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Top 10: Best Ninjas

 by Jeff Nash


The start of the week is usually a sleepy time for people, as they drag themselves out of bed to start the grind once again.  For many it's the farthest imaginable thing from enjoyable, as they slowly learn to hate Mondays.  This doesn't mean we can't have a little bit of fun at the start of the work / school week.  As such, The Armchair Empire is getting into the habit of starting the week off with a nice, light top ten list.  It's fun, thought provoking, and helps us to forget the other mumbo jumbo we're going to have to deal with in the real world through the coming days.


This week, we'll be looking at a black pajama wearing, killing machine favorite among gamers: Ninjas.  For almost as long as there have been games, there've been ninjas running around in them stabbing people.  Some have been villains, others heroes, and many of them have permanently etched a place in gamers' psyches.  With that, lets look at the best of the bunch.





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Number 10: Hattori Hanzo (Samurai Spirits)


Emerging on the scene in SNK's Samurai Spirits series, this ninja proved a hit for those who liked agile characters in their fighting games, though he was also popular with those unfamiliar with this series since they could say, "I've never played this, but I like ninjas.  Let's go!"  His moves were accessible to beginners, yet sophisticated enough that the more experienced could go to town on opponents with interesting combos.


Adding to Hanzo's appeal was that he was based on a real life ninja from Feudal Japan, allowing those who are interested to delve a little further into the history of the region.


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Number 9: Kage-Maru (Virtua Fighter)


Perhaps another instance where the game's developers said, "Our fighting game needs at least one ninja", Kage has been an interesting choice for fans of the Virtua Fighter series.  His moves could be brutal when strung together correctly.  It's hard to forget Kage's flip attack on a downed opponent where he slams both feet right down on his or her face.  It's even harder to forget when he hits them in the crotch.


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Number 8: Gray Fox (Metal Gear Solid)


Sure we couldn't play as him in the Metal Gear Solid series, but damn if he wasn't cool.  Slowly learning about him, why he gets himself involved in various acts of espionage, and his overall persona are irresistible.  Of the ninja NPCs out there, few have been as popular as Gray Fox.  If only we could play as him...


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Number 7: Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)


When Squaresoft released Final Fantasy VI in North America, it was astounding just how many characters that they crammed into the game.  Of all the members of the cast, few stood out like Shadow.  He dripped of being a badass, and he was at the top of many people's list to get back after the party disbands mid-game, assuming they met the conditions to do so.


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Number 6: Rikimaru / Ayame (Tenchu)


This pair of ninjas are tied for sixth spot because they served to remind gamers that ninja were originally intended to be sneaky, running around and slitting their enemies' throats under the cloak of darkness.  This was a stark contrast to many ninja games that came before where players would stab first and ask questions later.


While the Tenchu series has deteriorated in recent years, Rikimaru and Ayame did what ninjas do best in the series heyday, as players slowly learned what steal gaming was.


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Number 5: Taki (Soul Calibur)


For all of the people running around with massive swords and pole arms in the Soul Calibur series, Taki has always served as a nice contrast to this with her tiny ninjatou.  With her darting around, jabbing opponents as openings appeared, it became obvious just how fast she is compared to many of the other characters in the series.


Not only does she have an interesting repertoire of moves, but Taki also has one of the more involved background stories in the Soul Calibur universe, which has helped her to draw even more fans.


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Number 4: Scorpion (Mortal Kombat)


Of the three original ninjas in the Mortal Kombat series, Scorpion has done the best job of bringing both cool moves and  personality to the table.  Sure Reptile was a cool, unlockable character, and Sub-Zero was a favorite for the moves that he had, but Scorpion had both a ton of cool moves, and a tough guy persona to go along with it.


There was just something about spearing opponents, then warping across the screen to punch him or her in the head, all while Scorpion screamed, "Come here!" that was hard to say no to.


Number 3: Goemon (Legend of the Mystical Ninja)


If there's one thing that can make ninjas feel old hat in a videogame, it's the fact that so many of them are just way too serious.  If one is exposed to this in short, controlled bursts it's tolerable, but seeing it all the time is grating to say the least.  This is what makes Goemon so damn appealing: he has a sense of humor.


The lighthearted, comical flavor of the Mystical Ninja series is amazingly endearing.  The only thing holding Goemon back on this list is that despite the series' name, in real life he was more of a bandit than a ninja.


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Number 2: Joe Musashi (Shinobi)


Our runner for this list goes to the ninja at the helm of one of Sega's most popular series.  What makes Joe Musashi so great is that he personifies the pop culture ninja of the 1980s so well.  Back then ninjas didn't need a very good reason to seek justice.  Kidnap the guy's girlfriend, or kill his sensei, and he'd be off for revenge.  Joe here did this on a number of occasions.


Helping to complete the package, though, was some top-notch gameplay.  There were plenty of weapons, and magic to pick up, the bosses had personality, and the whole time players had to work hard for a win.


It's just too bad that when Sega revitalized the series on the PlayStation 2 a few years ago, they deep sixed Joe in favor of a new hero...


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Number 1: Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden)


Of all the games to sport Ninjas over the years, few have been able to do it nearly as well as Ninja Gaiden.  Combining great stories with consistently solid action, the series carved itself a permanent place in the hearts and minds of gamers in the late 1980s, when it first appeared on the Famicom / NES.


What was so interesting about Ryu was that there was a lot more purpose behind what he was trying to do, unlike Joe Musashi.  There were relatively complex forces at work that Ryu constantly had to compete with during the series.  On top of this, he had some of the coolest moves around as far as ninjas were concerned.  Not only could he run, jump, and blast magic, but he could even scale walls, and hold onto them.


Unfortunately, Ryu and the Ninja Gaiden series went on a bit of a hiatus during the 16-bit era, and he only started to re-emerge as he appeared as a character in the Dead or Alive series, and later was fully re-instated as Team Ninja brought the Ninja Gaiden series out of the ashes with a new installment on the Xbox.


Of all the ninjas on our list, Ryu Hayabusa brings the complete package, from having a cool repertoire of moves, to giving players a good reason to save the world.  It'll take quite a hero to surpass the benchmark Ryu has set.


(March 6, 2006)

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