Ninja Gaijin was one of Nintendo's early attempts to enter the North American videogame market as part of the Game Boy handheld system and was a massive failure. It sold only five copies, three more than the widely accepted yardstick of videogame awfulness Plumbers Don't Wear Ties.
Nintendo, originally a Japanese knitting company, found that cultural differences made many of the games it produced unpopular with American audiences: the lack of big breasts, monster trucks and shotguns. The ninja craze of the '80s provided the inspiration for a game that could straddle the cultural differences between the two countries; both the Japanese game developers and American game-playing audience admired ninjas, and ninjas provided a clear route of gameplay in the form of flipping out and killing people as well as pizza delivery (sadly cut out of the final version due to development time). The pizza delivery girl had huge breasts.
The game follows the adventures of famed ninja Ryu Hayarime 龍流行目 in his quest to avenge his own death by killing every bad guy in the game because he is a time-traveling ninja. In a move much criticised, the plot writers decided that to keep in line with Japanese custom that all of the bad guys should commit seppuku instead of dying at the hands of a ninja. It is blamed for the reason that of the five cartridges originally sold, thousands were returned, destroyed, incinerated, eaten by grues, and/or dumped in a landfill site in New Mexico. It is rumoured that there is a secret mode in the game in which the main character becomes a magical talking cat, but this has been denied by the developers, who called the idea "stupid" and "incriminating".
Due to the limited processing power of the Gameboy, only black and white graphics were possible. (The display was actually full colour; old Game Boy LCD screens were bought up and reused by Apple in their iPod nano. It is actually possible to play the original Mario if you press all the buttons at the same time on the original firmware, but Apple has since removed this in an update.)
White screen elements are represented as 0 and black as 1 in the Game Boy hardware, so lots of memory space was saved by using as many 0's as possible. To sustain a consistent framerate the main character had to be made white, this leading to the game being renamed from the original title Ninja to Ninja Gaijin.
One of the main shortcomings of Ninja Gaijin was the legendarily low difficulty level. The development of Ninja Gaijin was plauged by a lack of development hardware, which lead to testing being carried out entirely on a Nintendo Game & Watch. Due to the low-resolution LCD displays the game had to be constantly made easier to complete, but after it went into production it was discovered that the much larger and clearer display on the production hardware made it a pushover.
A special-edition version, Ninja Gaijin White, was planned, with more difficult opponents and a special "Ninja Frog" difficulty level where you play the entire game as a frog, but was cancelled due to the low sales of the original.
|This article is part of the Wonderful Japan series|
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