Originally published for the TurboGrafx-16 in 1990, Ninja Spirit was Irem's entry into the ninja-themed action genre that was immensely popular at that time. In Ninja Spirit, you play the role of a young man seeking revenge for your father's murder, which amounts to running and jumping your way through seven side-scrolling levels while constantly fending off evil ninjas with your own ninja weapons. Irem obviously didn't strive to innovate because the story and action borrow heavily from Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, and the other ninja games of the day. Nonetheless, Irem's copycatting resulted in a solid ninja romp and one of the TurboGrafx-16's most visually intense games. Those reasons should be sufficient to send any fan of the 2D action genre into the Wii's Virtual Console shop to spend 600 points ($6) on Ninja Spirit. The other reason is ninjas, ninjas...everywhere.
There are a couple of spots where you have to jump between platforms, but reaching the boss at the end of each level mainly involves killing any evil ninjas that get in your way and avoiding their stormlike volleys of knives and bombs. Apparently, Irem felt that other games didn't have enough ninjas in them because Ninja Spirit is flat out infested with costumed swordsmen. As you make your way to the right or in one level, upward, you'll notice ninjas running at you on the ground, tossing knives at you from the treetops, and even flying past on kites. You can absorb five hits from most enemies before losing a life, unless you choose the arcade difficulty setting that causes you to die from a single hit, but most bosses can slay you in one hit anyway. Thankfully, you get three lives and an unlimited supply of continues.
Your ninja guy is also well equipped to get through all this mayhem. He can run, jump, and walk on the ceiling, as well as attack in eight directions with four wildly different weapons. By tapping the select button, you can instantly swap among a sword, throwing stars, dynamite, and a chained sickle. The different weapons vary in terms of strength, range, and ability to stop projectiles. You'll also collect power-ups that will make your weapons stronger, give you shielding, and create shadowy helpers that mimic your movements or attacks. Ninja Spirit is challenging because it's always throwing so much at you, but you'll eventually beat it if you sharpen your reflexes and are willing to learn the pros and cons of each weapon.
Very few TurboGrafx-16 games and very few 16-bit games for that matter, fill the screen with as much action as Ninja Spirit. You and your shadows are usually hurling throwing stars at enemies. There are also ninjas constantly running across the screen and knives flying in all directions. The hectic pace aside, the graphics are also artistically appealing. The ninja characters move fluidly and look like they mean business; the magic effects that erupt from your weapons are interesting; and the backgrounds flaunt all kinds of subtle details that help convey the theme of one hellish night in 15th-century Japan. Fighting in front of the glowing crescent moon in level three and watching the clouds drift by while you dodge a shower of knives in level six are just two of the many cool moments you'll experience. But you'll occasionally notice some slowdown when the screen is packed with objects. You may also be disappointed by the lack of cinematic sequences apart from the brief opening and ending, but those shortcomings don't detract from the game's visceral punch. Unfortunately, the audio isn't as remarkable, although the rustic Japanese music and tinny sound effects fit with what happens on the screen.
If you're into 2D action games featuring ninjas, then you should definitely consider adding Ninja Spirit for the TurboGrafx-16 to your Wii's channel lineup. It may not stack up against Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi with regard to story development or environmental interaction, but it exudes style, and you can unload your ninja weapons on ninja enemies that consistently fill the screen.