Where would videogames be without our silent and deadly friends from the East? Nowhere, that's where.
With the marvellous Shinobido
about to sneak onto the PlayStation 2 gaming scene and silence its enemies with pin-sharp ninja gameplay, what better time to reflect upon the phenomenon of the ninja? These black-clad bringers of death figure among the most enduring, iconic images of popular culture, and they've contributed more to gaming than almost any other historical sect we can think of.
To get you in the mood for Shinobido's wondrous take on ninja life, here's a brief look at some of the finest ninjistic moments in gaming so far...
The Last Ninja
If this feature's anything to go by, it wasn't the last - but the ninja depicted in System 3's legendary 1987 classic is still one of the most fondly remembered in gaming, nearly 20 years later.
With music and visuals that stood far above the competition, this thoughtful Commodore 64 adventure was incredibly tough to play, but so far ahead of its time that perseverance was never in doubt. Featuring a full ninja arsenal (including some superbly deadly shuriken, or throwing stars) and evocative settings, The Last Ninja was never going to be a one-off - and so it proved, with two sequels that, while decent, never quite attained the legendary status of the original.
Another game that's now a little long in the tooth, the original Shinobi was a smash hit in the arcades when Sega unleashed it in 1987 (clearly a big year for ninja). This side-scrolling platformer laid on the action thick and fast, and was accompanied by a tune that's stood the test of time.
Besides the slick action of the main game, the fast and furious first-person bonus round - which saw lead protagonist Jo Musashi flicking shuriken at hordes of attacking ninja - made for some memorable moments. The first of many Shinobi games, the most recent have appeared on PlayStation 2. Called Shinobi (again) and Nightshade, they're definitely worth picking up.
One of the most well-known of more recent ninja games, Tenchu was a massive hit on PS one when it arrived in 1998. The big new development in gaming at the time was stealth, and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins combined this with the massive appeal of being a ninja in feudal Japan. With a premise like that, and fancy 3D graphics, how could it possibly go wrong?
With a more mature take on the ninja way of life - the game's stealth kills were pretty gruesome for the time - Tenchu managed to provide one of the most memorable ninja games there's ever been. This is good news, since Shinobido has been developed by the team responsible for Tenchu.
Metal Gear Solid
How can you possibly make a ninja any cooler? By making a cyborg ninja, that's how. Forget anything else you've ever read - the reason Metal Gear Solid is a bona fide classic is because it features one of these bad boys. Going by the name of Gray Fox, and equipped with a suit endowing Predator-like camouflage, Metal Gear's ninja is just as memorable as Snake, but gets none of the press.
Indeed, Gray Fox is an indication of just how much the ninja has influenced gaming, with elements of those evocative spies cropping up all over the place. Why, you could even argue that Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher owes a thing or two to these shadowy agents.
So, next time you encounter one of our shady friends in a game, take a moment to celebrate the cult of the ninja. Just don't take too long about it, or you'll get a blow dart in the neck.