Everyone loves a good listicle. We love to categorise our favourite things, and we most certainly enjoy picking other people’s lists apart. I’ve been toying around with the idea of doing a massive list of my favourite games of all time, but to be honest, it’s a hard thing to do, and let’s face it – It’s pretty boring.
So, welcome to the pilot episode of The Ultimate Leaderboard of Video Games. Rather than try and make a big top list of video games in one go, each episode I will be picking three thematically-linked titles. I’ll be playing these games, talking about each one and at the end, I’ll be placing those three games on a leaderboard depending on how much I like them today. Every episode I’ll be adding to this infinite leaderboard with another three games, and I’ll even invite you to suggest the themes and trio of games to add.
The result will hopefully be a ranked list of truly superb games that will become more interesting the longer this series goes on. Of course, whether this series goes any further than this pilot is up to you, so please do let me know in the comments if this is something you’d like me to keep doing!
I’ve gone on long enough with the explanations, now onto the show. The three games I am initially adding to the leaderboard are all linked by one thing – Ninjas. These stealthy warriors will always be cool, and it’s a subject that has truly given us some amazing video games.
So, let’s start with our first entry…
REVENGE OF SHINOBI (SEGA MEGA DRIVE)
When you think of badass video game ninjas, Joe Musashi is a name that should hopefully spring to mind. The initial star of SEGA’s long-running Shinobi series might not be a household name these days, but in the early days of gaming, he was what most of us visualised when we thought of Ninjas. And that’s due to releases like The Revenge of Shinobi, an early SEGA Mega Drive release that was intended to be the perfect showcase of what the system could achieve.
And three decades after its initial release, this early system-seller really does encapsulate everything that SEGA promised the Mega Drive would be – That is, a console that brings the audiovisual experience of the arcades, to your humble living room. This is a game with sizable, well-animated sprites, detailed stages and most importantly – It’s the very first game that Yuzo Koshiro worked on for SEGA. In a pre-Streets of Rage era, this masterful combination of Japanese musical stylings and electronic dance beats is undoubtedly underappreciated in the shadow of his later works.
As for how it plays, it’s certainly a step above the original Shinobi, but it’s not too much of a departure. It’s not an especially speedy game, but there is most certainly a focus on perfect timing and a fair amount of trial and error. Make no mistake, you will die often – Do not expect to whack the game onto Easy difficulty and sail through all eight stages. However, for the most part, I wouldn’t say that Revenge of Shinobi is necessarily badly designed or particularly unfair, even though it can feel that way after some particularly cruel deaths. This is a game where you must understand Joe’s abilities and how to apply them to each enemy, but you could argue that the gameplay is too reliant on your ability to have absolutely perfect timing in every situation. It’s a lesson you need to learn as early as the second stage, where Joe’s somersault becomes essential to navigating some truly tough moving platforms – With things being compounded much more during a few nasty leaps of faith. Yup, like many action games of the era, this is a game based on repetition, muscle memory and memorisation of areas and hazards. Needless to say, it’s a much tougher game than I remembered it to be.
But when you nail those necessary skills, it really is a blast – Although it’s a slower-moving game than I remember, at least in comparison to the other games I’m ranking this episode.
NINJA GAIDEN (NES)
Moving on now, onto one of classic gaming’s other popular ninjutsu masters – Ryu Hayabusa, from Tecmo’s long-running Ninja Gaiden series, namely the NES original. What strikes you most about this action-platformer is the incredible cutscenes that really stood out on a system that wasn’t really known for story-focused games.
The in-game visuals are no slouch, either. Even with the busy and detailed backgrounds, the similarly detailed sprites are designed in such a way that it’s not too much of a struggle to see what’s going on. Which is good, because there’s usually a lot going on – This is a title that will throw enemies are you every couple of steps you make, in fact it’s one of those early releases that spawns enemies when you reach certain areas, but forgets to stop spawning them at those points unless you keep moving forward. It also loves chucking enemies at you out of nowhere while you’re trying to make a particularly long jump. Yup, like fellow NES games Castlevania and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, your main frustrations are not being able to move once you’ve jumped, being knocked back when hit by an enemy, and a lot of bottomless pits that end in instant death. It’s the holy trinity of 8-bit platform design, the fire triangle that illustrates the three things needed to make me want to bust a controller in two.
