Samurais that cut down foes with swift and deadly strikes, ninjas that strike at their enemies from the darkness and disappear into the night- there’s just something about these two very different kinds of warriors that attracts both storytellers and audiences in large numbers, and video games, like any other entertainment medium, are not immune to those charms. Over the years, dozens upon dozens of excellent games have done some memorable stuff with samurais and ninjas, and that’s seen even more of an uptick in recent years. And now that it’s been some time since we spoke about our favourite games with samurais or ninjas in then, here, we’re going to speak about a few more.

GHOST OF TSUSHIMA

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Let’s start with the most obvious choice, because obviously, there was no way Ghost of Tsushima was not going be to in the list. Living the samurai power fantasy in a vast, richly created, beautiful open world that is brimming with striking vistas- Ghost of Tsushima accomplishes is defined by all of this, and so much more. Just as deserving of praise is the combat, which serves up the perfect samurai experience- and as you play more and Jin keeps moving further and further away from the code of honour he’s been bound by his entire life, those gameplay mechanics begin changing as well, allowing for much more brutal, deadly, efficient, and silent ways of dispatching enemies.

SEKIRO: SHADOWS DIE TWICE

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Just as much of an obvious choice as Ghost of Tsushima, if not more so. After crafting incredible RPGs allowing ridiculous levels of choice and build variety, FromSoftware shifted gears in 2019 and delivered Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice– a much more action-oriented game that wanted you to master its systems in a very specific way rather than letting you craft a build that suits your play style. For many, that wasn’t the right move, but for a huge number of people, Sekiro stands toe-to-toe with From’s best works. The combat was hugely responsible for that, with its intense focus on parries and blocks and dodges- which, of course, made perfect sense for a game in which you play as a highly trained shinobi.

GHOSTRUNNER

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For some reason, video games really love cyber ninjas. No, cyber ninjas obviously aren’t exclusive a video games thing, but this medium in particular has a pretty blatant obsession with them. Even with there being no shortage of great cyber ninja games to play through, last year’s excellent Ghostrunner stands out as one of the best games of its kind. Combining slick traversal and fast-paced combat with an ingenious one-hit-kill mechanic and excellent level design and enemy variety, Ghostrunner delivers a truly special package that is as rewarding and satisfying as it can be challenging.

NINJA GAIDEN 2

When it comes to character action games, Nina Gaiden 2 is arguably the best game the genre has seen to date, which says a lot about the enduring quality of the game, given how many excellent character action games are vying for that throne. Scintillating combat, grueling challenge, and incredible mechanical and systemic depth have always been hallmarks of the Ninja Gaiden games, and all of that and more is on full display in Ninja Gaiden 2, better perhaps than any other game in the series.

CYBER SHADOW

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Speaking of cyber ninjas- here’s another game that sees you playing as a cyber ninja, which isn’t surprising, given its name. And though one passing look at Cyber Shadow might give you the impression that it’s another in a long list of games that take inspiration from classic Ninja Gaiden titles, it’s actually a really great game. The combat feels tight and challenging, the boss fights are solid, it looks solid- Cyber Shadow isn’t a headline-grabbing game, no. But if you’re looking to scratch an old-school Ninja Gaiden itch, this might just be the game for you.

THE MESSENGER

The Messenger

Given how many 8-bit Ninja Gaiden-era inspired indie games we’ve seen in recent years, it’s not surprising that two of them should be on this list. In fact, The Messenger, Sabotage Studio’s excellent metroidvania action-platformer, is probably one of the best games among that group. Some pacing issues notwithstanding, its humour, writing, challenging combat, slick platformer, and more come together in a game that’s very hard to step away from. Definitely worth checking out, if you haven’t done so already.

KATANA ZERO

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We’ve got more indie sidescrolling action platformers to talk about here, but Katana Zero is quite different from the likes of, say, The Messenger. Its vibrant cyberpunk aesthetic is brought to life by excellent art design, making for a game that simple oozes style, and it tells a story more engaging than you’d expect to find going in. On top of that, it boasts excellent combat that actually makes you stop and think, combining with solid level design to consistently deliver memorable encounters.

