Irem’s Ninja Spirit is somewhat of an underappreciated arcade title that just didn’t get the attention it rightfully deserved. Nor enjoying a level of obscurity that would gain it some form of cult or underground notoriety. Just a rock-solid, well-crafted, side-scrolling action game – a near perfect experience. Such was the level of quality that it received Electronic Gaming Monthly’s (R.I.P.) first ever 10 for the Turbografx-16 home conversion.
Personally, Ninja Spirit feels a lot like Contra but with a ninja as the main protagonist. There’s a similar intensity, pacing and duration towards completion. Another similarity to Contra is it’s awesome soundtrack that is both memorable and melodious. Further adding to Ninja Spirit’s already well-conceived visual aesthetics and atmosphere. I really can’t think of background music that fits so incredibly well with the on-screen events.
The player will transverse several diverse landscapes such as temples, cliffs, swamps and woodlands which comprise individual stages. Each stage harder than the previous, as the difficulty ramps up so does the blood-pumping intensity of the music. Irem’s craftsmanship certainly shines through, after all this is the company that brought us R-Type. An interesting side-note is that Irem utilized Yamaha’s YM2151 OPM FM-based sound chip, sporting 4 operators and 8 channels. This sound chip was also used on other arcade boards from Sega, Namco, Capcom, Konami, Data East and even found a home in Sharp’s X1 and X68000 home computers.
There’s no denying that FM-based sound chips just sound way better than the forerunner PSG (programmable sound generator) of earlier generations. Since Ninja Spirit was ported to various home computers, most of which had a PSG sound chip, replication of the original arcade bgm was often poor. However, the Commodore 64’s trusty SID chip provides the best rendition of Ninja Spirit’s soundtrack among the 8-bit home conversions.
Naturally if one wants to enjoy the best possible home port of Ninja Spirit, the NEC PC-Engine / Turbografx-16 version is the way to go. Also an incredibly satisfying game to complete and play all over again.
2 thoughts on “Bass Cadet 05 – Ninja Spirit”
Good write-up and music. The sad thing is the entire time I was reading this I was thinking it was “The Ninja Warriors” by Taito. FM chips aren’t my fav, at least not in the way they were typically used in arcade games. I think they may have deliberately used harsh-sounding instruments to get a leg up on adjacent machines, since arcades could be pretty noisy with all the games competing for your attention. I have several import OST’s of arcade music, but always bought them for that one arranged version they’d typically have. My appreciation has since grown; not sure if it’s nostalgia or a broader VGM palate.
Glad to hear that you own some import OST’s, same here. And I absolutely love the Ninja Warriors BGM, I should post an article about that in future.
Well, I believe the appreciation may partially be attributed to the pop music milieu of that time period. Synthpop was incredibly influential back then, the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer was prominent in many hit productions. People gradually became accustomed to that distinctive FM sound without realizing it.
I think it was Sega’s Out Run, that made a serious impact on everyone’s perception of how good arcade game music could be. FM synthesis can sound both harsh and silky smooth, particularly great for marimba, jazz and electro sounds. Though not ideal for snares & kick drums, only passable results in most cases.