Ninjas suddenly gained popularity during the 1980s, what with their cool moves, cool clothes and unashamed ability to kick ass. It's murky as to why exactly this happened but the legacy left within the fields of media was huge, ranging from the American Ninja films, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Last Ninja series of games and a fistful of arcade coin-op titles. If pirates had been popular at the same time, who knows what might have happened...
On that note, Natsume's NES title Shadow of the Ninja was a little late for the boat; released in 1991 in the US and Europe, it had a wealth of other titles to be judged against. In essence it is part run-and-gun, part platformer as you control either Hayate or Kaede (or both in two player mode) to defeat the evil emperor Garuda. Apparently the old boy has somehow managed to take over the entire United States and subjected it to his control. Your job, naturally, is to usurp that control.
The game is set over five levels, split into either three or four stages each. Hayate and Kaede can both run, jump, climb and leap about the levels, and both swing along overhanging platforms and drop down through them. To make this a fair fight you are merely equipped with a katana to begin with; however, opening certain containers in each level can reveal a kusarigama (which replaces the katana) or a limited number of shuriken stars that can hit at range. Collecting the same weapon as that which you already wield powers it up, although taking too much damage can reduce it back one level.
Each stage has a variety of enemies present depending on its theme, all looking to knock your health level to zero. These vary from bog standard grunts, to water leaping ninjas, gun totting robots and mutant monkeys. Most can be dispatched fairly easily, but the toll to your health bar becomes apparent if careful strategy is not employed. Some stages have minor bosses at the end, and each level ends with a major boss; these take quite a lot damage but most can be defeated with careful, repeated tactics.
If all of this screams run of the mill to you, then you are not going to be far wrong, even with the added lure of co-op two player mode. Graphics are reasonable and a might unimpressive for such a late era NES title, although the soundtrack easily makes up for that, with some impressive and catchy tunes. None of the stages are that long, even though some are challenging, and it's as much a test of memory as skill for some of them, knowing which weapons to use in each situation. Inspiration is rather lacking in most aspects of the game.
As far as scrolling platform games go, Shadow of the Ninja is no pushover, in the traditional NES vein, but it doesn't do anything new nor offer anything greater than ubiquitous. It's fun, enjoyable and can divert your attention for a little while, but after that time you begin to hanker for something more impressive and more original. Download if you're bored but don't expect anything different to the norm.