WITHIN THE BLADE

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Not a game that a great many people may have heard of, Within the Blade is something of a hidden gem. Combining stealth, quick action, and platforming in an old-school sidescrolling experience, Ametist Studio’s game is a solid, engaging experience all around. Every kill feels brutally impactful, stealth is tight and enjoyable, the progression feels engaging, and a variety of different enemies and boss ensure that things never get too monotonous. If you’ve never tried out Within the Blade, we’d recommend keeping an eye on it and giving it a go when you get the chance.

SHADOW BLADE: RELOAD

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This, too, is a game that isn’t exactly the most high profile release, especially in this group of titles, but Shadow Blade: Reload is such an easy game to recommend for fans of the stealth action genre. Zipping through beautifully crafted environments using a robust and tight set of platforming and parkour moves and using all the various tools at your disposal to silently and quickly dispatch enemies never stops being fun. At about 3-5 hours long, it’s a pretty short experience, but it’s packed from beginning to end with solid stealth gameplay.

MURAMASA: THE DEMON BLADE

As is generally the case with most games developed by Vanillaware, Muramasa: The Demon Blade isn’t exactly a commercial record-breaker, what with its many eccentricities making it a bit of a niche product. But it’s those eccentricities exactly that make it such a great game as well. Solid mechanics and an engrossing story told through the perspectives of a princess and ninja come together in perfect harmony to ensure that if you’re playing Muramasa, you’re very unlikely to not be enjoying yourself.

SAMURAI JACK: BATTLE THROUGH TIME

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Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time is certainly a much more flawed game than most other games mentioned in this feature, and it’s not quite as high profile of a game as most of them either, but as those who’ve played it will tell you, it’s not without its merits. It is, of course, a solid romp for fans of the property, but even as a game viewed on its own terms, it’s got plenty going from it, from old-school action to enjoyable movement and more. It’s definitely the kind of game that could have done a lot more with its ideas if it had had a bigger budget, but even in its current form, it’s well worth playing.

ARAGAMI 2

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As stealth games continue to become more and more of a rarity in the AAA space, indie developers have collectively decided to fill the void with their own efforts, and while Aragami 2 isn’t well-rounded enough to stand toe-to-toe with the best of the best games in that category, it’s still a solid stealth experience that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss. Using light and shadow to your advantage and leaping from place to place to use your powers and silently dispatch enemies is never not fun in Aragami 2, and even though the game stumbles in a few areas (such as its combat), the good ultimately does outweigh the bad.

YAKUZA ISHIN

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Yakuza as a series isn’t afraid to experiment. Some might say that that only became the case recently, with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but even during the long period where the series stuck with its brawler formula, it was still doing some pretty weird and experimental stuff every now and then. Yakuza Ishin, for example, took that formula into the twilight years of the Edo period in Japan, putting players in the shoes of a samurai. Ishin was, of course, not the first game in the series to do that, following in the footsteps of Yakuza Kenzan, and those who’ve played them will tell you that both games deserve more attention. Here’s hoping the duo eventually gets localized in the not-too-distant future.

SAMURAI SHODOWN (2019)

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SNK’s beloved long-running fighting series made its comeback with a reboot in 2019, and Samurai Shodown thankfully turned out to be the solid fighter that fans had hoped it would be. There is, of course, plenty of room for improvement here, but series and genre fans will find quite a lot to love as well. The systemic depth, the art style, and the roster of characters are some of several highlights deserving of praise in Samurai Shodown.

SHADOW TACTICS: BLADES OF THE SHOGUN

Mimimi Games has established itself as a developer of excellent real time tactics games – perhaps even the best in the industry right now – and while 2020’s Desperados 3 helped cement that position, it was with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun in 2016 that they made their first mark. An excellent focus on stealth and strategy combined with smartly constructed level and a strong cast of varied characters, each with meaningful advantages and disadvantages in combat, to deliver a way more enjoyable stealth tactics experience than most people would have expected. The fact that it’s getting a new expansion soon, five years on from the game’s launch, tells you something about the game’s staying power, and about Mimimi Games’ willingness to iterate on this formula to deliver more excellent content.