TGomL: Last Ninja 2 (Commodore 64, 1988)

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

Most retro games here so far have been on the ZX Spectrum, due to that being the computer of my childhood and early teenage years, but later on I also had a Commodore 64 that I bought second-hand, one of the original models, which looked a lot like a bread box (which was actually one of its nicknames). Although I only had one quite late in its life (I think it was 1989 or so, and the C64 was released in 1982, the same year as the Speccy), there were some unforgettable masterpieces for that little 1 MHz (!) beast that I played even then. This, System 3’s Last Ninja 2 ((note that the first game is The Last Ninja, but the second one lost the “The“.)), is certainly one of them.

Last Ninja 2 - starting screenOddly enough, I played the Spectrum version first, for more than a year, and one tends to get attached to the version he plays first. The Speccy version was good enough, with its decent monochrome graphics and smooth gameplay, although it only had any music on the start menu: the game itself was as silent as if you were playing on a ZX81. But the C64 version blew me away. One screen of this game has more atmosphere than many entire games of the time. The music is hauntingly beautiful ((yes, I know this last one is based on a Tangerine Dream song.)) (all 13 tunes), and from time to time I even fire up Sidplay just to listen to it. Playing it, there’s an almost tangible sense of desperation and utter loneliness, of being in a world where everyone tries to kill you… and yet, everything is familiar — a park, city streets, sewers ((OK, these are probably not that familiar to most people, hopefully…)), an office building, and so on. And the environment is at least as dangerous an enemy as your human enemies. The whole game is difficult and unforgiving – no “tutorials where you can do no wrong”, or any other kind of hand-holding here. You will die a lot. But the feeling of finally passing a level (after hours or even days), and getting a beautifully drawn loading screen for the next one, complete with a new tune, a new area, new enemies, and the suspense of not knowing what’s next…

Last Ninja 2 - the parkOh, and there are alligators in the sewers. I knew it all along. 🙂

If you’re not a graphics junkie (or even if you are, but are able to see games in the context of when they were released), get an emulator and the game (or buy it for the Wii Virtual Console for 500 points), and try it for yourself. You’ll truly appreciate how sad it is that games like this are no longer made; these days it seems that almost all games are first person shooters, sports games and MMORPGs.

Tip: even if you, at the time, finished the Spectrum version (or even another one, such as the quite inferior(!) Amiga, NES and PC ports), try the original C64 version. It’s the only one that really “got” it.