Top Ten video game ninjas
- 06 August, 2010 15:37
In the hallowed words of Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni: “Ninjas kick butt! Cowabunga!” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Ever since we were old enough to make impromptu swords out of cardboard tubes, our intense love for Ninjitsu has known no bounds. In addition to inventing pyjamas and balaclavas, they can walk on water, kill people with flying death-stars and communicate with strange beasts. What’s not to love?
Along with Nazis, zombies and Nazi-cum-zombies, ninjas are a major staple of the video game industry. Whether you’re playing an RPG or a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, you’ll usually find at least one masked martial artist thrown into the mix. They refuse to be curtailed by gravity or genre – and gaming is all the richer for it. To celebrate the announcement of Street Fighter X Tekken, we’ve collated a list of the hardest, coolest and downright sexiest ninjas ever to grace our video game screens. So sit back and watch the shadows dance!
#10: Armakuni (The Last Ninja)
Ironically, The Last Ninja was one of the first games to feature a ninja protagonist. Originally appearing on the Commodore 64 way back in 1987, Armakuni can be viewed as the granddaddy of video game ninjas – which makes Shinobi’s Joe Mushashi the grandmother. (Sorry Joe.)
If Rambo had been born in Feudal Japan and had a penchant for PJs, he’d be a lot like Armakuni. The original game chronicled Armakuni’s blood-soaked quest for vengeance following the massacre of his ninja brethren at the hands of the Ashikaga Clan. This mainly involved running around stabbing random samurai in the face before squaring off against the evil Shogun Kunitoki. In the sequel, Armakuni found himself transported to present day New York, where he proceeded to kill pretty much anyone who crossed his path (luckily, they were mostly gangbangers and vagrants.)
Armakumi sliced-and-diced his way across a slew of remakes and sequels, but sadly didn’t make the transition into 3-D (a touted Xbox reboot never materialised.) His last outing was subsequently on the Amiga in 1991. Sniff.
Unlike certain showboating assassins we could name, Armakumi stuck to traditional shinobi weaponry, including a katana blade, nunchaku, shuriken and the trusty Bo staff (basically, all the Ninja Turtle staples). He also had a basic kick and punch move, which is pretty impressive for an ancient 8-bit brawler.
Armakumi would have placed a lot higher on this list if it wasn’t for his kryptonite-like aversion to water (instant death occurred if he so much as wet his toes). He was also rubbish at jumping. Consequently, the most formidable task in the game involved navigating a shallow rock pond. Learning to swim does not exist in this dojo.
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Single-handedly wiping out the entire Ashikaga Clan.
#9: Ayame (Tenchu: Stealth Assassin)
Like the most potent and insidious of farts, Ayame is silent but deadly. Having perfected the art of sneaking up on people and noisily hacking them to death, this 16th Century kunoichi (female ninja) is the stealthiest assassin on our list. Like The Last Ninja’s Armakumi, Ayame mainly sticks to traditional ninja weaponry. Her killing-tool of choice is a slender ninjatō blade, along with shuriken, poisoned rice and smoke grenades. While well-versed in hand-to-hand combat, Ayame is at her most deadly when hidden in shadow -- she strikes hard and then fades away, with nary a pitter-patter of her dainty sandaled feet. In other words, she’s the perfect ninja.
Ayame also deserves plaudits for possessing a body that matches her profession, rather than a stripper or blowup doll, say (stand up Taki and Mai Shiranui). This adds an added dash of realism to proceedings and makes you feel like less of a lecherous loser while playing. All hail realistic depictions of women in video games! That’s what we say. (Mind you, her midriff-baring outfit is a bit cheeky.)
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Remaining unseen.
#8: 'Ninja' (I-Ninja)
The titular shinobi-shrimp from Namco’s I-Ninja proved you don’t have to be tall to kick it ‘Ninjitsu’ style. Is he supposed to be a midget or a kid with an unusually gruff voice? Either way, he gives most full-sized ninjas a run for their money – and then some. According to the game’s original press release, he’s also “ultra cool” and has “extreme attitude.” (Incidentally, this was back when every platform character desperately wanted to ‘be’ Sonic.)
The pintsized tearaway had an impressive arsenal of moves at his disposal, including the ability to grind down rails, run along walls, swing across chasms and glide with the help of his spinning sword-copter. In ‘short’, he’s the Rey Mysterio of the ninja world.
Despite being in possession of a razor-sharp katana blade, I-Ninja couldn’t cut it in the platform world. His debut outing turned out to be his last; which is a short-lived legacy in anyone’s book. Personally, we feel he deserved to go on to bigger things. [Stop this now – Ed.]
We’ll leave you with this amusing I-Ninja promotional video that accompanied the game’s release. (Well, it made us laugh anyway.)
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Proving that cute can be deadly.
#7: Kage-Maru (Virtua Fighter)
Kage-Maru represents the ‘spiritual’ side to the ninja – honourable, stoic, silent… and boring. For all his quiet nobility, we find it hard to take Kage-Maru seriously with that ridiculous Richard Garriott headband. No wonder his opponents are always kicking it off – they’re trying to do him a favour!
