Ninjas. For years they’ve captivated us with their speed, finesse, and superhuman abilities in general. Even the name “ninja” has practically become synonymous with sleek, shrouded beings hidden behind a veil of mystery and intrigue. For some reason, the appeal of these elite killers has grown substantially over the years. Honestly, who doesn’t like seeing a ninja sneak up on an unsuspecting baddie and utterly wasting him? How many times have we seen a katana buried into someone’s flesh? How many shruikens have been thrown, how many brutal ambushes have prevailed over the course of the ninjas’ reign in video game history? It gives me chills just thinking about it. Thankfully, the ninja craze is far from over. Not to leave the latest generation of gamers out of the loop, Konami brings us Ninja Five-0, a challenging game for the GBA.
When you think of a ninja game, what do you imagine? Perhaps something along the lines of Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden? Do you see a vast empire stretching across the Orient, like in Dynasty Warriors? Or maybe you envision those four pizza-loving turtles from New York City. You’d never even consider an urban police detective working the gritty city scene. Enter Joe Osugi, the lead crime detective of the precinct. This ex-ninja has changed occupations, opting for a more practical line of work. Of course, old habits die hard. Despite the bland name and presumably low-paying salary, Joe still retains all of the elite training of the ninja discipline. Using his superior abilities, Joe is able to crack down on the massive crime wave hitting the city. Instead of carrying around a nine-millimeter and a bulletproof vest, the detective is armed with a thin shroud of fabric and his trusty sword. Using only the basic tools of the ninja, it’s up to you to stop whatever illegal activities that lay in your path and restore safety to the community!
And as our ninja makes his way through the rough and tough areas of the city, he’ll have to face all sorts of evil and twisted minions of the seedy underground. He’ll come across some common bank robbers, terrorists with hostages, and even evil ninjas before everything is said and done. What can one detective do against such dangerous odds? Thankfully, his mad ninja skills come in handy time and again. He has a standard katana to bring down some heavy-duty punishment on the evildoers. In case he finds himself in a tight situation, our hero comes with an unlimited supply of throwing stars. If you don’t want to risk close range combat, you can launch a few of these projectiles at your enemies and watch as their star-ridden corpses collapse onto the cold floor. And if that isn’t enough, your throwing stars can be upgraded into fireballs and lasers to add even more spice to your deadly arsenal. Also, there is a small gauge at the top of your screen. If you let the gauge go to full power, you can execute an attack of unprecedented speed and deadly accuracy. At first, it looks like Joe just zooms diagonally across the screen a few times, but he actually takes out every enemy on the screen with the finesse of a trained killer. With a nice little arsenal to back him up, our hero is more than a match for whatever the criminals have waiting for him.
However, Joe is still a human being. Unlike some other ninja heroes that we’ve come to know and love, this guy is still on a mission and payroll. If he accidentally kills a hostage, the mishap will result in chunk of health taken away. If he accidentally kills too many of the people he’s trying to save, he’ll have to start the level from the very beginning. Also, Joe’s physical status plays a role. Despite all of his incredible ninja abilities, he still has his limitations. He can only jump so far and high, creating a severe obstacle in the progression of the game. Since all of the levels require an enormous amount of platforming, our hero will have to rely on his trusty grappling hook to see him through the areas. Simply tapping the jump button twice will launch the long chain, hopefully attaching it to a nearby ledge or platform. Joe can then swing back and forth to gain enough speed and momentum to make the jump to the next platform. However, timing is crucial to your progression. If you just happen to miss that next ledge by a fraction of a second, chances are that’ll you’ll pay for it with plenty of health loss. The trick is learning how to time your swings to get the most distance. And since the levels are covered with hidden puzzles, barriers, spikes, faulty wiring, flamethrowers, and plenty other nasty surprises, you’re going to have to learn pretty fast. However, there is hope for those with little patience. Due to the sharp learning curve, you’re given unlimited continues, beckoning you to practice until you’ve gotten everything down perfectly.
And as you spend countless trying to master the little intricacies of this game you become so familiarized with the various stages. The levels themselves look as if they were taken directly from an SNES or Genesis port. While this game has only a few areas, each sectioned is rendered with simplistic quality and lackluster graphics. Sure, all of them have some details, like the kiosks in the bank level or the countless rows of passengers in the airplane level. However, even these little details offer little to the overall presentation. Sure, all of the little details make up the overall stage, but they look flat and bland. At least the characters reach basic standard of detail that we’ve grown accustomed to. You can see everyone’s outfits outfit with a fair amount of detail, from the little black bands on the ninja’s wrists to the enemies’ stylish Armani suits. While Joe’s body amounts to a few pixels of color, he still flows gracefully in the heat of combat. His acrobatic prowess and sword animations stand amount among the average graphics. Also, Joe utters a few grunts and groans whenever he gets injured. He’ll even let out a brief shriek of pain when he finally dies and shrivels up on the pavement. Since this will likely happen a lot, you’ll become all too familiar with the ninja’s pain. When you factor in a decent soundtrack of level-specific music, you’ve got an above average presentation at best.
I’m hoping for a future for the Ninja Five-0 series. If only Konami would spend some time with this excellent platformer, they could make it into something truly great. Unfortunately, this game has slipped under the radar of the mainstream gaming scene and is pretty hard to find. It’s one of those games that are designed with a simple concept, yet so utterly difficult to beat. There are quite a few hidden tricks that need mastering if you want to progress in the game. It’s a testament to the phrase: “practice makes perfect.” For those of you that absolutely lack some patience, you might want to look elsewhere. While this game not necessarily the most difficult game in the GBA library, it’s still packed with solid and challenging gameplay. For those of you that need yet another ninja fix, try tracking down Ninja Five-0. Chances are, you won’t be disappointed.
Eight out of ten