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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Ninja Gaiden NES


What can be said about this one? We've reviewed and talked about a lot of difficult games on this blog. There's the relentless assault of Contra...the remorseless stages of Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts...but it's safe to say that this one truly does put those games to shame. Contra can be done if you don't let it discourage you, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is just a harsh test of your nerves and reflexes...but then there's Ninja Gaiden. Possibly the hardest, most sadistic and emotionally obliterating games I've ever innocently put into the Nintendo. And I must admit, the only way I've ever seen the end of this game was by using save states on an emulator.

I regret nothing.


A fast-paced side-scroller, this Tecmo classic is a fun test of reflexes and first. Immediately after the first stage, this killer becomes all business, assuming that you got the main idea of the game throughout level one. Now, it's literally do or die.

30 Years Later and this is still epic

The in-game graphics of the game aren't too sharp, many of the backgrounds being somewhat indistinguishable, likewise for the sprites. There's also plenty of flickering due to high on-screen sprite index and fast moving action. But it is nice that the game doesn't slow down...kind of. However, Ninja Gaiden was one of few games at that time with cutscenes, which features pretty decent graphics, such as closeups of the protagonist and other characters.The opening "duel" sequence is especially notable for its epic graphic power for that time.

Musically, it's pretty good. Tecmo's always had good, complex musical scores, and this game is no exception. The music of the levels is very distinctive and catchy, something that remains with the players of this game for years. It also manages to be pretty epic in some situations.

This thing just looks ominous

Storywise, it tries. Basically an evil force is trying to unite two statues that contain a demon powerful enough to "destroy a nation." On top of that, the protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa is on a quest to find his father's killer and avenge his death with the aid of the Dragon Sword. There are also plenty of plot twists, as far as who's really involved with all of this...


As previously stated, Ninja Gaiden takes the form of a side-scroller, and a painfully difficult one at that. You run the course of the levels, taking out or avoiding enemies. To do this you must jump, duck, and climb to progress. You will collect pickups, special weapons and abilities. Most levels contain multiple areas, which differ vastly from each other. Once the end of an ACT is reached, you will take on a boss character. Most acts contain multiple levels with multiple areas. Losing a life takes you back to the beginning of the area you're in, and getting Game Over takes you back to the front of the level. Towards the end of the game, you will get to a point where game over can send you as far as three level-lengths back. I DID say this one was sadistic.

Once you've managed to beat the area boss, you've earned yourself a cutscene which uses state of the art (at the time) graphics and some questionable translations to further the storyline. Quite a treat and a rarity for a game from this time period. Though honestly they usually leave you with a lot more questions than answers.

Ryu sure it asking a lot of questions for someone who went on a quest based on half a story
Ryu's got a lot of cool ninja moves to aid him in quest to stop the evil. Your character runs forward, backwards, ducks, jumps, climbs ladders, and clings to walls. He can attack while ducking and while in the air. You can also perform special abilities, such as throwing ninja stars by pushing up and the attack button. You can do this standing or while in the air, but unfortunately, not while ducking. A large part of this game would be Ryu's ninja-tastic ability to cling to walls. Do do this, you jump towards a wall, and Ryu will automatically cling to it. I know what you're thinking and yes, that does make for frequent inconvenience. But it can also save you from a plunging death. With some basic maneuverability, you can jump on and off the wall, gaining height each time and scale the height of the wall.


Your normal enemies will be various flavors of assassin, monsters, wild animals, and...gun-wielding militia personnel. Why them? Who knows. All normal (non-boss) enemies just take one swipe of a sword, or one hit of a projectile to take care of. However, this does not by any means make them easy. One reason would be that some enemies are very quick or are firing a bazooka at you. Another reason would be that although they don't sustain more damage, some enemies can deal a lot more damage than others. Also, since Ryu is thrown back when he is struck, it's very easy to be knocked off a cliff. To make matters worse, Ryu, unlike protagninists in other games, does NOT flash for more than a second after getting hit, allowing you to get absolutely ravaged should you get ganged up on.

A ninja, a punk, a basball bat wielding maniac and demon dog, just a typical American street
And possibly the worst part of all of this is that there is likely no game that respawns enemies as badly as this one. You can literally get yourself into a still position where you can kill the same enemy and infinite amount of times in a row. This makes back tracking doing your maneuvers very dangerous, and often inefficient. How do you deal with this? You...don't, really. Good luck with it.

While fighting a boss, you must strike him enough times with your sword or weapon until his health bar depletes, which is located underneath yours, and is displayed throughout the entire level. Boss characters grow very difficult and can give great amounts of damage per attack. Each boss character has their own abilities and style of attack, usually forcing you to fall to them multiple times until you learn their ways.


You'll be given several items to help you on your way. While it's still not nearly enough to make this Godless piece of media anything that could jokingly be called fair, we'll still mention them. Items are held in levitating containers that take on many forms, such as lanterns, insects, and candles, and you extract them simply by striking the containers. Some of them are just for points, others will give you the power it takes to use your special abilities. There is also the rare gift of life potion, which will replenish a good amount of your health. Another specific item will cause all enemies to freeze where they are, giving you a very small amount of time to progress reasonably uninhibited. Beware, however, the frozen enemies can still hurt you if touched.


Another aspect of the game that will help you are the weapons you will be granted. They each have their own unique functions and uses.

Ninja Star - A standard projectile and staple of ninjas, everywhere. Useful in most all situations

Spiral Sword - Push the attack button while jumping and you'll slice your blade through the air as you spin, destroying an enemy who has the misfortune to be there when you land. Good for jumping over an abyss to an enemy-choked surface.

♪And it burns burns burns burns the ring of fire♫
Ring of Fire - A huge ring of fire is blasted out in a forward and upward direction, destroying all it its path. Takes quite a bit of energy to use. Good for enemies above you.

Mega Star - A huge throwing star, this has a boomerang effect, and will stay on the screen until it touched you again, so you can get plenty of use out of it if you're pretty good with maneuvers. Goes through enemies, needs a bit of energy, though.

Fire Protector - Flames revolve around your character, destroying enemies as you touch them, and providing protection. Lasts for a decent amount of time, but it activates as soon as you pick it up, and eliminates your previous weapon/power.


No amount of text and pictures can truly express just how devastatingly difficult this game is. For a game that offers unlimited continues, it truly is something that stands for just what classic NES gaming was all about. It is something you could spend your entire life on, while offering less than two hours worth of gameplay, assuming you are flawless. But that's the thing about classic NES games. That kind of assumption will always be meant with patronizing sneers, and that can't get more true with regards to Ninja Gaiden. Anybody who's ever tried it will tell you the same thing: If you decide you want to give it shot, you'd better and good and used to this screen.


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