The Last Ninja
|The Last Ninja|
Cover art (Commodore 64)
Eclipse Software Design
|Designer(s)||Mark Cale (concept)
Tim Best (storyboard)
|Artist(s)||Hugh Riley (C64)
Hugh Riley, Erik Simon, Tim Lange (Atari ST & Amiga)
Erol Otus (Apple II & MS-DOS)
Peter Scott (Acorn Electron & BBC Micro)
|Composer(s)||Ben Daglish, Anthony Lees (C64)
Jochen Hippel (Atari ST, Amiga)
Russell Lieblich (MS-DOS), Tania Smith (NES)
|Series||The Last Ninja|
|Release date(s)||1987, 1988, 1989, 1990
Virtual Console (C64)
|Media/distribution||Tape, floppy, cartridge|
The Last Ninja is an action-adventure game developed and published by System 3 in 1987 for the Commodore 64. As the first in the Last Ninja series, it set the standard for the unique look and feel for its sequels: Last Ninja 2 (1988), Last Ninja Remix (1990, a remake of the first game on Amiga and remake of the second game on Commodore 64) and Last Ninja 3 (1991).
Other format conversions were later released for the Apple IIGS, MS-DOS, BBC Micro and Acorn Electron in 1988, the Apple II in 1989, Amiga and Atari ST (as Ninja Remix) in 1990, and Acorn Archimedes in 1991, while a NES version (actually a port of the second game) was released in 1990. Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum versions were planned, and in progress, but never appeared.
The game was one of the most successful games released on the Commodore 64, winning many awards and positive reviews from video game journalism. It was re-released on Wii Virtual Console in Europe in April 2008 as the fifth Virtual Console C64 title, and in North America in February 2009 as one of the first three C64 titles. Its sequel, Last Ninja 2, was also released for the Virtual Console.
After two hundred years of Fujiwara clan rule, whose lifestyle was the most extravagant of any shogunate, the farmers and common men decided to leave their homes and travel to the Togakure mountains where they established the ninja, a group of mystic shadow warriors. Four centuries later, the ninja had become the most feared warriors of their day, feared by even the powerful samurai. Their mastery of weapon craft and mind control ensured swift and complete victory over their enemies from the years of arduous training that forged mind and body into a death-dealing machine.
Kunitoki, the evil shogun of the Ashikaga clan, has long envied the powers of the ninja brotherhood and would do anything to acquire their knowledge. To this end, he has sworn an oath to their total destruction. Once every decade, all ninja must travel to the island of Lin Fen where the receive further teachings from the Koga Scrolls.
Seizing the opportunity, Kunitoki summoned forth all the spirits from the depths of the Nether World and flung their full force against the amassed ninja. None escaped the wrath of Kunitoki. Nothing stood in the way of the shogun achieving his ultimate goal, the knowledge of the ninja. He set sail for the island of Lin Fen with an elite force of his palace guards and samurai officers to begin the arduous training of his troops and thereby creating a new era of ninja under his control.
Unknown to Kunitoki, Armakuni (the last ninja) had escaped his wrath. When all his brethren had left for the pilgrimage he had been ordered to stay and guard the Bunjinkan Shrine. This tradition had existed since the dawn of the ninja as a safeguard should any natural disaster befall the brotherhood when it amassed at Lin Fen. Armakuni was not pleased he had been left alone for he was to be granted the next level of honour at the reading of the scrolls; now he would have to wait.
Word soon reached Armakuni of the unnatural disaster that had slain his brothers and gathering all his courage he swore to wreak a terrible and bloody revenge on the shogun and all his followers.
The island of Lin Fen is a natural fortress with unassailable cliffs surrounding its coast. Having visited the island when he was a young acolyte he knew the secret passage that would lead him to the palace of Lin Fen. Armakuni's confidence was short lived as he discovered the pathways were not as he remembered them; what unforeseen hazards lay in wait for him?
The Last Ninja contains a blend of exploration, puzzle solving and combat. The object of the game is to journey to the palace of the evil shogun Kunitoki to destroy him and retrieve the sacred scrolls. As the player progresses, Kunitoki's henchmen become more challenging as they learn the ways of the ninja.
The interface consists of the opponents' energy and collected inventory (on the right) and player's health (on the bottom). The world is viewed in an isometric perspective allowing the player to move in eight directions. Movements are relative to the direction Armakuni is facing but restricted to predefined paths (the scenery being inaccessible). Composure and precision must be used when navigating and jumping around obstacles, traps and fatal features of the terrain. By approaching and kneeling at certain landmarks, such as shrines to Buddha and water fountains, an indication of what to collect next is revealed. These items are often hidden in trees or bushes and flash shortly after a new screen has been entered.
