In honour of Sekiro’s One-Armed Wolf, a shinobi/ninja with a grappling hook and the ability to resurrect when needed, let’s talk about video games’ plethora of silent killers, one-man powerhouses, and black/white-clad sword-wielding shuriken-chucking heroes: the video game ninja.
Unlike the real-life variant, most video game ninjas attack their enemies out in the open, have power-ups that make them insanely powerful, and have a buttload of shurikens that can maim the common foe with one hit. Because all of that covert operation and recon is pretty boring and frustrating to design in a game unless you’re Klei or Kojima Productions.
So here are our favourite assassins-slash-commandos-with-swords-and-kunais, whether they’re fighting game characters or remorseless killing machines.
With infinite shurikens and the ability to jump up high like those Chinese martial art warriors in Hong Kong-produced serials, Kage is on a never-ending quest to rescue the token princess from a buttload of rogue ninjas, firebreathing monks, and a high-flying daimyo.
We’re not kidding about the never-ending bit; the game is truly over when you’re dead since it’s one of those 80s high score-racking arcade titles.
Feats of Awesomeness: Superjumping, unlimited shurikens, no draft in-between his legs despite possible cold weather in feudal Japan.
Joe Musashi (1987)
This brown-haired ninja was a busy guy back in the 80s. He rescued children while his face is exposed for all bad guys to see. He changed his black garment to white and went head-to-head with trains and teams up with his dog Yamato.
He also gained a few health blocks and has to travel the world to rescue his betrothed from an organization led by a long-haired ex-kabuki dancer. He also gets to go toe-to-toe against clones of Rambo, Spider-Man, Batman, The Terminator, and Godzilla, though it depends on which version of Revenge of Shinobi you’re playing. All while having his exploits chronicled by video game music godsend Yuzo Koshiro.
Feats of Awesomeness: Destroyed countless evil ninja-themed organizations, fought robot dinosaurs, combated the aforementioned copyright infringements, commits hara-kiri as a special screen-clearing move.
His fighting style is ninjutsu, so he gets the ninja card. Plus, he’s the only one who dares wear orange in broad daylight and dons sneakers. See, he’s pretty darn fast so if you see him, it’s already too late as you end up eating his slide tackle or Bushin Flip mixups.
His repertoire wasn’t that impressive back in ’89. But over time and thanks to the Street Fighter canon, he’s got a lotta moves to make him one of the best aggressive fast-paced characters in the game.
Feats of awesomeness: Beats sense into his friend Cody, saves fortuneteller Rose from certain death, lets his friend Haggar and ninja colleague Maki save his fiance while he’s off training. Wait, that last one is quite a dick move.
Strider Hiryu (1989)
How about a ninja from the future? Strider Hiryu is exactly that, but he’s more international assassin than stealth masterclass hero. He makes a scene and starts slicing every bad guy with his iconic cypher blade. He sics robo panthers and Urobolos satellites onto his enemies. And he can even fight off the X-Men, The Avengers, and the Street Fighter cast in hyper fighting combat. Talk about an impressive resume!
Feats of awesomeness: Took down Russia’s elite guard by himself, took down an intergalactic mafia group by himself, fought “mecha King Kong”, survived being tarnished by a U.S Gold “sequel”, became a key component in Marvel vs Capcom 2/3 high-tier teams.
Ryu Hayabusa (1989)
This blue-clad ninja is old-school personified. When he’s not dueling his father to the death in a boss fight, this ninja kills a ton of rogue ninjas, thugs dressed as football players, and a ton of aerial and grounded wildlife to stop evil forces from resurrecting the dark god Jaquio. He also helps out a hot CIA agent in doing so. The things our 80s hero does to get some ninja lovin’…
With his array of Castlevania-inspired ninja spells, he can endure even the most dangerous bits in a 2D platform game that loves to throw everything and the kitchen sink at him.
Feats of Awesomeness: climb walls with the grace of a cat, summon mirror images that copy his moves, falcon exterminator, dates a CIA agent, saves the world numerous times.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
Wow, ’89 is a ripe time for ninja fever! Yes, we know the Ninja Turtles are cartoon characters, but they had a huge video game presence courtesy of Konami when they weren’t #fuckKonami. You pretty much know them: Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool/crude, and Michaelangelo parties hard. But in the games, everyone picks Donnie and Leonardo first because of their weapon length and attack strings.
