Ninjas are one of the coolest types of characters you can find in media next to cowboys and pirates. Whether it’s movies or anime, we never seem to get tired of seeing the cloaked assassins walking across rooftops in the dead of night. In video games, they are usually found (or not found) among the stealth drama, as is their specialty. However, some of the most impactful ninja games aren’t even centered around stealth.
For example, the 1987 arcade action game Shinobi was the most likely progenitor of the video game ninja we know and love today. It is thanks to this game that we have a wide variety of titles to choose from when we want to enter the tabies of the masked assassins. Here, we’ll take a look back at some of the best platformers, RPGs, and even first-person shooters to appear in ninja history.
N, also referred to as N: Way of the Ninja, is an elegant platform game from the era of flash games on websites. After it was considered a hit, the game managed to break out on consoles with its sequels, N+ and N++.
This gem of a series is pretty simple: wall run and wall jump your way to the finish while avoiding spikes, lasers and falling to your death, collecting gold along the way. The relatively simple premise was well executed enough to warrant recognition that many flash games could only dream of achieving.
9/11 Shadow Warrior 2
Back in the days of MS-DOS games, Shadow Warrior was released long after games like Doom and Wolfenstein had already made their big splash. Although well received, it was somewhat of a forgotten gem until it was rebooted in 2013. Back with modern features and modern graphics, Shadow Warrior (2013) brought the game back to life and into the hands of gamers who wanted appreciate FPS ninja action.
The main character, Lo Wang, is a much less serious protagonist known for his constant shenanigans and machine gun toting. It’s much closer to a parody of the typical story you’d expect from a ninja game. The sequel to the reboot, Shadow Warrior 2, hosts many appreciated gameplay improvements and will be a good place to jump into the series. But just like the original, a sense of humor is definitely needed as it can all come across as understandably insensitive.
8/11 Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven
In the earlier days of consoles, there were two big names that shaped the landscape of ninjas in video games for a while. The most stealthy of the pair is definitely Tenchu. A lot of what you can expect in terms of stealth in ninja-related video games was probably inspired by Tenchu.
After the first game in 1998, they went into a high season in the 2000s where the developers, Acquire and K2 LLC, managed to release seven games with two others being developed by Polygon and From Software. Unfortunately, all remain on consoles and no further additions have been made to the series. Fortunately, far into the future, From Software would look back on the legacy of Tenchu in their development of a certain big budget ninja themed game.
7/11 Ninja Gaiden 2
The other and much, much less silent ninja series would be Ninja Gaiden. Tecmo, and later Team Ninja, found similar success in the 90s on vintage consoles with a renewed identity in the 2000s.
Ninja Gaiden (2004) marked the start of the identity we all remember the series for. Tenchu focused on stealth, assassination, and slower, more grounded combat. However, Ninja Gaiden was very much a hack-and-slash known for its amazing (and gruesome) battles and cinematic cutscenes. The fluid running, jumping, and comboing featured in these games made them all surefire hits on gameplay alone.
6/11 Aragami 2
You might consider Aragami a bit of a sequel to what we loved about Tenchu, but these cel-shaded games stand out on their own for being all that and more. All fans of these games will feel quite at home in Aragami and especially with the major improvements that Aragami 2 brought.
Your character creeps stealthily through the darkness of the night, murdering enemies left and right, a practice we all already love. Where Aragami really shines are all the different techniques available to you that make things even more exciting to play. The graphics and gameplay are much improved in the sequel, and best of all is the addition of co-op, which lets you enjoy all of this with a friend.
If you’ve ever wanted to play a ninja MMORPG, there’s a chance you might have heard of Warframe. Ninjas Play Free is right in the tagline, which means that the developers already have you in mind and aim to make this game an enjoyable experience. You’ll spend a lot of your time flipping through the air and bouncing off the walls in this exciting third-person space action game.
A bit un-Ninja-esque, each “Warframe” is essentially the result of biotechnology with its own unique powers that vary the game wildly. While this means that most of them wouldn’t pass as ninjas in the traditional sense, the rather unique concept of ninjas in space is still more than enough to enthrall the player base.
If you love ninjas, cyberpunk and parkour, Ghostrunner could easily be the perfect game for you. It trades a rich story for a shorter, much more gameplay-focused experience that’s sure to leave you wanting more.
However, all will be forgiven when you get the hang of it. There’s nothing like running through the neon lights, bouncing off the walls and deflecting bullet spray before dashing towards your enemies and splitting them in half with one swift slash of your katana. If any of that sounds like a dream to you, you’ll probably be replaying Ghostrunner until you’re completely satisfied.
3/11 Nioh 2
Nioh is an action role-playing game influenced by our favorite setting of the Sengoku era of Japan. It hits similar beats to the Souls games, allowing it to fall into the “Soulslike” category despite sharing developers with the Ninja Gaiden franchise. The end result is something that combines a bit of both.
What sets Nioh apart from these games is definitely the skill tree feature, which allows you to specialize more than just attributes and weapons for your build. It’s not just ninjutsu that meets your ninja expectations, but samurai skills as well as esoteric onmyoji magic as well. However, the new gameplay additions, story, and all the amazing monster designs put Nioh 2 ahead of its predecessor, and you’d be missing out if you skipped the first game.
2/11 Mark Of The Ninja
It’s likely that at least some of your childhood was spent watching Saturday morning cartoons. If this is the case, you will be extra pleased when you see the art and animation of Mark of the Ninja. The entire game is definitely inspired by the same comics, and you could go as far as to say that a lot of the gameplay and story can be attributed to them as well.
In this game, you play as a modern-day ninja, leaping stealthily from rooftop to rooftop to uncover the secrets of both your clan and the titular mark you only possess. While other options are of course available, the main feature of the game is the amazing stealth gameplay. This, coupled with the fantastically atmospheric backgrounds, really harkens back to the days that may have made you appreciate the ninja theme to begin with.
1/11 Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
One of From Software’s more recent additions to their “Souls-like” games, Sekiro probably turned out to be a dream come true for many fans of ninjas. It boasts a very traditional look and feel while going all out on the fantasy elements and lore the studio is known for delivering.
The game is of course no joke either. There are a variety of tools and items that allow you to creatively solve problems and dispatch enemies. The bosses in this game will require a little more tact and timing than in a Souls game, as the main battle loop revolves around lowering the enemy’s balance to deliver a decisive blow. This opens up very exciting and dynamic boss fights that rely on player skill rather than knowledge of game mechanics.
NEXT: Best games about aliens