A version of this article originally posted February 21, 2013.
Part man. Part machine. All ninja
Once upon a time, the term cyborg called to mind man-machine combinations like Robocop. Those augmented humans boasted the firepower of tanks, but had the limited mobility to match. Flash forward to today, where the current craze in the fictional cyborg community that makes Robocop look like an Apple II. These killers have robotic implants, but that doesnt stop them from learning the art of ninjutsu, or at least the part where you sneak up on someone and stab them in the back.
Currently cyborg ninjas rule the roost in gaming, combining two concepts players love into one silent, deadly, cybernetic package. To prepare yourself for the launch of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z--2014's leading cyborg ninja zombie killer--I've rounded up the best examples of robo-eyed assassins gaming has ever known. So charge up your sword as we pay tribute to enhanced ninjas like
A member of the Tekken roster since the original entry, Yoshimitsu has retained an air of mystery fitting for a ninja. Weve never really seen his face, his motives and age are hard to discern, and we cant even nail down exactly how many cyborg attachments he has. Based on how he can spin his right arm with unnatural speed (he often uses it like a helicopter), at least that appendage is mechanized, which is enough for a spot on this list.
Though his looks might scare some, at heart Yoshimitsu is less a stealthy murderer than a giving goofball, and thats true no matter the timeline. Whether in Tekken or guest starring in Soucalibur, Yoshimitsu enjoys a good laugh, and is often seen sharing his tournament winnings with the common folk. Its also admirable that hes somehow still a cyborg in Soulcalibur. As implausible as it might seem, his wooden right arm in SC functions almost exactly the same as its modern day equivalent. But weve learned to not question a series with lizard men and swords that can blink.
Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke (Mortal Kombat)
These guys were some of the earliest gaming combinations of ninjas and robotics, though their look owes more to Predator than Robocop. All three of these Lin Kuei warriors were skilled in the deadly arts, but that wasnt going to cut it in a world where Shao Khan can tear the fabric of reality with his bare hands. The clan elders decided to step up their game with robotic enhancements, including dreadlocks that must have some useful function (that we can't possibly fathom).
Sektor and Cyrax took the upgrade willingly, while Smoke unsuccessfully tried to reject the procedure due to one of the side effects: it destroys your soul. What did these ninjas get for paying that price? Energy nets, teleportation, and chests with a storage capacity akin to Futuramas Bender. These guys werent the stealthiest of killers, but well give them extra credit for having tech powerful enough to blow up the Earth.
Cyborg Ninja (Metal Gear Solid)
There were cyborg ninjas before Metal Gear Solid came to the PlayStation in 1998, but this robotic ninjutsu practitioner was arguably the first to make the trend famous. At the start of MGS, it seemed hard to believe anyone could be more intimidating than Solid Snake--but Cyborg Ninja surpassed the Foxhound agent immediately with the trail of bloody corpses he left in his wake. Snake was barely able to hold his own against the assassin, and all computer expert Otakon could do was wet his pants in fear.
Beneath his striking white mask and blazing red eye, Cyborg Ninja had the pathos and secret pain youd expect from a Metal Gear character. He was once Foxhound agent Gray Fox, but had been transformed against his will into the cyber monstrosity/badass we all know and love. Eventually he worked against his programming and was committed to stopping instruments of destruction like Metal Gear Rex. In the end, helping Snake defeat the Metal Gear would cost Cyborg Ninja his life, but his sacrifice is fondly remembered by Snake and gamers everywhere.
Hayate (Shadow of the Ninja)
Natsumes 1990 NES predicts a future that might still come true by 2029, but doesnt seem all that likely. America has been conquered by Lord Garudo, and can only be freed by the combined ninja might of Hayate and is non-enhanced colleague Kaede. The awesomely non-sensical story makes sense for the era it was created, and the same goes for how Hayates cybernetic powers feel like an afterthought.
The US cover art clearly shows Hayate is equipped with a robotic left arm, but it isnt all that clear in the games simple graphics, nor with his shuriken and sword skills that seem pretty average by ninja standards. Even more confusing is the fact that the UK box art also has Hayate with a cyborg arm, only this time its his right appendage. It makes you hope for an HD remake, if for no other reason than to clear up this discrepancy.
Yuki (The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai)
Originally a 360 Indie game, this XBLA success story reveled in the hardcore fun of hacking up cyborg ninjas--along with boring, regular cyborgs. The protagonist, a dishwasher turned samurai for the dystopia, wanted to free the world from cyborg oppression, as well as avenge the death of his sister, Yuki. Unfortunately for the dishwasher, one of his most challenging cyborg foes turned out to be his reanimated sister, and he had to de-animate her (so to speak) in his quest to save the world.
Sequels have a way of fixing tragedies like killing your brainwashed sister, and Yuki returned as a co-star in The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile. Now that she was back from the grave, players got to control her devastating combination of sword and chainsaw attacks. Old-school horror fans no doubt appreciated her Evil Dead-like appendage, and Yuki turned that unwanted enhancement back on her enemies with finesse matching her brothers. Perhaps she misses her right hand, but its hard to argue with the results.
Strider Hiryu (Strider)
Strider might be relegated to cameos and fighting game rosters these days, but there was a time when his futuristic adventures ruled both the Genesis and arcades. The Genesis version was one of the most expensive of its time--clocking in at a cool $80--but it was worth it for the privilege of cutting down robots left and right with Striders electrified blade. Like a ninjariffic Blade Runner, Strider hunted whoever he was told to hunt, and dispatched them down with unmatched skill.
