A look back at a much maligned classic Ninja Golf on the 7800

Ninja Golf is one of those games that's best known as a meme. Its not something you actually play, more something you show off to illustrate how gonzo-wacky you are. So please allow me to talk about Ninja Golf to illustrate how gonzo-wacky I am.

In retro circles, the most talked about thing regarding Ninja Golf is the cover. I don't understand this as it requires absolutely no words. The game turned up on the 7800 in its twilight years. 1990 to be exact, and it is one of the last games ever to be released on the system. I always say, if you're going to go out you may as well go out manically brandishing a scimitar on your municipal golf course whilst wearing a sock over your face, am I right?

The inspiration for Ninja Golf, I imagine, came not from huffing paint fumes as you'd expect, but from this famous golf course scene at the start of Ninja III: The Domination. Which is quite simply one of the greatest Ninja sequences ever filmed by a sentient life-form.

Off topic but if you haven't seen Ninja III its highly recommended to switch your brain off and watch it. You don't need to have seen the first two because they don't make a lick of sense anyway. Its a mixture of Martial Arts, The Exorcist, and Flashdance. As ludicrous a concept as that is, lets return then to Ninja Golf.

Just in case you were hankering for a satisfying, story-led experience. Your adventures into the world of shinobi-sports are introduced by this really crappy tattoo...

So straight onto the course and the game starts at a rather sedate pace. All the staples of the putting pastime are here. A resplendent pixel park, and a straddling sportsman wearing stupid clothes.

Looks lovely doesn't it? Golf controls are no-nonsense. There's no power meter. You simply use the top-down mini map to aim a dotted target-line towards the hole. Press fire precisely when the dot is were you want the ball to land, and that's it.

Except that's not it. It all goes batshit crazy from here as you ninjitsu your way towards your ball. Fighting off Ninja left and right, as well as giant gophers and literal bull-frogs, because they've been 'roided up with bull hormones. Seriously, hark at the size of these lads.

From here on in it just gets stupider. Cobra's are waiting for you in the sand-traps...

...and sharks in the water hazards. I can't even cope at this point. Appropriate that sharks turn up, since Ninja Golf is to games what Sharknado is to films. Remember, no idea is too stupid. Let's Monkey Tennis.

Each stage ends with a boss fight against this rather bored looking dragon. It kind of reminds me of the cool bonus stages in Shinobi if they looked 60% less awesome. Each time it gets faster (although no more animated). Its pretty repetitive and probably the main reason Ninja Golf isn't highly regarded for its gameplay. If it had been released earlier in the 80's, when this kind of rinse-and-repeat game design was expected, I believe the game would have been considered a classic for more than just its comedy value.

Which is unfair, as the controls and the combat system are nice and smooth. Our Ninja has a limited supply of shurikens to chuck about, and does low, medium and high kicks as he scrolls along. Its reminiscent of Karateka, except its really fast-paced instead of stop-and-start slow. Maybe that's what's wrong with our lathargic dragon boss. He's played too much Karateka. I'm kidding, I love Karateka.

That, however, is about it for the good points of Ninja Golf. Its let down by said repetitiveness, and the sound effects are minimalistic as to the point of being lazy. Expect a couple of whirs and beeps as if R2D2 was whistling at you (of course he can't whistle, dustbins don't have lips). What music there is tends to be paltry renditions of stereotypical ditties, such as that snake charmer song that nobody knows the origin of. In fact the only sound effect that is decent is the 'poot' noise when you poot your ball. They call it pooting in Golf right?

Pooting aside, I have a huge fondness for Ninja Golf. It's more than just a cheap joke, it's a good game in its own right. I highly recommend it to anyone who's a big fan of high kicking ninjitsu-nonsense, the noble sport of golf, and terrible tattoos.

You can get me on Twitter @GamesInBits. Or not and do something else, like watch Ninja III: The Domination.

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