The First Video Game Adapted To A Movie Is A Forgotten Sci-Fi Action Hidden Gem

By Jason Collins | Published

The list of successful video game adaptations is actually quite short, not due to the lack of material but due to the fact that these adaptations are insanely difficult to pull off. Starting with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., video game adaptations such as 1994’s Street Fighter, 2005’s BloodRayne, 2016’s Assassin’s Creed, and many others have been panned by critics and gaming fans.

But 1993’s Super Mario Bros. isn’t the first video game adaptation to be panned—1988’s Cyber Ninja was the first video game adaptation and has since become a hidden gem of sci-fi. You can now watch it on the Internet Archive.

Cyber Ninja Is Based On The Popular Namco Arcade Game

Cyber Ninja is a 1988 Japanese sci-fi action movie co-produced and released by Namco—best known for Elden Ring and Dark Souls series—at the Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival, as a video game adaptation of the same-name arcade title which was also developed and released by Namco. Originally titled Mirai Ninja in Japan, the original game was a massive success for Namco, as it was one of the most successful table arcades of the late 1980s in Japan. So naturally, it had to be adapted into a move.

Cyber Ninja Is The Terminator With Ninjas

Cyber Ninja now stands as the first Namco game to be adapted into a film, and its premise is as wild as many gaming narratives of the era. The narrative is set in the future in which a war is being waged between humans and cyborgs, and one of the elite cyber-ninjas of the enemy rebels goes rogue and sets out to assist the royal family in saving a captured princess.

It’s pretty standard stuff from the 1980s video games, except for the fact that the princess is supposed to be sacrificed to summon the cyborg legions’ digital overlord from another dimension.

Cyber Ninja Was Panned Upon Release, But Appreciated Today

The Cyber Ninja movie wasn’t really well-received by the critics and audiences in the years following its release. However, the advent of the internet and the strong feelings of nostalgia shed new light on the movie, which now has a historical significance in the digital community.

Not only does it contain some of the most interesting elements of 1980s cinematography, but it’s also one of the first movie adaptations of gaming material—so it only took moviemakers some 40 years to nail the recipe. Netflix might take another ten years on account of messing up The Witcher.

Cyber Ninja Followed ’80s Movie Trends

As for the aforementioned cinematography elements, Cyber Ninja is a combination of two of the most interesting cinematography genres of the ’80s: ninjas and cyborgs. Ninja movies were insanely popular in the 1980s, especially in Western Cinema. Movies like American Ninja and Enter the Ninja found massive audiences before falling into obscurity, and the same could be said for the cyborg movies.

1987’s RoboCop became an iconic movie of the ’80s and remains a classic in both action and sci-fi genres, but many other releases have been gnawed on by the teeth of time.

Cyber Ninja Deserves To Be Discovered By A New Generation

Namco apparently thought it would be a great idea to combine the two insanely popular genres of the time, and following the success of its video game, an adaptation seemed like a viable financial step. Sadly, transforming an interactive gaming experience into passive watching isn’t something that can be done so easily. But the nostalgia for the ’80s classics remains strong, and while Cyber Ninja remains a lost gem of the sci-fi genre, it really encapsulates the best of both worlds: ninjas and cyborgs.