Some sticklers might object and say Strider does have any implants, but merely uses futuristic equipment. We dont buy it. Not only is his grip strength suspect for an unaugmented human, theres the fact that he can call upon robotic animals at a moments notice during a fight. We dont see him holding a remote, so the only logical explanation is that he has some sort of receiver built into his body somewhere. Its just like a ninja to hide his tech upgrades in plain sight.
Yaiba (Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z)
Yaiba has quite the pedigree for this list. Cyborgs and ninjas are pretty high on the list of disposable game enemies, but these days zombies are the hot trend when it comes to filler bad guys. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z has the creative fearlessness to combine all those clichs into one pissed off assassin. Hes a reanimated, cybernetically altered ninja, and hes cutting through waves of other zombies to get revenge.
You see, Yaiba got his start as one of the faceless ninjas that Ninja Gaidens Ryu Hayabusa kills by the dozens. The newly modified Yaiba is stronger than ever and is ready to hunt down Ryu, but his vengeful quest seems to conflict with an ill-timed zombie outbreak. Can Yaiba cut through enough zombies to finally take another shot at Ryu Hayabusa?
Adam Jensen (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
If youre a fan of the brainless fun inherent in chopping down dudes as a cyborg ninja, Deus Exs introspective analysis of the price one pays for the benefits of cybernetic technology is a bit of a buzz kill. Adam Jensen was given a new lease on life after becoming a cyborg, but hes continually questioning the moral rightness of his upgrades, which really gets in the way of having mechanical arms. And its even more of a waste when Adam could be realizing his full potential as a cyborg ninja.
Deus Ex: Human Revolutions impressive openness means you can approach a stage in many different ways, but we dont understand why youd choose anything but the path of the ninja. If you play the level right, Adam can sneak into a building, grab what he needs, and sneak back out, silently cutting the throats of his enemies all the while. Sure, Adam hasnt really earned his diploma from ninja school, but his talent for stealth proves that some of the best cyborg ninjas are self-taught.
Raiden (Metal Gear Solid)
Raiden demonstrates that cybernetic upgrades dont just make you a better ninja--they make you more likable too. Raiden was one of the most hated characters in gaming, mostly because he abruptly replaced Snake as the lead in Metal Gear Solid 2, though it didnt help that he was prone to fits of whining. Even though he showed flashes of swordsmanship akin to the beloved Cyborg Ninja, fans rejected him with a passion. Perhaps thats why MGS creator Hideo Kojima decided to try and reform Raiden in the fans eyes, by going all the way with his Cyborg Ninja tribute.
When Raiden burst back onto the stage in Metal Gear Solid 4, he had transitioned into an unbeatable cyborg ninja. You can read the gory details of his transformation here, but the important part is that, from the neck down, Raiden was now an robotic killing machine. His unplayable appearances in MGS4 won him so many new fans, he earned his rightful place as the star of his own game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.
Zero (Anarchy Reigns)
Believe it or not, Raiden isnt the only cyborg ninja that appeared in a 2013 title developed by Platinum Games. Januarys Anarchy Reigns has a virtually all cyborg cast, from chainsaw lover Jack to the brute force Big Bull, so theres obviously room for a man of Zeros ninja skills. Like everyone else in the game, Zero is an unrepentant killer, but he does his job with a certain delicacy.
Zero pops in and out of the campaign hunting down AR hero Jack, holding his own for some time until Zero ultimately met the same fate as most people that challenge Jack (grisly death). Zero is also playable in the multiplayer, where people can wield his twin katanas Onimaru and Juzumaru. You know a guy has cut a lot of people in half for money when his swords have names.
Zer0 (Borderlands 2)
Yes, you read that right, there is more than one cyborg ninja named Zero, though this Borderlands character mixes things up by replacing the o with the number. Zer0 joined a team of Vault Hunters searching for loot after growing bored with killing people who wont even fight back. While Zer0 isnt against using a gun, hes more inclined to stab enemies in the back with a laser sword after distracting them with a hologram version of himself.
Zer0 takes the silence of his role somewhat seriously, but he finds clever, internet age workarounds. He never talks, instead replacing speech with pre-recorded haikus and emoticons that pop up on his faceplate. Seeing him text FML when downed fits with the dark comedy of the Borderlands world, as does the fact Zer0 only has four fingers per hand a la Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny. At least youll have a nice chuckle before he disembowels you.
Kai Leng (Mass Effect)
Cybernetic implants are a dime a dozen in the world of Mass Effect, used by soldiers and politicians alike. Many became more efficient killers thanks to the wonders of technology, but Kai Leng took cyber assassinations to a new level. He was so talented that, after a decorated stint as an N7 marine, the Earth-born soldier eventually became the most trusted killer in the employ of the Illusive Man. It seems the two bonded over a shared distaste for aliens.
Kai pops up in some Mass Effect side fiction, but he makes his greatest impact battling Commander Shepard on and off through much of Mass Effect 3. Kai chafes at Illusive Mans decree that he not murder Shepard, but Leng battles Shepards team regardless, ultimately leading to one of the tougher boss fights in the game. Leng ends up losing to Shepard, but youve got to give him credit for dying with a sword in his hand.
The future of ninjutsu
Did we miss any cybernetic assassins of note? Tell us in the comments, but before you do, be sure youre suggesting a cyborg ninja and not a robot ninja. Itll take too long to explain intrinsic differences between the two, so do your research first, ok?