Kicking gamers’ butts since 1989.
GENRE: Action platformer
RELEASE DATE: March 1989
Until Ninja Gaiden was released, 8-bit gamers had to get their story fix from RPGs or not at all. Stories for action and platforming titles were scant and usually involved some iteration of the “save the princess/the world/your mom” variety. For better and for worse, Ninja Gaiden introduced a new way of telling a story to the gaming industry: scripted, animated cut-scenes. Cut-scenes are now taken for granted and expected, but at the time, nobody knew what they were. It’s hard to overstate the impact of having bits of story bookend almost every level, and I’d be willing to bet even Tecmo had no idea that this cinematic way of telling stories would become the industry standard. In retrospect, Ryu’s quest for revenge against his father’s murderer, complete with plot twists and double-crossing, may not be original, but it was told with a visual flair unlike any gamers had seen at the time. The storytelling combined with the furious (and often infuriating) gameplay left gamers stunned, and today, Ninja Gaiden and its sequels are considered some of the most influential titles to emerge from the NES.
As the ninja Ryu Hayabusa, you travel to America to find the man who killed your father. In the process, you learn about an evil villain named “Jaquio” who, naturally, plans to take over the world using an ancient demonic power. Each stage is a set-piece, where you must overcome barrages of repeating enemies, all with different movement patterns and attacking styles. Your only help is your trusty sword, and the secondary weapons you can find in each level; such weapons include a flame shield, throwing stars, flame bursts, among others. Memorizing the enemies placements and movement patterns are key to conquering each level, as is learning how to jump effectively. There are some absolutely ridiculous jumps the game asks you to make, especially towards the end. Believe it or not, all long jumps can eventually be conquered through multiple deaths, profane outbursts, and devoting tons of time, precious time. What makes Ninja Gaiden for me is the pacing, of both the game and Ryu himself. It’s one of the fastest platforming series on the NES, if you know what you’re doing. No level is too long, and Ryu’s movements feel incredibly light and quick (as they should, since he’s a ninja).
Despite its influence, Ninja Gaiden still has its detractors. Some say it’s merely a sped-up version of Castlevania, which is an understandable argument. While Simon Belmont doesn’t move nearly as quickly as Ryu Hayabusa, the secondary weapon system, the constant barrage of enemies with differing patterns, and the cinematic feel all speak to Castlevania‘s overwhelming influence; even when Ryu gets hit, he flies backward, just like the Belmonts do in Castlevania (thanks for including that frustrating nugget, Tecmo). Others just complain about the blistering difficulty, especially in the latter half of the game. In my opinion, though, Ninja Gaiden expects you to overcome its challenge, and gives you the tactics to do so, unlike some games that barrage you with overwhelming difficulty to compensate for poor design. It’s a challenge that bears great rewards, if you can take it.
Yeah, Ninja Gaiden is pretty cool, though it’s nowhere near my favorite series for the NES. It has one standout blockbuster (Ninja Gaiden II), one solid, influential title (NG1), and one so-so ending (Ninja Gaiden III). But, much like with the original Legend of Zelda or Donkey Kong, one can’t deny Ninja Gaiden‘s impact on the gaming world at large; even if Ryu is Simon Belmont, ripped on speed, and wearing a ninja mask.
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9 replies on “#448 – Ninja Gaiden”
The cut scenes in this game still give me chills. The opening battle with Ryu’s father. Irene pulling the gun on Ryu. Foster interrogating Ryu.
“You know the answer to that.”
I only won this game once, and that was with a Game Genie. Even then it took me forever. The game is just that damn hard.
Could agree more about the opening cinematic – or really the cutscenes in general as they really helped provide a narrative for the action. This was a tough game – I actually beat the 2nd one first, and then came back to this first one and beat that.
everything was awesome about Ninja Gaiden. the cut scenes, the control, the music, ect. I’m a big fan of the ninja gaiden series for sure
Aye this is definitely one hard game. Though as you stated beatable with practice. This game made buying the NES worth every penny. The cut scenes are all burned into my memory and still go down as some of the most epic moments from my childhood.
I was disappointed in what the series became once it moved off the NES, but then again I am an old school gamer. That could be why I turn my nose at it.
loved the visuals in this game. i never could finish it off. one of the best looking platformers on the NES
I can get up to the end boss reliably, but if you lose on one part of the boss it sends you back to 6-1! I only beat the game once, but I can beat the first phase of of the final boss 100% of the time, the 2nd phase ,maybe 50%, and the 3rd phase keeps kicking my butt.
This game rules! So brutal, yet so much fun. Definitely hard, but not in a bad way. I loved all three of these games, and actually loved the one on the original XBOX more. It’s the only reason I bought that system and the only game I ever played on it. The Ninja Gaiden roots are definitely fun to come back to every so often. Everyone seemed to have this game back in the day. It seemed to appeal to everyone that picked up a NES controller. A top 10 title for sure and a must for any NES collection.
There was a jump in stage 5 of this that always undid me as a kid. I could get through on one life up to that point, then nada. I finally beat this last year through liberal (ab)use of save states. The second form of that final boss is brutal! Awesome game though.
I absolutely adore this game. It is such a rush when you blast through a stage. I have never before played a game where I have died so many times and yet I still come back for more almost to the point of narcissism. I am yet to get passed Stage 5-3 however. I can never get up those platforms without getting killed.
One day… One day… 😀