Game Review: Ninja Gaiden
Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden Title Screen

  • Publisher: Tecmo
  • Developer: Tecmo
  • Released: May 1989
  • Game Type: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Product Number: NES-NG-USA
  • Rarity: E (Very Common)
    Game Ratings:
    OVERALL: 8

    Box Scan
    Ninja Gaiden Screen 1 Ninja Gaiden Screen 2

    Another one of the classic gaming series on the NES has to be the Ninja Gaiden trilogy. Originally known as Ninja Ryukenden, Tecmo brought the first game in the series to the NES in 1989 and introduced gamers to what would become the trademarks of the series, such as fast action, catchy music, and a story that unfolded with the use of cinematic cut scenes, which were unheard of at the time. This game was a major hit, even though it made many gamers throw their controllers in anger with its high difficulty, but despite that does it still prove to be a good first chapter in the saga?

    The series centers around a young ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. One night under a full moon, Ryu's father faces off with a mysterious ninja in a duel, but does not survive. Soon after, Ryu finds his father's final letter, which tells him if he does not return from the duel, Ryu must take the family Dragon Sword and seek out his archaeologist friend, Walter Smith. Ryu begins his journey to avenge his father's death and find out why his father battled the ninja, but soon finds himself on a much greater mission, one with the fate of the world at stake.

    Ryu's mission covers six Acts, each with two to four levels. On his journey, Ryu is constantly attacked by enemies from all directionsm, plus he has a time limit to get through each stage. Ryu's main defense is his Dragon Sword, which has a decent range and can kill most foes in one hit. Ryu also has the ability to stick to walls like Spider-Man, and climb ladders. He can't climb walls without a ladder present, however, so he often has to flip back and forth between walls to get to the top. In addition to his sword, Ryu can also make use of special abilities called Ninja Arts. Scattered throughout the levels are special containers which Ryu must slash to find the icon that gives him a certain Ninja Art, such as the Windmill Throwing Star(a shruiken that flies back and forth), the Fire Wheel(fireballs that fly diagonally upward), and the Jump 'n Slash(he spins with his sword). You can only have one Ninja Art at a time, but you can switch by collecting different icons. Each attack also requires a certain amount of Ninja points, which you also need to collect from the containers. Other power-ups you'll find include a time freeze, which paralyzes enemies for several seconds, medicene to regain your strength, and the Invincible Fire Wheel, which creates a sheild of swirling fireballs to protect you. The shear amount of baddes will keep Ryu busy, but the biggest threats are a group called the Malice Four, and Ryu has to defeat one member of the clan at the end of each level. Also, each time you clear a stage, you see a cinema scene which continues the story. Ryu soon finds out that his father's murder was just the tip of the iceburg in a much bigger plot.

    Graphics & Sounds:
    The graphics in Ninja Gaiden are a mixed bag. The stages are presented in an isometric view which does a good job to give the game a pseudo-3D appearence. Some of the levels look plain, and others suffer from some blockiness. The background of the Amazon level is especially blah. As least the levels are pretty varied with different terrain. The sprites look decent and sport some good animation, even though many (Ryu included) only have a few frames of animation. The cinema scenes look excellent, with detailed close-ups of the characters and good backgrounds. Some of the cinemas even feature some great parallax scrolling. The psycadelic light show that occurs when you lose your last life is a bit bothersome but fortunately its quickly over.

    As mentioned above Ninja Gaiden is known for its excellent music. The fast-paced music fits well with the frantc pace of the game and each of the memorable background tunes really sets the mood for its respective stage. The tune that plays when you die is also nice (and you will be hearing it a lot). Even the music in the cut scenes is great, also setting the proper emotion for each intermission. The sound effects are good too, such as the swish of your sword.

    The controls work for the most part. Using your special attacks is simple (hold Up and press B) and there's very little lag in the movements. The jumping controls are okay; you can change your direction in mid-air, but oftentimes when try to jump to a platform behind you, you don't turn around and end up doing a backflip into a pit. If you end up stuck to a wall with no ladder, you have to try and jump your way up to the top, which can be too hard to do for most players.

    Challenge & Playability:
    Naturally one can't talk about Ninja Gaiden 1 without mentioning it's high challenge level. Simply put, this game is very difficult and very frustrating. Enemies will swarm at you from all sides, and there are some spots where enemies spawn endlessly, no matter how many times you kill them. At some points when you jump over gaps, bats and birds just happen to fly into you, causing you to fall to your death. Also since you can't climb walls in this game you can find yourself stuck on walls, taking hits or being unable to climb out of a pit. Not only that you're defenseless on walls as well, unable to attack. Finally, if you get past Level 6-2 (the toughest level in the game), but die while fighting the end bosses, you have to start back at 6-1 and have to go through the toughest stage again. On the other hand, the bosses are rather easy to beat, once you learn what to do.

    Fortunately despite the extreme frustration, the game action of Ninja Gaiden still manages to draw you in. The fast and furious gameplay is well-done and addicting, and many times when you die, it'll convince you to try again and see if you can get get father. The game story itself is pretty good with some nice plot twists, also urging you to keep going to see what happens next. Desipte its toughness, once you learn all the patterns with enough practice this game can be beaten. Fourtunately you have unlimited continues, so you don't have to start all the way over, unless you turn the power off.

    So despite its flaws and "pull-your-hair-out" frustraton, Ninja Gaiden still proves to be a worthy title. The non-stop action is just plain fun and never gets boring. Although the two sequels that followed it fixes most of the problems here, this is still a great cartridge that should definetly be checked out. You may swear at the game a few times, but if you can stand the difficulty, you'll still have a good time nonetheless.

    - Review posted on February 6, 2007