While it would be easy for someone to dismiss any ninja action title that doesn't have the name Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi in the title, doing that would cause you to miss a little-known, but outstanding ninja action title released on the also forgotten TurboGrafx-16 system. Ninja Spirit doesn't break any new ground in the action genre, but what it does do is present a very tried-and-true form of game play and neatly builds a fun and enjoyable ninja action experience around it. What it might lack in originality it more than makes up for with its over-the-top play control and unique oriental backdrops, and the result is yet another TurboGrafx-16 title that you need to add to your Virtual Console collection.
In Ninja Spirit you take on the role of the rogue ninja Moonlight in a quest to track down the ninja that killed your father. The only thing Moonlight has to go on is the vivid image of him seeing his father's death through the eyes of a wolf on a cold dark night. You're treated to a nice little intro in which you see your father collapse on the ground dead only to see yourself as a wolf run up next to his lifeless body and howl. At least I guess it's a howl. It's that or a train jumping the tracks. You be the judge. It's about all the story your going to get in this game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as there's not a huge need for it anyway.
The one thing that makes Ninja Spirit such a refreshing game play experience is its simplicity. You basically have two buttons to worry about other than occasionally having to press the select button to switch weapons. One button allows you to jump, and the other button launches an attack. Your attacks vary depending on which weapon you currently have selected and range from a simple sword slash to throwing ninja stars and powder bombs. You'll also come across power-ups that will add helpful ninja spirits to fight alongside you mimicking your every move. You'll find these especially useful in taking down many of the game's tougher bosses. While jumping might seems like a pretty standard thing, in Ninja Spirit, you'll sport one of the best jumps in video gaming and one that would make even the great jumper, Super Mario himself, pale in comparison. You can basically jump almost the height of the screen and this will be put to good use in some of the game's later levels.
While there are platforming portions in the game, it takes a backseat to the over-the-top action that fills each level. In truth you'll spend the majority of your time hacking away at the never-ending bombardment of enemies. After successfully navigating each level you'll be treated to the standard boss battle, and this is where the game becomes a little difficult in the later levels. In fact, the game gets downright hard near the end, to the point of being a little cheap. Luckily you can play the game in PC Engine mode that will at least allow you to take 5 hits before dying. That being said, some enemies can still take you out with one hit so don't get too careless. If you find the PC Engine mode a bit too easy or just feel like getting your butt handed to you, try the game in classic Arcade Mode. One hit and you’re dead.
Graphically Ninja Spirit is pretty solid. The game puts the color palette to good use and most of the areas show a nice amount of detail with as little flicker as possible. You'll get spoiled early on in the game when you take on the first boss that nearly spans the entire screen only to be slightly disappointed later on as the bosses in the game seem to shrink after that. But while they get smaller in size, they also get much more deadly and tricky. It might have been nice to have some parallax scrolling to add some depth to the backdrops, but considering that this was one of the earlier TurboGrafx-16 titles, it's difficult to complain. In all honesty, there's usually so much going on onscreen at once, it's difficult to even notice the scenery much less whether or not it has multi-layer scrolling.
The music in Ninja Spirit will seem a little odd at first, but it begins to grow on you the longer you play the game. It's also extremely fitting around the oriental theme of the game. The music also seems to get better as the game progresses and some of the later tunes that seem to have a more prevalent bass tone to them are among the best you'll hear in most of the early TurboGrafx-16 Hucard games. The sound effects in the game range from great to horrid. Most of the sword clashing noises sound very authentic, but you'll know that the audio is going to be sketchy once you start the game with the now famous wolf howl. Not to worry, your speakers aren't broken, the wolf is supposed to sound that way.
Ninja Spirit is the kind of game that doesn't require a lot of thinking and gives you the game play freedom that makes playing the game so much fun. There's a reason that most TurboGrafx-16 fans hold this game in such high regard and one quick play of the game is all the proof you'll need. Ninja Spirit is easily one of the better TG-16 games to be released on the Virtual Console to date and is a must-buy for any action / side-scroller fan. About the only downside to this title is the fact that it's a bit short in overall length. Other than that, it's top notch ninja fun!