Some “Atarians” love the Atari 7800 because it has a lot of arcade ports. I’m not one of those, to me the system was interesting because of it’s weird games (and 2600 backwards compatibility). The most famous game for the system certainly has to be Ninja Golf, which is believed to be a by-product of heavy drug use by someone at Atari (in their early days there was a lot of that going on, but I don’t know about 1990). No matter how someone decided to combine the love of ninjas in the 80s with the more reverent sport of golf isn’t too important – it is mostly amazing for how over-the-top it was. I think that Atari should have taken this and a few other 7800 games like Midnight Mutants and made them headliners for the Atari Jaguar, which would have been quite preferable over Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy. But they didn’t so I’ve been thinking about how a newer Ninja Golf could come into being. I doubt the current Atari would go in this direction, in fact I’m surprised they haven’t turned it into an endless auto-runner for iPads already. Here’s my vision for a new NINJA GOLF!

The original game was split into two parts – a quick and dirty golf portion with the rest of the time spent on running to your ball and fighting everything under heaven along the way. The brawling portion wasn’t done with a ton of finesse – other ninjas run into you and start punching away while the animals would throw dirt clods or crap on your head. It’s a constant barrage of opponents, that kept the feel in the arcade realm of things. The “boss” battle at the hole is the same no matter how far in you get. So here’s how that could change.



The original had a very simple format for the golfing portion. There were no clubs, power, wind or anything you expect to find in video golf games. I would still keep it simple but not exactly the same. In the original a dot would quickly move from your person to a certain range on the course and whenever you would push the button it would stop the dot and that is where your ball would go.

What would be fun is to keep with the spirit of the over-the-top ideas and throw that into the golf portion. With the new version I would have something similar to the original’s moving dot but now with a gradient “power bar” and a moving line inside of that bar. You would have different stances to choose which have different bars with different speeds. Now the player would first choose a stance, which may sound like it is from ninja teachings but no one really knows a lot about actual teachings so you can have some leeway. These would also have to have some theatrical flare to them, much like the Super Moves in a game like Super Street Fighter where it plays a very quick sequence that highlights the move of the player. This would add some personality to the character as well. For our stances we could have:

The Raging Bull – This stance is akin to the Happy Gilmore style of play, where you have a running start on the golf ball. The scale moves the fastest on this one with landing in the white zone giving the player the furthest shot.

Dragon’s Gust – This twirling stance smashes the golf ball with the breath of a dragon. Medium-high speed.

Mantis Strike – The ninja stands silently near the ball with his golf club sheathed to the side. When the strike is activated, he pulls the club out quickly and leans to strike the ball. Medium

Spitting Viper – The ninja slithers along the ground like a snake (it’s a video game, who cares about injecting a little fantasy physics here), striking the ball into the air. Medium-Low

Serene Stream – Meditation and mysticism are the key to this stance, where pure concentration will be able to launch your ball on its way. The ninja sits cross-legged in front of the ball and when they push the action button, the golf club picks itself up and hits the ball; or the ball trembles with an outer worldly glow and launches itself.   Easier stance with a slightly slower moving scale.

Perhaps more could be invented but that’s enough thought put into it for now.

After the player selects the stance, they then get a 3D view of their character by the ball and a scale pops up. This will work in similar fashion to the original moving dot but instead we will have a shaded scale along these lines, with variations depending upon the selected stance:

It's the best I could find to convey the basic idea. And the guy would be a ninja.

It’s the best I could find to convey the basic idea. And the guy would be a ninja.

The player will be able to adjust two things here: The direction they face and the power behind the shot. The scale will have a fast scrolling thin line that moves from the bottom to the top, continuously cycling until the player hits the action button, as mentioned it would be similar to the original NG with it’s constantly moving dot. So you would have red, orange, yellow, green and white areas for it to stop into. Where it stops within the gauge will determine where the ball goes. The sliver of the thin white line would be very difficult to hit, but would result in a hole-in-one. Also with the different stances we could have scales of different appearances although the end result would be similar.

