Shadow of the Ninja / Kage Fighter (Japan)

Developer: Natsume (pronounced:nah-tsu-meh)
Publisher: Natsume
Players: up to 2
Difficulty: 4/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Sounds/Music: 3.5/5
Graphics: 4/5
 
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I’ve been playing lots of NES Roms recently. Emulators have presented the forgotten delights of the obsolete video game consoles to near perfection. Their ease of use and simple interface has made emulators the ideal choice for those wishing to relive the classics most of us grow up with.
 
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Shadow of the Ninja is the North American title for the Japanese NES game ‘Kage Fighter’. In 1991, I acquired the game pak in a 4-in-1 format bundled with other games such as ‘Silkworm’, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2’ and ‘Final Assault/SCAT’. It was value for money (at RM 50 back then) but even more impressive is the game at hand.
 
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History and main characters:
 
  • Protagonist(s) – Hayate (male ninja clad in blue) and Kaede (female version clad in red). Neither warrior is better than the other, save for cosmetic purposes. These 2 warriors responded to the despotic rule of one Emperor Garuda in 2029 AD in the USA. Apparently, in  the words of the developers, ‘lives were lost’ and that was the reason as to the ninjas’ crusade against the ‘dictatorial govermment [sic] of Emperor Garuda.’
  • Emperor Garuda – your nemesis in the game. He’s the last level boss and difficult as hell to defeat. Not much is known about him except that his minions have been making New York City very miserable indeed. 
  • And so, these 2 shadows appear to defeat him and ‘ninjas they are called’.

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Gameplay/Controls

  • With the gamepad of course. If you have the emulator, the keyboard would perform a decent duty. In fact, the keyboard is open to bashing and can potentially resist more abuse than the unassuming gamepad.
  • The game is in the platform genre. By default, the player is armed with a short sword which can be enough to take out smaller enemies but is inadequate against the bosses. Enemies are usually eager to engage you and there is no time to stand still. 
  • The premise and objective of the  game is simpler than other games – fight your way to the boss level; take him down; proceed to next stage; take boss down; repeat until you encounter Emperor Garuda himself. But this does not mean that the game is simple. In fact, it is one of the hardest games around and with only 5 continues available, every mistake is rather fatal. You’d share the continues in a co-op game.
  • You gain weapon upgrades by obtaining new weapons. Technically, there are 2 types of weapons – the sword and another chain grappling hook weapon. Having made your choice as to your favourite type, you’d have to gather more of the same kind of weapon. If you do collect another weapon type, you’d have to start all over again. Getting hurt by enemies also reduces your weapon strength. At the peak of the upgrades, you would possess a sword with a rather long wave blast and (if you have chosen the alternative) a rather long chain, which when hit upwards also generates a small wave blast to the side of the wielder.
  • Other colllectable weapons include shurikens and a time bomb. When your character has full weapon power, even the shurikens become super fast and act as homing missiles against enemies. The time bomb is not as useful but is good against level 4 gun turrets. 
  • You have one secret power attack mode! Hold your attack button down (the process must not be interrupted by enemies attacking you) and you’d soon take out one super sword out, unleashing its energies on all enemies. The catch is that you’d suffer a hit in your health levels (at least below half) and you can’t perform the super attack when your health is rather low. So, use it at your discretion.
  • There are jumping puzzles in the game. Gamers disliking ‘jumping games’ may find this game rather difficult as some jumps have to be timed to perfection but it’s not that bad. 
  • Each level usually has a sub-level boss and a main level boss.
  • All told, the enemies in the game are also rather difficult. Here are the stages in the game- 
  1. Level one – ship. Raining scenario. Enemies are gung–ho sailors, naughty monkeys and one jet–powered guardian patrolling the platform it is on. There are also some fighters who are stationary but would unleash timed attacks. There is also one clan of enemies who inflict no harm on contact but would presume to push you right off the ledge you are standing on. Then there is the cannon guy who fires off 3 shots both in standing and kneeling position. Take note that he is immune to attacks while kneeling. The sub-level boss is one Brutus like sailor but he’s not hard to kill. The boss is one mechanized creature shooting out spiked flames at you. The boss would also levitate itself and jump on your position. There’s nowhere to run and hide!
  2. Level two – sewers. Ninjas patrol the drains of the sewers and jump out in ambush and unleash salvoes of shurikens. There is also one serpent mechanotron who appears variously on both sides  of a sewer station and retreats upon you hitting it once – it can take a fair amount of abuse and can inflict quite a lot on its own. Other enemies – boomerang dude; spider fly; patrolling cannon sentry; all are rather easy to kill. The boss is a tank of which you should try to take out the main gun at the bottom first before disabling the top of it.
  3. Level three – rooftops. There are not many new enemies but there are lots of jumping to be done here. Each fall is not fatal per se but can be cumulatively at your disadvantage as health powerups are far and few. The boss level is one impressive samurai who disintegrates and reforms again but it would take a fair bit of evading and aiming shots at him to proceed to the next stage. He’s one of the most poetic bosses to grace the game. Time carefully his reform process (avoid him!) and repeat your blows on him.
  4. Level four – airbase. Standard fare this. A splendid new enemy is the mortar/spindash soldier. There are new turrets which you can disable by plopping a well-placed bomb on top or next to it. The next scenario is a  jumping stage where you must evade spiked objects and time your jumps on many platforms. The boss is one eagle guy who takes 2 forms – the human and after being dealt enough punishment, a swooping eagle-human. Principally not very tough boss but can get frustrating as he may not allow you to get very close. The chain weapon is handy here to reach his levitating height. 
  5. Level five – Emperor Garuda’s base. 2 scenarios. First one involved lots of jumping as well. The new enemy here is a spider who can fire outwards and can make itself invincible at intervals. Garuda’s lair is an elevator ride up to the Emperor itself. The Emperor has 2 predictable attacks – a standard attack (melee) and a sonic blast attack in 3 waves. He has many layers of armor and is tough to subdue but 2 players can do the deed rather more easily. As in the spirit of ‘Kage Fighter’, lots of jumping is required and some nice bit of dodging and clever use of the special power. 

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Music/Sounds

Impressive score. While the music loops over and over, it seldom gets annoying and blends in nicely with the milieu of the stage. Whille the sounds are average, it does not mean that it is drab and uninspiring; the explosions and boss deaths are fairly awesome. 

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Graphics

Not to be outdone with the standards of today, even the pampered gamers of beautiful graphics may be aware that the visuals of this game are a notch above their contemporary counterparts. While they don’t take the breath away as ‘Sonic 3’ did me, the designers did include much details such as the falling rain in the 1st stage, the background scenery is also well rendered and the setting of the game is believable in the sense that the gamer is fully aware as to the actual grim and dark setting of the game.       

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Conclusion

An engaging NES game which would still pose more than a challenge to today’s sophisticated gamers. The gameplay is a bash-fest but this should not distract gamers from digging deep into their resources (which may not be much, given the simplicity of the game controls) and enjoying the game. There isn’t much ninja skills to speak of in the game but the ability to cling onto railings and attack simultaneously is a good thing and probably is something new in the development of video games.

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