In the 1980’s, Ninja culture exploded. Movies, television and especially video games all took their shot at furthering Ninja in the eyes of western culture, but it was mostly done in low quality films and animated television. Ninja video games were limited by the technology at the time but still, together they captured the imagination of the newly initiated.
The Ninja genre has come a long way since the 80s, but it’s important not to conflate Ninja with Samurai. While there are several games that cross over, this list only includes games with Ninja in them, for Samurai please visit the Best Samurai Games.
Speaking of maneuverability and time limits, N++ has built its entire gameplay premise around those two factors. The graphics are rudimentary by design, but the main character is indeed a ninja as so described. It makes sense based on how they move, but in actuality, there is nothing very definitive in that theme.
A pretty straightforward kid’s take on ninjas, it’s a 3D action adventure game with hack and slash gameplay with some light puzzle solving aspects. It is perfectly suited to be a multiplayer game, but for some reason it’s only tackled from a single player perspective. There are multiple characters all with slightly different abilities and styles and it would’ve have been great to have a colleague or two join in on the fun. It’s a simple by effective little romp that has just enough charm and solid mechanics to make it worth your time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade & NES TMNT II)
Countless quarters were spent as a youth playing this at the local grocery store, but once it was released on the NES, my god did that change things. The first TMNT game on the NES was difficult and completely unlike this side-scrolling brawler, and the ability to play it at home, over and over again, was fantastic. As an adult it is all rather repetitive, but I couldn’t have cared less in my childhood.
The Sega Master System and Genesis featured some very good Shinobi games (one that is further down the list), but Shinobi for the PS2 was the first 3D incarnation and it did a good job of bringing the action of the side-scrollers into the new millennium. There were some big changes however, including a modern/futuristic setting and much more emphasis on swordplay rather than projectiles. In many ways it would be hard to mistake Shinobi on the PS2 as a part of the same series.
Mark of the Ninja
Mark of the ninja is a gorgeous modern side-scrolling stealth game. If Metal Gear Solid was a side-scroller, you’d imagine the mechanics to be very similar to Mark of the Ninja. Complete with RPG elements where your techniques can be upgraded after each mission, these skills are then immediately put to use with a combination of using cover and timing to take out the enemies are sneak past them. The manner is which you dispatch these enemies determines the amount of points earned that are eventually cashed in for upgrades.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
The main character of Revengeance, Raiden, first started his ninja persona with his appearance in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots which combined with Revengeance, helped him to earn his respect. Revengeance is a straight hack and slash action game closer to God of War than any other game in the Metal Gear series, except you’re a cyborg ninja. The gameplay is smooth, and the ability to slow down time and slice in any direction is more than just a gimmick, it is an important and original gameplay mechanic.
Top Tier Ninja Video Games
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Hyperstone Heist
op The successors of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade game, they are an improvement in every way and both capture the cartoon series terrifically. These games aren’t the same, but they are very similar and there is no reason to like one and not the other. They are also just different enough that both can be enjoyed without having to make a direct comparison. They are also the two greatest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle games to grace consoles.
Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
When Tenchu was first realized for the PlayStation, it was called the ninja version of Metal Gear Sold (this is becoming a theme) because of its 3D stealth mechanics. This is about the biggest compliment it can be paid, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do well to distinguish itself. First, there are two separate, but intertwining stories from the two playable characters. It adds much replayability, takes place in feudal Japan, and probably most importantly was the grappling hook mechanic, which allowed the scaling of buildings and ease of running across rooftops.
Ninja Gaiden (NES)
The Ninja Gaiden series is known for its punishing difficulty and the earliest game in the series is no different. It’s this difficulty that defines it, especially in an age where “beating” games was a battle of attrition as much as it was about being good at them. What makes Ninja Gaiden one of the top ninja video games is that it created such a tremendous maneuverability system that allowed Ryu to get where you wanted him to, and with the time limit and enemies, this was an absolutely imperative mechanic, one that is now an essential part of many 2D side-scrollers.
Strider, for the Sega Genesis and more prominently, the arcade, is a high-tech ninja, knows as the Striders. It’s a very fast pace action game, where the main character performs acrobatic moves while jumping and attacking, adding a flair rarely seen in games at the time. It has been iterated on many times since, but the original is still the top choice. Colors seem fairly muted and pastel now, but it achieves a retro-future look so common during the late 80s and 90s.
The Best Ninja Games
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun
Shadow Tactics has an immense difficulty because of its stealth-based gameplay all while controlling up to five characters, each with their own specialty (some of which are more useful than others, but are all necessary). The story is primarily told through the Samurai Oshiro Mugen and he is joined by the ninja Hayato, a thief named Yuki, Aiko the spy, and Takuma who is a long-range sharpshooter. This makes trail and error a necessity, which isn't for everyone. Because of the stealth aspects, Shadow Tactics is much more
Ninja Gaiden Black (XBox)
Ninja Gaiden Black is the deluxe edition of the seminal Ninja Gaiden for the original XBox. In line with the rest of the series, the difficulty is exceptional challenging. It also looks beautiful, plays fluidly (aside from a few camera issues) and is extremely violent in best possible way. Ninja Gaiden was the Dark Souls “git gud” long before that franchise began. However, unlike the Dark Souls games, combat is extremely fast. Combine with the depth of the combat possibilities, the learning curve can be steep, but rewarding. The top game on this list owes much to not only the Dark Souls games, but even more to Ninja Gaiden Black.
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Shinobi is almost the antithesis of Ninja Gaiden. It is much more accessible, much more traditional but its aesthetics and tight gameplay prevent it from being another run of the mill action game in the 16-bit generation. While many games of the 16-bit era have aged well (especially compared to that the polygonal games of the generation after), Shinobi III has moments where it’s simply a piece of art. Tall grass blowing in the wind and rain with lighting strikes illuminate the horizon make it a standout on the genesis.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro is the culmination of Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden. Just as gratifying as it is frustrating, its combat is so much faster than Dark Souls and Bloodborne (both from creators From Software) that it hardly seems comparable. But the difficulty and rage inducing bosses are still there. Luckily, many of the issues gamers have with the aforementioned titles are no more, including the stamina bar. Sekiro is all about speed, not only in attacking, but parrying, an essential skill required to master the gameplay. It also captures the stealth element so prevalent among the other games on this list, perhaps glorifying the ninja better than any before it. This is why it is the top of the list for ninja games.