Animations would have to be made for different scenarios, some to highlight failure for a short strike. You could also have random things happen to add humor to the game – vaporize a duck flying through the air or if it hits a tree cause all of the leaves to blow off, etc. When landing in the water show a slight bubbling with the ninja in the center of the frame, approaching the river/lake in a solemn manner while the Jaws-esque tune plays.

Overall I think this method of golfing would enhance the original spirit of the game while adding humor, character and a tiny bit of depth to it as well. The golfing portion should not be Golden Tee or even Wii Sports Golf but something that stands out on its own that won’t take a lot of time from the next portion, the brawling.


This was a clever way to give the 7800 a brawling game, which in 1990 was just ending its life span as Nintendo had clearly won the “war” for that generation and everyone was moving onto more powerful consoles that could handle more complex games. Titles like Double Dragon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were making huge money in the arcade, and they had a few more years of life before 1-on-1 fighters would eliminate the genre. Atari didn’t really have anything in the brawler genre for themselves and for some odd reason, Ninja Golf was the result.

Now it was hardly the most amazing game in this regard – you could kick enemies or throw shurikens at them to make them disappear in a cloud of dust. No elaborate hidden moves or anything like that and enemies would often run straight at you for the close attack. It did keep things amusing by throwing in gophers, mutant frogs, pooping birds, sharks, snakes and the occasional almost invisible enemy. There was no putting in the game – just a floating dragon that would move side-to-side breathing great balls of fire in your direction and your ninja was setup much like the Shinobi bonus round, seen from behind where you pummel the dragon with your stars until it has enough.

The enemy types you encounter were also determined by the area you found yourself in while running towards your fallen golf ball. There was short grass, tall grass, the bunker, forests and waterways.

For a modern Ninja Golf, I think this portion is where many improvements could be made. While we would have 3D graphics to enjoy our details, I would keep the camera angle at an isometric view, which is where the best brawling games worked best (think of any brawler from the late 80s/early 90s and they will likely have used this view, just with 2D sprites). You also would still have to caddy yourself to the position of the ball facing those intently evil bad guys/animals on your way. But now transitions between areas could be smoother and the variety of enemies to come across can vary as well.



Now different color ninjas would have different difficulty AI attached to them so easier guys are less aggressive and may only use one kind of attack while the toughest opposing ninjas would be able to enjoy the same arsenal that our hero does.

Historically the ninja had a wide array of weapons to use and you could easily make enemies whose focus is on a particular weapon like the

I would retain the original animals but you could make some modifications: gophers that throw spread shots  or disappear into the ground and reappear elsewhere if they aren’t taken care of quickly; snakes could move around a little more and in higher levels have projectile attacks; give the huge frogs something like a tongue attack and so on.

For new additions there are plenty of thinyou could add spiders that make webs for the player to slash their way through; clams that the player would jump over while underwater that would snap on the player

In the original game enemies were tied to specific areas so for new areas we could add:

Shallow water ways/swamps – Infested with bamboo, enormous mosquitoes and dragonflies and blowdart wielding ninjas in the background who may hurl their wares at you to avoid.

Slightly higher elevation areas with rocks – Good excuse for mountain goat enemies, rocks that tumble at you from no apparent source.

Slightly higher than that areas with snow – Because our game with golfing ninjas should have Yetis. The more abominable, the better!

Ashen bunkers – more exciting than sand bunkers because you might have to run over hot coals and dodge fire balls.

Serene Japanese Garden – While these don’t necessarily fit in with a golf course, it’s a video game so we can go ahead and add areas like this to certain maps!  Perhaps one of the primary enemies to find here would be gargoyle-type statues.

Again more could be added like rice fields, that is just a few ideas.



As mentioned one of the issues with the original is that the boss is always the same dragon at the end of the level, the only change comes in the speed with which he moves/shoots at you. For a nine-hole game we need more variety than that. Sure we could keep the original dragon for one of the holes but we could also have:

– A Pair of Ninjas that jump around throwing shurikens in your direction

– A Floating Metal Samurai Mask that the player has to hit in the mouth a certain number of times to defeat

Basan, a fire breathing mutant chicken from Japanese legend. It is like it was made just for this game.

Furutsubaki-no-rei, a soul sucking plant that would need to have it’s branches/leaves hacked away.

