[Amstrad Action, the first magazine from Future Publishing, celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and to celebrate that fact, we’re featuring articles specifically related to the Amstrad’s number one magazine all week. Already this week, we’ve looked at the history of Amstrad Action, the making of the tribute magazine and AA’s top ten games of all time and now, we take a look at one of the two high profile games that famously didn’t make the ‘Action Test’ section of Amstrad Action...]

In 1989, at the height of the 8-bit videogaming scene, Last Ninja 2 was riding high in the charts and receiving a lot of attention. However, the game never did get a review in Amstrad Action. This was pointed out in a reader’s letter in issue 49, when Derek Wong asked why the recent chart topper had “not even been reviewed” by AA? Amstrad Action’s Editor stated that they “looked at [Last Ninja 2], and decided it was the biggest load of old rubbish since Psycho Pigs UXB…” But what was so wrong with the game that proved such a hit elsewhere?

Developed and published by System 3, the original The Last Ninja was released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and became a huge hit thanks to its distinctive isometric landscape level design and complex action/puzzle game play. Plans were made to port the game over to the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum, but these were panned as the time and resources needed to complete them were not available. Inevitably, as is the way with successful games, a sequel was made and released in 1988, this time available for all three major 8-bit computers.

The packaging for the game was impressive – well you’d hope so after paying out receiving £12.99, which was quite a lot in those days. And, of course, there was the massive amount of hype the game was generating by word of mouth, high rated reviews across the many videogaming magazines. The game came in the old huge A3 style box packaging of yesteryear and included the game cassette, of course, an illustration of the locations, and the ninja handbook (instructions).

The game’s back story tells of the protagonist, Armakuni, the sole survivor of a ninjutsu clan that was destroyed by Kunitoki, an evil shogun. Following defeat in the first game, Kunitoki managed to transport himself to modern day New York City.

Last Ninja 2 is divided into self contained locations or levels, Central Park, The Streets, The Sewers, The Basement, The Office, The Mansion and the Final Battle, each represented in that characteristic static isometric display. By 8-bit standards the graphics are very detailed, although the CPC version suffers from a lazy Speccy port.

Knife-wielding thugs, evil ninjas and even the local police join in on giving you a good kicking when you least expect it. You start with only your fists and feet for fighting, but with patience and exploration you can soon acquire weapons to fight back with. Battles themselves consist of hitting back and forth until one of the characters flops to the ground. Sometimes it is much better, or safer, just to run away rather than waste time and energy fighting. While there is sufficient fighting for a ninja game the main backbone of the game is exploration and puzzle-solving.

The actual game play is where this game fails, for the Amstrad version especially. Some map screens have scenery which you can get lost behind and this can be made worse if an opponent jumps you and all you can do is flap away on the joystick helplessly and watch your energy decrease until you die. It doesn’t help the CPC version that it is all black and white – black on black is hard to see. Also, precision-jumping and fighting around in an isometric 3D scenario can be frustratingly near impossible, often having you beating up your joystick instead of your onscreen enemy.

Note: Amstrad Action issue 49 can be found at CPC Oxygen

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