Attack moves are executed by combinations of directional controls with the fire button for attacking the opponent's head, torso and legs. Weapons, like the ninjato, nunchaku, staff, shuriken and smoke bombs, can be equipped.
The island of Lin Fen is split into six distinct enclosed sections. They have to be tackled in a sequential order, each with their own unique challenges and items to collect:
- The Wastelands is set in bright green grassland surrounded by a rocky landscape consisting of 25 screens. Armakuni has to somersault from rock to rock to cross a swampy pit to find critical items like the pouch and key to complete the game. This level also features a fire-breathing dragon.
- The Wilderness has mountain ranges, caves and a small bamboo forest contained within 27 screens. Armakuni has to claw his way up and then down a steep cliff and execute pin-point jumping.
- The Palace Gardens paints a picture of tranquillity with flying white doves, magnificent waterfalls and flower beds over 25 screens. It also features a blue dragon and a ruined Buddha shrine.
- The Dungeons. A trap door drops Armakuni into an abandoned, dreadful place filled with torture chambers and dead ends over 24 screens. This eerie place is inhabited by scurrying spiders, rats, ghosts and skeletons that jump to life.
- The Palace is decorated by Asiatic furniture and is full of highly trained guards over 15 screens. Down the hall is a sword throwing statue that is particularly difficult to pass, requiring the player to stay close to the wall.
- The Inner Sanctum has a secret passage and a threatening archer statue within 15 screens that lead up to the final confrontation. The journey ends with a tough duel with the armoured Kunitoki. After his defeat, the scrolls are revealed.
A large part of the program was developed for Mark Cale (head of System 3), in Hungary, for more than a year by a team called SoftView. System 3 took over the 85% completed game and after the finishing strokes, it was released without listing the Hungarian team. The seven members of SoftView were not paid or given any recognition for their work. The code was taken back to London by Mark Cale, and the engine was rewritten by John Twiddy, resolving the technical issues.
Other format conversions were published by Activision in 1987 for Apple IIGS and in 1988 for the Atari ST, MS-DOS. Superior Software published conversions for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron in 1988 and Acorn Archimedes in 1992. The Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum versions never appeared despite being in production.
The Last Ninja was the most successful original game ever on the Commodore C64. In Europe the sales for the C64 version alone were in excess of 750,000 units and international multi-format sales exceeded 2,000,000 units. It won many awards and was universally critically acclaimed as an original, ground-breaking game. It was also a runner up for the award of Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards '88.
According to UGO, "For a 20+ year old game, The Last Ninja is surprisingly advanced, sporting a combat system which allows specific body parts to be targeted, environmental obstacles, multiple weapons and hidden items galore."
See also 
- "Toppling Cubes, 3-D Characters and Classic Ninja Kicks Lead a Stellar Lineup". Nintendo of America. 21 September 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2009.
- The Last Ninja manual ©1987 System 3
- Beregi, Tamás. "PixelHeroes - First 50 years of Computer Games", publisher: Vince Kiadó, (2366): 198-207. ISBN 978-963-303-023-3
- Last Ninja Archives: The C64 Last Ninja Crew
- World of Spectrum - The Last Ninja - URL last accessed 16 April 2006.
- Hartley, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (April 1988). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (132): 80–85.
- Lacey, Eugene (July 1987). "The Last Ninja: Killer!". Commodore User (2): 17.
- "The Last Ninja". Zzap!64 (28): 104. August 1987.
- Hybner, Tomas (August 1987). "The Last Ninja". Datormagazin (6): 24–25.
- Dunnington, Benn (January–February 1988). "The Last Ninja". Info (18): 18–19.
- Laffer (March 1987). "The Last Ninja". Lemon 64.
- Patterson, Mark (January 1991). "Ninja Remix". CU Amiga: 46–47.
- Webb, Trenton (February 1991). "Ninja Remix". Amiga Format (19): 77.
- Studio 3 (formerly System 3) web site - URL last accessed 16 April 2006.
- "Golden Joystick Awards". Computer and Video Games (Future Publishing) (66): 101. April 1987. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Ninjas in Games | An evolution of ninjas in video games throughout the years., UGO.com, June 4, 2008
- Last Ninja Archives
- The Last Ninja Remix
- The Last Ninja at MobyGames
- The Last Ninja at Lemon 64
- Hall of Light (HOL) database of Amiga games: Ninja Remix
- remix.kwed.org, a collection of SID tune remixes from the C64 game.
- SOASC= project, mp3 recordings from the C64 game.
- Complete video from the C64 version at Archive.org