I graduated at the bottom of ninja class


The Revenge of Shinobi (1990)

It was a tearful experience for me when I realised that ninja was not a viable career path. I couldn’t even choose to study it in college. Basket weaving yes. Harry Potter yes. Even sociology, yes. But no modules on shurikens, ninjutsus, swordplay, kais, nunchuks, jet black clothing… they’re all massive gaps in my knowledge to this day. Uncle Monty wistfully made his eventual conclusion that he would never play the Dane. And I too had to come to terms with the sad fact that I would never be a Shinobi.

But perhaps I wouldn’t have been cut out for it anyway. Back when I was a lad, it seems you had two choices as to what ninja you could grow up to be. The first was a Ninja Turtle, which seemed viable up until the point where I had to reckon myself with the fact that I wasn’t a turtle, nor was I likely to ever become one. There might have been an opportunity to morph into a turtle, if I came into contact with some form of benevolent nuclear waste, possibly while holding a turtle of my own.

But where to find this stuff? Not in Ireland, that’s for certain. We used to get terrible scaremongering in school about a nuclear plant in Sellafield, North-West England, and what would happen to Ireland if some terrorist nutter blew it up. Well, see Fallout 3 for what would have happened, if the posters were to believed. We had all seen and heard about the dreadful effects of Chernobyl, 9/11 had happened in recent memory and Al-Qaeda were really beginning to rare up.

It was a tough situation, so the government gave us an Irish solution to an Irish problem by sending iodine tablets out to each household in 2002. This, they assured us, would keep up safe from any radio-iodine that might contaminate our morning coffees. That’s tremendous, isn’t it? Take one tablet and a localised nuclear holocaust will leave you with little but a scratch.

But anyway, why would I want to do a thing like that? This was my big moment – stand in the right place when the Sellafield facility went boom and the waste was sprayed everywhere, and I could be granted the superpowers I always wanted. Then I could become a superninja. Unfortunately the bomb or airplane or articulated lorry never did hit that facility and I was left saddened.

It wasn’t much of a loss though, considering those tablets went out of date a mere five years later. I think larger households only got so many to go around, and anyway the government later owned up and said that they wouldn’t have done anything really. Well, they really had us going there, didn’t they?

It all meant that becoming a turtle was off the agenda for me. A pity, because I look great in green, as well as in shellsuit trackies. Well, no matter. It would have to be a lifetime of the most intense training for me. A time where I would need to focus my mind, body and spirit to learn the way of ninjutsu. I thought I could take some inspiration from my pal Joe Musashi on this, protagonist of the Shinobi games.

But blimey, did he make it hard. For some reason, possibly because I was a bit of a pilchard as a kid, I could never make it at all far through Revenge of Shinobi. As in, I don’t think I could beat the second level because I never realised that you had to activate a switch, then go backwards to continue. A powerful ninja should only move forward.

It would have helped as well if my shurikens, the main form of attack and something that gives you a bit of desperately needed range, didn’t keep running out. You can change how many of them you start off with in the Options menu, which incidentally is the place where you must also change the Difficulty setting to Easy or be killed horribly, early doors. What I didn’t know was that there was a nifty cheat to give yourself infinite shurikens, making this whole ordeal a lot easier. A powerful ninja should always be prepared to cheat.

The next hurdle to stumble over is mastery of the double jump. Well, Joe Musashi can’t even do this consistently, so what makes you think I can? In any game with a double jump, you press the jump button once, then you press it again with a fairly kind leeway. Or, Donkey Kong Country style, you can cartwheel off a ledge and then do a last gasp jump to save yourself.

Not a bit of it for us budding ninjas. In Revenge of Shinobi, you’ll have to jump, and then at the very crest of your jump, and in a window of mere yoctoseconds, press jump again. Get it right, and you’ll somersault triumphantly through the air ready to rain shuriken hell down on fools. Get it wrong however, as you will time and time again, and it’s almost certain death as your body rigidly falls into one of the many bottomless chasms around NeoTokyo.

This is the sticking point that gets you again and again in the game, and if you don’t improve at it quickly, it’ll be your neck that the top ninjas hold a knife to. But I’m telling you, the double jump just doesn’t work properly, which is a shame as its use is necessary to keep your frail body away from the gillions of enemies and pits. A powerful ninja should at least partially conform to the laws of physics.

The levels and settings are a bit odd too. You start off in some early 17th century rural Japanese zone, which is OK, but then pretty soon you’re doing battle with army lads toting machine guns and throwing bombs. What’s even weirder is that sometimes you’ll get hit by an enemy and a huge chunk of your health gets swallowed, and then you’ll get hit three times in succession (possibly by a salvo of machine gun fire) and not take a scratch. And then suddenly your maximum health bar expands. What are you meant to believe? A powerful ninja must recognise why they’re fighting Chun-Li at one point then Rambo the next.

And here’s the really mental thing. You already know that you can’t trust the setting, the time period, the enemies, the health system, or the double jump. And one of your mighty ninjutsu powers has just exploded your body, cost you an extra life, killed everybody at a thousand paces and then brought you back to life again. Now that’s bizarre. It’s almost an admission by the game that it is so plum difficult, you’ll need to sacrifice men behind the scenes just to keep trucking.

But doubling all of this in the bonkers stakes is the range of bosses. The first guy seems innocuous and Japanese enough, but then pretty soon it’s – and I’m not joking here – Batman, Spiderman, The Hulk, The Terminator and Godzilla. Wow, is that enough copyright infringement, do you think? Wouldn’t Gojira have been better suited as a final boss? Rather than some stereotypical evil old master that throws his hair at you for massive damage while your girlfriend gets crushed to dust. A powerful ninja must always be up on his modern pop culture references.

All of these things which a prospective ninja must take into account… it might sound fun, but it ends up being a pretty damn stressful life let me tell you. And you’d probably die hundreds of times before even getting close to graduating from The Revenge of Shinobi, leading you to question is it even really worth it anyway. The hardcores will love it, but me, I’d much sooner do the waster college courses. Do you think there’s a course on the Ninja Turtles?

09 April 2019

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