Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Tale of Cyber Ninja

I was going through my closet yesterday and stumbled upon an old tape I'd bought at a video store years ago. It's called Cyber Ninja, and I had initially picked it up because it had Namco's logo on it, for some reason. I never investigated why, until today. Turns out the Japanese is title is Mirai Ninja (literally: Future Ninja), which was a 1988 arcade title developed by Namco. I could be wrong, but I think this might be officially the first live action motion picture based on a video game. (If you don't count Cloak and Dagger, anyway - I don't.) I guess you could say that the game could possibly be based on the movie, but Namco is listed as a producer for the film, so they must've been involved in it in some way. This seems to be corroborated on this Manadarake blog which states that the game began development first, but the movie was actually released before it came to market.

I still need to hook up a VCR to check it out, but this review claims it's about what you'd expect - cheesy special effects, mad dubbing and a ludicrous plot, something ripely cut out for MST3k. This Japanese page also shows some cool designs. Until then, I gave the game a run through in MAME to check it out. It's sorta like the evolutionary step between Taito's The Legend of Kage and Irem's Ninja Spirit. You're a shuriken tossing ninja running through long stages with plenty of vertical height, and impressive jumping skills to boot. Unlike the other ninja games mentioned, at least you have a life meter, displayed at the top of the screen in numerical kanji. It does have a cool melding of futuristic technology with traditional Japanese architecture, similar to later games like MUSHA and Sengoku Blade. Instead of riding on an airplane, one level is one top of a gigantic flying palace which crashes into the side of the enemy fortress. There's some SNES-style rotation effects too, including a boss battle where the whole room rotates every few seconds while fighting the central core. All of this a few years before Super Castlevania IV.

That's not to trump it up and say it's a classic or anything. The biggest downside is that you can't aim the direction of your shurikens, and like most arcade games, the enemy attacks are too relentless to be much fun for more than a few levels. Plus, level themes are reused a couple of times, and you'll refight a few of the same bosses over and over.

It's weird that there was a movie made of this game though. It's remarkably obscure, having never been ported or even mentioned in any of Namco's many, many collections. And it was never released outside of Japan, while the movie was. What an oddity.

This all reminds me of a media project I wanted start awhile ago. There's a lot of video game-related TV shows and movies that are impossible to find on the internet, and are only sold on old VHS, if at all. I wanted to start transferring them to digital format and distributing freely on the internet. Not exactly legal, but the stuff I'm thinking about isn't available commercially anyway. I already stuck up the old Bubsy cartoons a few years ago, as well as an episode of the Salamander anime. I want to do all six domestic tapes of Zillion, and I just ordered the sole Maniac Mansion (an obscure Canadian production) tape off Amazon. One day I want to stick up older anime OVAs like Fire Emblem and Panzer Dragoon, since they're not on DVD. Now I just need to find a decent video editing program that isn't VirtualDub and clean up some HD space...


  1. What an amazing find this is...

    Distribution of old and obscure shows based on videogames is a worthwhile venture - and seriously awesome. I'd never even heard of the Maniac Mansion episode.

    There was also a Sam and Max cartoon, which apparently ran to 24 episodes, though I've only ever seen the first.

    Hopefully this might also unearth that lost episode of Wowser, which was inspired by Ice Climber.

    Even if you don't end up putting them online, a decent data archive of what was available would be good.

  2. Sam & Max was released on DVD in the US. It's not too bad, but the problem is that it was toned down for kids. It still keeps it zaniness, but a lot of humor of Sam & Max is more mature - not necessarily violent, but just occasionally esoteric, especially with its writing - that it just wouldn't make sense to an eight year old.

    Maniac Mansion used some cast members for SCTV, a Canadian sketch show, so it's regarded as something of a spiritual sequel. Only the basic concept of a mad scientist and his wacky familiar are kept, basically it's nothing like the games. I only ever saw one episode of it growing up, because it was on a channel (The Family Channel) that I didn't get at home and was only available at my grandmother's house six hours away. I remember being really disappointed.

  3. This movie is absolutely AWESOME! I <3 it so much!

  4. Someone put the movie on youtube:

    Also, if you were interested in digitizing old anime and shows not available on current formats and will probably never been seen again, I'd be interested in helping. Leave me an e-mail at

  5. Ah, brings back memories. Several years ago, I began tracking down obscure Japanese game-related movies and anime. Mirai Ninja was definitely one of the first, as I too was perplexed whether it was based on the arcade game or vice-versa. As a side-note, the movie's director, Keita Amemiya, has made a slew of similar films featuring armored heroes, and did the designs for the SNES game Hagane. I'm with you on your project. Some of the rarer finds I ended up with were an official VCD of Falcom's Xanadu anime and an LD of the Wizardy anime (the fact that such a thing even exists is even stranger than the Maniac Mansion sitcom).

  6. I've got a copy of that Xanadu anime that someone uploaded over at the Ancient Land of Ys. It's all kinds of nothing like the game. Would be interesting to get it fansubbed, though.

  7. The Dragon Slayer: Legend of Heroes anime, which received a domestic release here, is also very, very loosely based on the game. The symphonic soundtrack is excellent, at least. It's too bad the team that did the YS II anime didn't work on any of Falcom's other film projects.

  8. If you live in the US (or have a region free, PAL-NTSC converting DVD player) you can get Cyber Ninja on a questionably legal dvd set from George Tan's Video Asia line.

    Keita Amemiya also did some designs for the Onimusha series, if I'm not mistaken.

  9. As some additional Namco movie trivia, both Toxic Avenger Part II and Sgt. Kabukiman were done in conjunction with Namco as well, although there was a falling out between Troma and Namco that put the kibosh on merchandising plans.

  10. You mean we could've had a Sgt. Kabukiman video game? How tragic.

  11. Regardless of which method you choose, transferring your VHS movies to DVD will add many years to the life of your videos. This doesn't have to be difficult and time-consuming, and, best of all, you will no longer need to be concerned that the VHS tape will be mangled. Plus, making copies for friends and relatives will be a snap. 8mm Film Transfer to DVD