– Harionago, a woman ghoul from Japanese legend with barbs at the end of her hair which could be used to attack the player.

Kappa, the River Monster. It looks like interpretations as to the appearance of this river-based creature can vary wildly but if you place the golf hole in front of water it could make for a foe.

-Kyokotsu, for the eerie boss that could rise from the golf hole instead of a well and could terrorize the player with….ghost fire balls? Undead fish heads? We can take liberties where necessary.

The final boss should be a good challenge and based upon your ninja master that sent you on this crazy adventure test int he first place. Perhaps he could change forms to different creatures from Japanese legend as you whittle him down. Then, you can gain status as a True Ninja ™.


As for the new way for our hero to defend him/herself, the focus on the quick kill for a ninja is always important. I think that a leveling system would add some replay value to the game, specifically if you

Punches: You would have your standard strike but tied to a combo move could open the door for uppercuts, palm strikes, ear smashes, or elbow strikes. It doesn’t have to all be vanilla type stuff, some fun could be had by going over-the-top on some moves.

Kicks: In addition to your  basic kick, the game really needed a jump kick to begin with and you can deal more power with a roundhouse kick, flip kicks, curbstomps, knee breakers, etc. I’m sure some of this has little to do with the actual martial art but Ninja Golfing already breaks away from tradition as it is. Hurray button combos!



The Ninja has a wide array of very sharp killing objects to enjoy. Players would be able to switch between items using the same system found in brawling games like Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara or Oriental Legend 2 (press the Item button to cycle through items, whatever is at the top is selected; push a separate button to use).

Club Katana – A combination of a golf driver and a katana wrapped up into one, this should be a signature weapon for Ninja Golf with the power to bash, slash and drive all a single handy instrument.

Bo Staff – Start the player off with this but include a recover gauge so that the player would have to be able to use other methods of attack aside from simply slashing their way through the game.

Chigiriki – Kind of like a Morningstar, these could serve as an upgrade from the Bo or be a part of the arsenal of a higher difficulty opponent.

Bow/Arrow – The staple of warriors throughout the ages. Unless they were using a stapler like the brave Stanley Spedowski.

Manriki-Gusari – Like a variation of nunchakus, with a long chain holding a weight at each end, often used like a whip.

Kama – Small scythes that were capable of causing a lot of brain damage.

Shurikens – Fast and effective, but since we have other projectile options these could be on the weaker end of the spectrum.

Throwing Daggers – An alternative to shurikens with a longer effective range

Calthrops – Great for setting a trap for an unsuspecting backstabber to step on.


The original was pretty much just focused on single player but now I don’t see why you couldn’t have “rivals” to golf against. It’s the whole Ninja Class of ’14 trying to reach graduation. This could be done easily with online play, it is a little more difficult to have simultaneous local play since the golf balls would end up in different places. The online method could also allow for ghost data to compare to.

The only way I could imagine local play working out would be to take the ball that went the farthest and have players traverse to that; or you could also work out having players take turns on the golfing portion and just cycle through that while everyone plays together during the brawling portion. Multiplayer brawling is a bit more enjoyable so it would be essential to keep that intact via one of these methods.


So there you have it, my vision for a modern Ninja Golf. I imagine this could have been done in a similar fashion on the Atari Jaguar (minus the online or full 3D portions; it would have had to be digitized 2D or a 2D/3D combo most likely). At this point I’m not sure which system it would work best on – one might assume that the WiiU would work best since it has a very versatile control scheme although it wouldn’t be essential to mimick golf swings given how it was laid out above. Otherwise, it should feel fine using any control scheme, except for maybe a keyboard.

As mentioned I highly doubt we will see such an effort on the IP in the near future although given what Atari is currently specializing in, that probably isn’t a bad thing.


About Shaggy

I addition to my professional work in the arcade industry which has ranged from operator to consultant, I like to write about other subjects that interest me as well...if I can find the time.

One response »

  1. […] 7800) – Called by Classic Game Room as “possibly the greatest game ever made”, Ninja Golf should have had a modern upgrade itself on the Jaguar but since it didn’t, the ninja with a golf bag should have ended up in Atari Karts instead of […]

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