IHAVE never understood the fascination that hackneyed plot writers have for all things animal like. This predilection borders on the obsessive when the authors are Japanese, and becomes almost a fetish when the turgid prose acts as a guideline for a leapy leapy, jumpy jumpy ninja game.
Ninja Spirit is the latest follower of this path, casting you as Tsukikage, the spirit of the great white wolf. Why, is what I want to know? Don't they realise that wolves are horribly smelly, moult all over the place, have fetid breath and slobber continuously? Is this a good role model for a ninja? Or anyone bar a Millwall supporter? No, I think not. Yet in Ninja Spirit you are the spirit of this wolf, intent on slicing and dicing the beasts in the bowels of the Earth. And their masters, too.
Very laudable, I am sure. Right, just a mo while put my brain in a jar for half an hour and play the game.
This conversion of an Irem coin-op starts with you, Mr Ninja, strolling along the boardwalk (but nowhere near the sea), waving your shiny new sword around menacingly. Along come balding ninjas, leaping enthusiastically through the air, only to be skewered on your weapon.
The screen scrolls along sideways quite respectable, and a Far East tune throbs from the speakers. Your armament is not limited to the sword, with which you can strike a number of poses, but includes throwing stars, throwing axes, and a retractable grapple on a rope.
Strangely enough, the grapple is one of the more deadly weapons, if a little slow. Its main advantage is in blocking spears and other incoming missiles, while stretching out to disembowel your opponent. After collecting the soul of a ninja (once you have gutted a particular one, that is) your weapons become far more effective, but unfortunately you also receive the attention of yet more ninjas. These ones seem to squat in mid air, fading in and out of view while attempting to stick you with a spear.
These chaps would not be so much of a problem if it was not for the earth burrower who wriggles along underneath the boardwalk, perpetually spiking you from below. Only the sword can be used to stab downwards and finish him, which involves much frantic weapon swapping, and usually death if a mid-air ninja appears while all this is going on.
Death results in you being replaced at the beginning of the section you were traversing at the time, but the problem is that these sections are far too long, so you have to retreat too far. After struggling to the end of this level you meet one of the evil one's guardians, who will promptly blow you of the screen. And this was only the first level.
Truly skilled ninjas can expect to see bottomless marshes, fraying rope bridges, collapsing boardwalks and sheer rockfaces (up which you must go).
After I spent considerably more than half an hour trying to get that far, alas I could not manage it, and neither could anyone else I asked. While the graphics and sound are all quite reasonable, they do not impress to any degree, leaving the difficult gameplay to either challenge or frustrate, depending on your competence.
Although a reasonable coin-op conversion, Ninja Spirit is really just too difficult to be worth bothering with. To be honest, the only spirit I had interest in was not of the white wolf variety.