Remembering the Great, Last Ninja

Illustration for article titled Remembering the Great, Last Ninja
Total RecallTotal RecallTotal Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

Today, we're looking at The Last Ninja. The first "badass" game I ever played, and still one of my all-time favourites.

The Last Ninja was first released in 1987 on the Commodore 64, and was developed by Hungarian outfit SoftView and legendary 80's studio System 3. It was, and remains to this day, one of the finest action/adventure games of all time.

The first game in an eventual trilogy, players took the role of Armakuni, the last surviving ninja in Japan after an evil Shogun has all the others wiped out. Seeking revenge, you infiltrate his fortress island where you have to navigate tricky platforming sections and face off against his evil henchmen.


It's tough knowing where to start when talking about this game. Do I start with the iconic box art? The amazing soundtrack? The pioneering graphics, the innovative combat system?

Let's start with the last two. The Last Ninja is played using an isometric viewpoint, and featured graphics that even today are respectable. In the 80s? They were incredible. The island was divided into individual "screens" (like, say, the original Zelda), and each most would present a unique challenge, tasking you with either finding an item, defeating (or evading) an enemy or navigating a platforming obstacle.

It was a fairly unique way of breaking a game up back then, and was definitely a unique way of presenting it, The Last Ninja falling somewhere between a platformer and an action game. Perhaps its most innovative feature, though, was its combat, the game's various weapons like a katana, shuriken or nunchaku allowing you to not just fight your enemies, but individually target which part of the body you would attack, whether that be legs, body or the head.

While the game itself ensured that The Last Ninja would go down as a classic (it's sold millions worldwide, a rare feat for a Commodore 64 title), it's remembered these days as much for its soundtrack as its combat, Ben Dalglish's synthesised interpretation of classical Japanese music making it a favourite of chiptune and electronic artists the world over (you can see Dalglish's own remix of the original to your left).


The Last Ninja's commercial and critical success led to two sequels, The Last Ninja 2 (set in New York City) and The Last Ninja 3. By the time the series wound up in 1991, it had appeared on not just the Commodore 64, but the Apple IIGS, BBC Micro, PC, Atari ST, Amiga, Acorn Archimedes, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, NES and even the Amiga CD32. Most recently, the trilogy has also been re-released on the Wii's Virtual Console, though the third game has since been pulled after a bug meant the game couldn't be completed.

Amazingly, having opened in 1982, System 3 are still in business today, a rare achievement for an independent games studio. Their last game was WIlliams Pinball Hall of Fame on the PS3.


Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

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So I watched some of that first linked video, and the music starts off well but then it onslaughts my ears with its grating sound. I LOVE chiptunes. Maybe it's a bad recording, but it's certainly not "amazing" to me.

Again, maybe this video isn't doing it justice, but since when do ninjas walk down roads in broad daylight and run away from their enemies. Ninjas assassinate anyone and everyone in their path. These people killed all of his ninja brethren. Why would he spare them now?

I've never played this game, but based on this video alone, it doesn't seem great to me, to be honest.