There are only two things wrong with Ninja Spirit; the graphics and the payability. Har har.
Well, although this seems a little harsh, it's not really a million miles from the truth. Ninja Spirit is an excellent martial arts program, but there are a couple points which, if tweaked a little, could be greatly improved.
For a start, the backdrops on most levels are so complicated (and indeed pretty) that it's quite impossible to spot incoming objects. Since you don't have an energy level, one hit from any object will kill you outright. This is even more of a pain when your next life starts a couple of screens back from your last position.
Levels with complex backgrounds therefore take much longer to complete than those (few) where you can see where you're going. Not fair.
Level 1 is set in a temple of sorts. All alone, you've got to hack (sword), swing (grappling hook derivative), chuck (shiruken) and, er, chuck (little hammers) your way through the temple from the left most point to the right. Even at this early stage, the bad guys come thick and fast. As well as the frenzied gangs which run on from the sides of the screens, there are little blighters hanging from the rafters firing hammers at you.
It becomes rapidly apparent that the only weapon worth having is (are) the shiruken. Since any contact with the enemy results in death, you'd have to be braver (madder) than most to try your luck with the sword. The grappling-hook scythe is largely ineffectual except for use on solitary foes. And the little hammers are simply useless.
Even when you've got to grips with the slightly inefficient fire method - hold down fire and push in the appropriate direction; ie you can't fire while running - the sheer number of enemy soldiers is overwhelming.
Fortunate, then, that specific soldiers when killed leave behind floating bubbles with miraculous powers. Some multiply the power of your current weapon; for example giving you a whooshy sword or three-directional shiruken fire. Others, though bring to life - ta daa! - the Ninja Spirit.
The Spirit is a damned handy fellow. He has an armoury equal to yours, is impervious to attack and follows your every move at an appropriate distance.
Alas, you lose all your power-ups and Mr Spirit each time you get killed.
Level 2 takes place in dense forest. It's a bit of a nothingy level, to tell the truth. More men up trees firing diagonally at you, and platforms to jump on. The end of this level pits you against what looks like a big ape flying around on a crossbow. A few shots, though, and he's done for.
Level 3 is where life begins to get really tough. Out on the wastelands of blasted trees and debris, you're assaulted by the usual baddies and a new breed of scumbag. These ones have horrible pointy hats and whopping blunderbuss guns. And they shoot you in the back, the yellow bellied swine.
Level 4 and it's back indoors for a punch up in what looks like a tavern. This time, your ninja abilities have warmed up enough to let you walk on the ceiling. From here you can work a zig-zag formation, spraying shiruken and covering most horizontal angles.
Possibly the worst offender on the visual front is Level 5, where you have to progress vertically up a mountain face. Perched on ledges are the little hammer men. It's virtually impossible to pick them out from the background, let alone their little hammers.
Despite the visual problems, and the slightly wonky fire mechanism, Ninja Spirit it a corking hybrid of martial arts and runny-jumpy action. A great deal of fun in a Water Margin sort of way.
Reviewer: Jim Douglas
Excellent combat romp, marred slightly by over-complex graphics and tricky fire controls.
Wallop! A powered-up sword offers good cover from incoming missiles.
Mega leaps available from the word go! While you can get a good downward angle, you're vulnerable when falling.
Poof! Three lives left and onto level 3 already! One Kiteman down and another hundred to go.
Like a cross between Lee Van Cleef and Spiderman, the top ninjas can even walk upside down.