Despite his questionable dress sense, Kage-Maru is one of the more realistic depictions of ninjas in gaming. His roster of fighting moves is an authentic simulation of Jujutsu; a defensive martial arts style that was purportedly practiced by real-life ninjas in Feudal Japan.
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Er, beating up his mum (to be fair, she was a cyborg at the time).
#6: Mai Shiranui (King of Fighters, Fatal Fury)
Some will accuse us of being sexist male pigs for including two buxom female ninjas on this list, but they couldn’t be more wrong! Honestly, it’s all about the Nintitsu. Er, we mean Ninjitsu. …Sorry.
Much like Taki from Soul Edge (see No.2), Mai Shiranui is a gravity-defying marvel of science and physicality. How she manages to stay upright with those things grafted to her chest – let alone engage in martial arts – is a mystery for the ages. It must be difficult landing a successful kick when you can’t even see your own feet, but Mai somehow makes it look easy. Her placement on this list was guaranteed for this reason alone.
Mai Shiranui is also notable for being the favoured costume choice for cos-play attention-floozies. Indeed, her trademark skimpy red tunic seems to be the compulsory dress code at some gaming and comic events. Not that we are in any way complaining.
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Not popping out of her outfit, natch.
#5 Sub-Zero (Mortal Kombat)
According to the convoluted Mortal Kombat mythos, Sub-Zero was trained by the Lin Kuei Chinese warrior clan, which means he isn’t ‘technically’ a ninja. However, he does look and smell like one, which is good enough for us.
Originally appearing in arcade parlors back in 1992, Sub-Zero has been a ninja mainstay in gaming ever since. His most recent appearance was in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, where he officially proved that he was harder than Superman (i.e. – he successfully defeats him in the Story Mode).
With the possible exception of Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden, Sub-Zero is the bloodiest brawler on this list. From his icy cruel freeze attacks to his alarming Spine-Rip Fatality, this faux ninja doesn’t muck about when it comes to ultra-violence. He’s such a badass, it almost makes up for the fact he was once voiced by Luke Perry from <i>90210</i>. …Almost, but not quite.
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Ripping out spinal columns without staining his PJs.
#4 Cyborg Ninja/Grey Fox (Metal Gear Solid)
Our love-hate relationship with the Metal Gear Solid franchise has been documented elsewhere. Basically, there’s too much talky and not enough shooty. We were subsequently thrilled to bits when Cyborg Ninja showed up during one of Revolver Ocelot’s protracted monologues and promptly relieved him of his arm. Yeah! That’ll teach ya to shut your pie-hole!
Cyborg Ninja uses the same stealth camouflage suit as the alien from Predator. We choose to believe that he pilfered the device from the Predator’s corpse after vanquishing it in hand-to-hand combat. Now that’s hard! Apart from the aforementioned instance of partial dismemberment, Cyborg Ninja doesn’t actually do much in Metal Gear Solid. He basically just dashes around acting mysterious. Still, we couldn’t resist putting a cyborg ninja on the list. Cyborg ninjas are cool.
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Chopping off Revolver Ocelot’s arm.
#3 Joe Mushashi (Shinobi)
The rubbishly named Joe Mushashi was cutting his ninja teeth (and other ninjas) before a lot of you were even born. The first Shinobi game appeared in 1987; the same year as System 3’s The Last Ninja (see No.10). This makes him one of the oldest video game characters still doing the rounds this century – and what rounds they were!
The Shinobi series is notable for its roster of vehicular bosses, ranging from helicopter gunships to homicidal freight trains. He‘s also defeated more demons, samurais and monsters than he’s had hot sake. Joe’s most recent outing was the hard-as-nails Shinobi for PlayStation 2 in 2002. Personally, we think its time he made a comeback. Calling Team Ninja…
Greatest Ninja Achievement: Fighting a bulldozer in Shinobi III. That’s pretty frickin’ badass.
#2: Taki (Soul Edge)
We originally contemplated giving Taki two places on this list in honour of her formidable pair of assets. (We are referring of course to her twin ninjatō blades which she uses in a masterly display of…. Nah, not really.)
Like the improbably propotioned Mai Shiranui, Taki is better known for her gargantuan novelty-sized torso lamps than any Ninjitsu prowess she may possess. To make the match fair, her male opponents would have to stuff beach balls down their shirts weighted with sand. When you take this into account, Taki is arguably the toughest and most skilful ninja on our list (well, apart from Mai, natch).
Greatest Achievement: Defeating the evil corsair Cervantes de Leon.
#1: Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive)
When it came to choosing our hardest video game ninja, it was impossible to look past Ryu Hayabusa. The character first appeared on the NES in 1989, before being retconned into Tecno’s Dead or Alive series. He has since gone on to appear in a succession or Ninja Gaiden games across the Xbox, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360; culminating in the obscenely bloody Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.
The gymnastic gore-hound has the most fearsome arsenal of weapons we’ve ever seen in a video game, ranging from oversized axes to razor-sharp scythes. Every single one of ‘em causes enemies to explode in a shower of limbs and severed arteries. Ryu Hayabusa: you are a martial arts mentalist.
Greatest Achievement: Supplying the blood banks of the world with enough claret to last them a thousand years.