And yet, despite the series’ reputation of being incredibly tough, this first game is quite fair. You’ve got a liberal number of finite lives, very fair checkpoints and infinite continues – Beating Ninja Gaiden is more than feasible if you have the time and patience. Unlike Revenge of Shinobi, it’s one of those games where dying becomes a learning experience and you’re not punished for trying different approaches. It’s not a game that wastes your time, which is so unlike other similar games of this era.
The gameplay has some great pace to it, with responsive controls and simple yet cool actions such as wall jumps, and the gameplay feels pretty damn fun after all this time and coming back to this game for the first time in many years, it’s a better game then my memory has told me. The Nintendo Entertainment System has an abundance of excellent action games, and this one is up there with the best.
TURTLES IN TIME (SNES)
Our final game this episode is the Super Nintendo port of Turtles in Time, a game featuring a crew of ninjas that really should need no introduction. Truth be told, outside of the original Eastman & Laird comics, these heroes in a half-shell seem to be Ninjas in name only, but who cares about semantics when we’re talking about one of the longest-running multimedia franchises in recent memory?
The fourth of Konami’s home console Turtles releases is also the second to be a port of an arcade cabinet – Turtles in Time is not a massive departure from the original arcade smash, but it’s arguably a more interesting game, thanks to the time-travelling plotline giving the developers an excuse to go absolutely crazy with levels. Which is a good idea for a rather simplistic belt-scroller that makes very liberal use of palette-swapped sprites.
Surely you must know how this works, you plug the cartridge in, you boot your console up and after the title screen, you take part in the ultimate personality test of choosing what Turtle you want to play as. I usually pick Donatello because his long-range bo staff keeps enemies away at a distance. Just like how I keep a distance between myself and other people in real life.
On the face of it, this is a very simple two-button arcade port – On paper, if you stripped the license away, it still suffers from the same issues of gameplay repetition as practically every other game in the genre experiences. Yet, as a game of arcade length, really not much more than an hour in length, it’s great for a quick blast, and I was compelled to play it in its entirety from start to finish. Besides, sometimes the situation calls for a brainless brawler, and this is amongst the best out there.
Each stage of this crazy adventure through past present and future is topped off with various gigantic bosses that run the gamut of Turtle villains past and present – I mean, even Tokar and Rahzar from the Secret of the Ooze movie make an appearance as pirate captains. Plus, it’s not all repetitious walking left to right, as there are also a few bonus levels from surfing through the sewers avoiding the xenomorphic Pizza Monsters, and even a Mode 7-fuelled diversion into the future.
The whole package might just be better than the original Ninja Turtle arcade smash. Sadly, this port doesn’t return the four-player action of either of the Turtle arcade cabinets, but even the two-player mode is fun enough. Ultimately, this is a damn solid port that certainly holds up well.
So that’s three ninja-related games for our first ranking session, but where to put them all? Well, I’m going to put Revenge of Shinobi at number three, for as good as Joe Musashi’s second appearance is, I feel that the uneven difficulty really hinders my ability to fully enjoy the game.
Which leaves us with two games left, and at number two, I’m going to have to put Ninja Gaiden here, which is not something I could have predicted when picking this theme. I find it to be more forgiving than Revenge of Shinobi, and on the whole, a more enjoyable title.
That does mean that the top of our leaderboard is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. With great graphics, catchy tunes and some incredibly solid and fun gameplay, I really couldn’t think of a better game to be at the top.
But do you agree with the rankings as is? Let me know where you would put these games in the comments below, and maybe even suggest a set of three themed games for the next episode? And as this is a pilot, why not tell me whether or not you even want a new episode of this brand new series?
This was the very first Ultimate Leaderboard of Video Games, and hopefully, I’ll be back soon with another three games to place somewhere in this list.