually existed. THE FOOLS! Not only that, but it was released earlier in the exact same year. A game so perfect for fans of ninjas, robots, and ninja robots that even I couldn't have comprehended the extent to which 8-bit games could set the bar for beating your face with a spiked baseball bat of asskickery. It even had a name: Shadow of the Ninja.
Don't listen to anybody saying that sewers aren't giant, winding mazes and full of ninjas. That's a bullshit lie.
Developed and released by Natsume (who also developed Shatterhand), Shadow of the Ninja took just about every interesting aspect of sidescrolling action and trained those aspects to become ninjitsu black belts. The story is everything a fan of mindless action could ever want: an evil emperor takes over the world with ninja magic and an army of cyborgs and ninjas, sets up his headquarters in New York, and hangs out on the roof of his high-rise building. Clearly it would be impossible for any force in the world to stand up to that level of arrogance with the exception of two highly skilled "good guy" ninjas. That's as deep as it gets, but you have to hand it to the emperor for being quite possibly the only mediating force ever to reconcile robots and ninjas, as they have only fought each other throughout their past history, and the robots have yet to kill even one ninja while they typically get chopped to bits by katana swords.
Ninjas are typically weak against rain and baseball slides.
The gameplay is nothing short of phenomenal. You may choose between 2 ninja warriors, one male and one female, or play a co-op game with 2 players. Controls are sharp and responsive, and maneuvering through certain areas will take a great degree of skill and mastery of what the game gives you to work with. Your ninja can upgrade weapons, including the katana blade, grappling hook and shurikens, up to 3 levels, meaning longer distance and more power. There are plenty of spots for upgrading and healing up, although the game's obstacles will take it to you right from the outset. There are a wide variety of enemies with unique and innovative designs and attacks, and some are very difficult to kill due to their ability to move or block with great agility. Luckily, you have plenty of agility yourself, so it shouldn't be too difficult to plan your attack. You also have plenty of life, but only one to live and 5 chances to continue at various checkpoints. The game itself is only 5 levels long, with 2 or 3 stages in each, but the difficulty curve rises at a sadistic rate. The final stage is everything a masochist could want in a sidescrolling action game, and it will take some time, patience, or cheat codes to finally take the emperor down.
The graphics are very good, and the wide variety of enemy designs only add to this game's unpredictability. Your character's movement flows very smoothly, although the male ninja suffers from Block Head Syndrome (BHS). The bosses are all very detailed, especially the Tank Boss. The music is similar to just about every other Natsume NES release, which means it's some of the best in the 8-bit era and will stick in your head for years.
Shadow of the Ninja is one of the most complete and balanced NES games ever made, and it's a mystery how it somehow got swept under the rug of gaming obscurity. It's about time it got the respect it deserves. Go find it.
You'll never guess how this boss attacks: by SWINGING A SWORD AT YOU.