Arcade ninja games are ace. While that’s actually not a statement we can generalise (thanks, Mirai Ninja), it definitely applies to Irem’s Ninja Spirit – and equally to the PC Engine conversion, which is definitely a thing of beauty.
It’s not tremendously different to other ninja titles of the time, in that it focuses a lot more on combat than on platforming (think Shinobi, rather than Revenge Of Shinobi), but it’s a real looker and offers some action-packed gameplay. You can easily see why it was so impressive back in 1990 – once you’re fully powered up with after-images and snazzy sword effects, the game chucks an impressive amount of sprites around the screen (albeit with a little bit of slowdown).
Thankfully, the developers included a specific mode for owners of the PC Engine version to tone down the difficulty a little, giving our hero Gekkou the chance to survive a few hits before he perishes. For fans of the original game though, the unforgiving one-hit kills are still available in arcade mode.
The only drawback to Ninja Spirit is the price – both Japanese and North American copies will fetch a pretty penny today, with even a loose HuCard often going for more than £20. A fully boxed copy is more likely to set you back £45 or more. Is it worth it though? Oh yes. Action games this good don’t come along very often, and this is an essential part of any PC Engine/Turbografx collection.