This year, the Game Boy Advance turned the big 1-0. There’s plenty of reasons to love Nintendo’s little portable dynamo, and we’ll be taking a look at some great games both on the website and in the magazine a little later. In the meantime, there’s some crimes that need to be foiled and some criminals who need brought to justice. But the crime syndicate is too big for the cops to tackle. When the problem is too tough for the cops, they call in SWAT. When it’s too tough for SWAT, they turn to Joe Osugi. To the precinct, he’s a reformed ninja turned detective. To the bad guys, he’s the Ninja Five-O.
Ninja Five-O is one of those games you scoffed at back in 2003 when you were browsing the GBA wall at your local game store. “Right,” you thought to yourself as you looked at the box, “another 2D side-scrolling game starring a dude in black pajamas. What is this, 1985 all over again? Pass!” You neglected to notice it was developed by Hudson (aka: the guys who made Bomberman and thus tons of money) and published by Konami (aka: the guys who made Castlevania and thus metric tons of money). So you (aka: the guy who made the worst decision ever) left it there on the shelf. To you all I can say is “thanks” because if you hadn’t judged a book by its cover I wouldn’t have been able to buy my copy and rub how fun it is into your face.
Succinctly, Ninja Five-O is the result of a drug- and alcohol-fueled key party where Bionic Commando and Shinobi hooked up. Osugi struts around with his endless supply of shuriken and his bloodthirsty katana, hoisting himself up to higher ground and ducking through low passages like a good ninja should. At the same time he’s equipped with a grappling hook that allows him to cross large pits, access out-of-the-way places and climb walls that would make Ryu Hayabusa cry. True to ninja form, he’s even got access to some killer magic that lets him throw fireballs, shoot lasers out of his fingers, and sometimes flip out and totally murder everything on the screen. I’m surprised Hudson didn’t figure out a way to have him disembowel prospective buyers who put it back after looking at the box. He’s pretty much a walking, seething mass of furious destruction primed and ready to explode 24/7. Maybe he’s angry because his parents named him Joe?
In any case the department likes to turn Joe loose on the thugs when police brutality lawsuits seem less politically damaging than allowing the terrorists to win. Crime is on the rise, so it’s “Go Joe!” time as they send him off to deal with a group of hostage-taking bank robbers, airplane hijackers, smugglers and other pieces of garbage out strutting their stuff thanks to the discovery of a cache of old artifacts. Dubbed the Mad Masks and guarded by various ninja clans through the centuries, the masks bestow obscene levels of arcane powers on anyone who dons one. Yeah it sounds like the plot of a Michael Dudikoff film. That’s all part of the charm.
Ninja Five-O is nothing less than a love letter to the crazy action platformers gamers cut their teeth on back in the 1980s, when ninjas were everywhere (even in the New York sewers!) and could do anything. So if slaughtering your way through dozens of mooks and rescuing hostages in every stage before confronting a boss who is larger than life all to the throbbing beat of an 80’s-style rock soundtrack makes you break out in hives just thinking about it, you’ll want to give it a pass (pansy). Everybody else is crowding around me and demanding to know where they can get their own copy to play–first of all, get away from me, and second of all, there are plenty of places on-line that sell old games so get with the program.
Is it perfect? Of course not. While it does contain six stages and a good twenty levels of action as well as multiple difficulty settings to soothe everybody from casual dabblers to hardcore ninjitsu freaks, Ninja Five-O still suffers from average graphics and a play mechanic (the grappling hook) that will take you time to fully master. However, like Bionic Commando, once you know what you’re doing it becomes second-nature and you’ll find yourself swinging and climbing all over creation as though you always had one of these things stuck to your wrist.
All told, Ninja Five-O was one of the biggest sleeper hits of 2003. Given lackluster sales it’s unlikely to spawn a sequel, but with everything it got right the first time one can only imagine what might have been. In an alternate dimension it’s quite possible that you’re playing Ninja Five-O 7: Moon Ninja on your 3DS. Back on this Earth, Joe Osugi saved the world once and was never heard from again. This is all your fault, but if you buy it now you can start on your penance by making a bunch of gangsters commit involuntary seppu-ku at your hands.
|Game Name:||Ninja Five-O|
|System:||Game Boy Advance|
|ESRB Rating:||E (Everyone)|