Feats of Awesomeness: C’mon, they’re the fuckin’ Turtles. They traveled back & forward in time, fought a bunch of mutants and aliens from Dimension X, can wolf down pizzas and not get the runs, and team up with Usagi Yojimbo, Vanilla Ice, The Power Rangers, Batman, and Archie Andrews. We have proof of the latter below.
Scorpion & Sub-Zero (1992)
Mortal Kombat wouldn’t be in its 11th iteration were it not for the fire-and-ice ninja duo on the cover and promo art. We’re referring to Scorpion and Sub-Zero, who started off as mortal enemies to actual heroes with excess baggage.
Scorpion’s a wraith from hell who seeks vengeance, but sorta becomes an anti-hero with each sequel. The original Sub-Zero was an evil assassin, replaced by his younger brother because he was a douche. For a fighting game, MK has surprisingly consistent lore.
Feats of awesomeness: New and inventive ways to murder opponents in a cruel and comical fashion, creative ways to use unorthodox fighting skills with harpoons and ice balls, make yellow and blue viable fighting game outfits.
Hattori Hanzo (1993)
He’s the first ninja in video games to perform the awesome-looking Izuna drop, where he grapples his opponent, perform a super jump, then suplexes his hapless foe head-first to the ground. With explosions for added effect.
Feats of awesomeness: the Izuna drop above, dresses snazzy, plays with fire very well.
Once a cheap character with infinites in the original SFIII, now she’s a schoolgirl ninja in the latest Street Fighter V. And she’s a tournament favourite. When not pining for boys, she flies around in her glider and throws bombs as V-Trigger moves when opponents least expect it.
Feats of awesomeness: Infinite shurikens (which need reloading), tamed a racoon and gave it a name, glides like a pro, has really annoying mixups and a far-reaching HK and overhead.
Kasumi, Ayane (1998)
We’re not doing a ninja list unless we include these ass-kicking kunoichis who have been with the Dead or Alive series since the first game. From being regular fighting game females to pin-up dolls to realistic-looking (kinda) anime-esque fighters, they have a few tricks up their metaphorical sleeves to take on the many opponents throughout their journey.
They take a break from their ninja duties to play volleyball and bask in the sun with nothing more than a few pieces of clothing. Hey, girl ninjas need to have some R&R once in a while.
Feats of awesomeness: Fast and hard-hitting ninja moves, has ninpo on the fly, defy gravity (depending on which version of the game).
From regular stealth operative to cyberninja, Raiden has quite a history of being a divisive character in the Metal Gear fanbase. He was hated in his debut in MGS2 because people wanted to play Solid Snake instead of being subjected to developer Hideo Kojima’s brand of trolling. When he got an upgrade in MGS4 however, people loved the way he kicked ass.
This all came full circle when fans get to play as the new-and-improved Raiden in Platinum Games’ Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Stealth is optional, but do you really want to play covertly in an action game?
Feats of awesomeness: Took down a Metal Gear by himself, went from wet blanket to badass thanks to cybernetics, participated in the best final boss battle in video game history where he fights a US senator.
Ryu Hayabusa (2003)
This black-clad ninja is badass personified. When he’s not humouring pin-up dolls in a Dead or Alive tournament, this ninja kills a ton of rogue shinobis, the undead, and special ops agents in order to get his clan’s Dragon Sword back. Or help out a hot CIA agent. The things one does to get some ninja lovin’…
With his array of weapons, he’s also prone to dismembering foes so that they’re less of a bother and also block even the most impactful of magic nuclear blasts with his arms and sword.
Feats of awesomeness: Runs onto walls with the grace of a cat, summons ninpo to destroy everything on sight, werewolf exterminator, (possibly) dates a CIA agent, saved the world numerous times. Wait, this sounds familiar…
Ken Ogawa (2010)
The star of Ninja Blade should not be left out, considering his spiritual successor is now out in the fold. Let us not forget the awesomeness of Ken as he grapples his way fighting bugs, monsters, and even bigger bugs while out in the night sky.
Feats of awesomeness: rips off Ryu Hayabusa’s schtick and somehow has some original ideas or two.
The Ninja from Mark of the Ninja (2012)
Revealing this guy’s identity is spoiler material, so we’ll just say this: this is as close as you can get to a video game ninja acting like an actual shinobi. Silent kills, stealth, and gadgets to aid in said killing and sneaking: this nameless ninja has it all. And he has a female ninja spirit guide to walk him through the deathtraps of his corporate and well-to-do enemies.
Feats of awesomeness: behaves like a true ninja, stealth and all.
Phew! That’s a lotta ninjas to talk about, and we’ve only scratched the surface! Who’s your favourite ninja in video games? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.