The Last Ninja / System 3 1987
Screenshots: play/stop

The Last Ninja heralded a new era in Commodore 64 gaming: a huge sprawling exploration adventure, coupled with fighting, puzzles and the odd bit of magic. Born out of the minds of John Twiddy and Mark Cale, it is one game a lot of people who may have only briefly come into contact with it, remember quite well. So what's the story?

Once every 10 years the clan of Ninja were due to meet at the sacred isle of Lin Fen, where the next teachings from the Koga scrolls would be read. Kunitoki, the samarai shogun, was deeply jealous of the ninja secrets and wished them for himself. To achieve this aim, he summoned up a wave of mighty demons that attacked the Ninja whilst they were on the isle. No one survived. Kunitoki thought he had won.

Except there was one left. Armakuni had been left behind to guard the local shrine should anything happen. Needless to say he was a bit miffed as he was due to be granted the next level of status at the congregation. Upon hearing the tragic fate of all his brethren, he set off to Lin Fen to investigate. Kunitoki in the meanwhile had not been idle. He had assembled his best troops, trained them as best he could in the ways of the scrolls and posted them to guard the island from trespassers. So now Armakuni's task is doubly difficult. Find clues and ways to progress and beat off many hand picked fighters.

There are six levels to progress through and each follows a similar trend. Fight some foes using a variety of weapons (all of which must be found on the island), solve some puzzles, find a couple of hidden items and reach the end of the level. First the Wastelands where some initial guidence will be found. Through the Wilderness and then the Palace Gardens, where water is plentiful and a dedication must be made to progress. You then get trapped in the maze confusing Dungeons, where it may be impossible to find your way out. At last reaching the Palace itself, first the Outer Sanctum and then the Inner Sanctum. Where you will find Kunitoki and hopefully be able to recover the Ninja Scrolls.

The graphics and sonics are what really grabbed peoples' attentions back then though. Each level is quite stunningly different, with different textures, colours and styles. Despite the fact each screen takes a few seconds to construct, they were some of the best to be had back in 1987. The fighters are also detailed and well animated, along with Armakuni himself, despite being a mainly black figure. Sound wise, each level and loader had its own theme, style and pace, with many becoming almost legardary. You only have to see how many remixes of the Wastelands in-game tune there are! They sound slightly basic today, but this was putting in style with the Japanese way of things. And they fit the bill quite perfectly.

There is also a challenge to be had. It isn't easy completing the game even when you know what you have to do. Especially when it comes to water jumps or a certain pair of armoured statues! Or Kunitoki himself, he is definitely no walkover. The puzzles aren't too tricky to figure out, but occasionally time pressures can cause mistakes. If the only downer on the program is that the end sequence is incredibly disappointing... then it has done well.

Reviewed by Matthew Allen.

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  The Last Ninja
System 3 1987
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