Book ’em, Joe

Ninja Five-O
Dev: Hudson | Publisher: Konami | System: GBA | Date: 2003

I remember browsing through a GBA ROM release list back in the summer of 2003, curious to see if there were any ridiculous Japan-only releases I had somehow missed. I figured there had to be something on par with the goofiness of Urban Yeti — and sure enough, there it was: Ninja Cop. Surely the most laughable game ever, right? The name alone spoke of every lousy early-90s video game cliché imaginable, lumped into a single bundle of stupidity.

Or so I thought! But then I checked out the U.S. release, localized under the even more ridiculous title of Ninja Five-O and — shock! Awe! (A very relevant and timely expression in the heady they will greet us as liberators days of 2003.) Rather than bundling together the most hackneyed tropes of the ’80s and ’90s (or at least, in addition to them), it actually collected the best game mechanics of the 8- and 16-bit eras into a glorious, unified whole.

Ninja platforming with an emphasis on rescuing hostages, straight out of Shinobi? Awesome. Level designs straight out of Elevator Action 2? Genius. A simple level-up system and gameplay built around something so archaic as scores? Fantastic. Oh, and the best integration of a Bionic Commando-style action game grappling mechanic seen since, uh… well, since Bionic Commando? Well, kids, that seals the deal, even if grappling wasn’t a consistently-used core element.

Ninja Five-O really did capture a long-vanished feel — its music, its gameplay, its color palette, the very nonsensical bosses. The whole banana, really. If it had been released in, say, 1993 on Genesis, it would be fondly remembered as the best Shinobi rip-off ever created. Having arrived ten years later, it was largely overlooked. Not helping one bit was Konami’s utter lack of confidence in the game, which led to them not advertising the game worth a crap and producing maybe about three dozen copies. The stupid name and awful box art (which looked like it had been drawn in someone’s notebook during study hall) certainly didn’t win any hearts and minds. (As they said back in ’03.) As a result, it tends to command a fairly steep price on eBay as people become aware of its quality. This little write-up probably won’t help! But once you’re done with Rearmed, give Ninja Five-O a look. It has a dumb title, but its action is supoib.

Weirdly enough, there was a Famicom game called Ninja Cop Saizo back in the day, which came over here as Wrath of the Black Manta. Apparently they’re not technically related (one having come from Taito and the other from Hudson), even though they share quite a few mechanics in common — ninja magic, rescuing dudes, policemen on the shinobi beat.

12 thoughts on “Book ’em, Joe

  1. Yeah! I love game and it’s great to see it get such a deserving write-up. I remember having to order it online because it wasn’t available in any local store. The Gamestop clerk even scoffed when I mentioned the game’s title, if memory serves, as if I was just making stuff up. “Ninja 5-0? Get the hell out of my store and stop wasting my time!” Man, I might have to pull this one out tonight…

  2. I don’t know if somebody else has already asked, but will you talk about Lost Planet? It has a grappling hook Bionic Commando-style too, though is far from being an “important” feature in the game.

  3. I wasn’t actually aware that there were physical copies of this game. I’ve just been emulating it for the past half decade under the assumption that it was a leaked near-finished beta. It’s not like I ever got close enough to the end to find out if it’s complete or anything.

  4. the weirdest thing about this game is that as far as i could tell it never even came out in japan. i did some research at the time, anyway, and i couldn’t track it down.

    i did buy it but i never really played it that much. i should get around to it.

  5. I still feel that the reaction to 3D graphics on consoles was one of the worst things to ever happen to the games industry. The long, hard lessons of the previous fifteen years were forgotten overnight and games like Ninaja 5-0, which could probably have been produced by any decent games company worth their salt in 1993, is instead this rare, unappreciated cart from a decade later.

  6. I picked this up a few years ago after doing an online stock check of all EBGameStops in my general area and locating one copy. What a glorious sunburst of a game. Making wide swing maneuvers and slashing guys as you land is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in front of a screen, and that includes watching porno.

  7. I wish that I could find a mint copy somewhere and not pay the ridiculous prices on eBay.

  8. Damn, I was halfway through the “as archaic as scores” sentence and I was already sold. Now begins the impossible task of actually tracking it down in local stores…

  9. Oh man, this was such a great game. Shortly after it came out, I picked up multiple copies at Sam’s for 9 dollars each.

    It was the most awesome deal ever. Now I just wish I had bought more!

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