Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Year released: 1989
Genre: Side Scrolling Platformer
Last played: 1/1/2016
Released by Techmo in 1989 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Ninja Gaiden remains a gem in the systems large of catalogue of games. The game is notoriously tough in the latter stages and is seen as a challenge among old gamers and new. Ninja Gaiden is known as Shadow Warriors in Europe (There were a few games that had the name change treatment in the 80s) but in this review i will refer to it as Ninja Gaiden as this is its actual name!
Placing the cartridge into the system and switching on the trusted NES I am instantly greeted with a standard (well for the 80s) title screen. No messing around here, no large list of producers, game designers, super dooper sound creation team, just the title screen! Like most games from this era this was because of the lack of space on the cart the designers had to work with. Although Ninja Gaiden was different, as i was a bit slow on unravelling the control pad (yes both pads found that way of entangling each other…..an event which ive never witnessed i might add) i was greeted with a intro to the game. Like segments from a comic book Ninja Gaiden has a well put together introduction to the game giving you enough information to be pulled into the story and the job at hand. The main character in Ninja Gaiden is a young man called Ryu. After finding a note left from his father you must travel to America with the legendary Dragon Sword to find your fathers killer.
Pressing start i begin through the first stage of the game. Looking like a standard platform game i soon realise that Ninja Gaiden was going to be a whole lot more, visuals, sounds and control instantly make me aware i am in for a treat. This is a well designed first stage, it gets you into the game and teaches the mechanics quickly without feeling like you need to keep referring to the manual for help. You instantly feel immersed in the game with a nicely rounded level of difficulty. The game moves at a good fast pace, I soon realised that i needed to learn enemy patterns and my reactions needed to be sharpened (after all ive been playing forgiving modern games recently) Collecting power ups by slashing lanterns (or are they signs?) I realised I can use these to my advantage on the poor incoming enemies. The screen layout is also very well put together, with the top part of the screen dedicated to your health, enemy health, time limit, stage number and power up gauge (shown in numbers as well as a power up icon) This gives the player an easy to read description of how well you are doing at a particular time through the stage.
Halfway through the stage I notice the music and sounds have been created superbly and well thought about. I found myself humming a few of the tracks after i had finished playing through particular levels a few times. The graphics are typical NES graphics for the time but with the ability of Ryu jumping and flipping off objects (and did i mention slashing up things…yes whilst in the air) the visuals seem to stand out even more and don’t feel like lazy background art added in for the sake of it but part of the game itself.
After I beat Stage 1-1 with a fairly “ok” run, the game would then throw me into an introduction boss on Stage 1-2. Credit to the game designers for creating the first boss which gets you to use timing and pattern watching right off the bat. As i found further in the game, this will be a huge part of Ninja Gaiden, learn patterns and be quick with the buttons. I dispatched the first boss with no problem and that was it for stage 1.
Thinking i was going to be greeted with more of the same, (come on Stage 2 bring it on) I found another cut scene. Again it probably doesn’t seem like much playing a game in 2016 or infact most games from the mid nineties onwards but this game is from 1989. Greeted with more comic book style visuals and revealing more of the story’s plot i am now REALLY wanting to play on.
OK so stage 2, already the game is making me work. The first time im needing to jump over various holes and dodging enemy fire. Learning when to grab hold of walls, waiting for the coast to be clear and dropping down to destroy enemies is a must for this stage. The music is again fantastic on the stage which adds to the adrenalin rush as i am greeted by faster moving enemies forcing me to make mistakes. Just when I think I’m nailing enemy patterns and the level layout I am introduced to video games notoriously annoying animal. Yes im talking about the bat. The bat decides to move in such a way you need precision timing to take this thing out. I always find (like with the other flying animals in this game) they always hit me in mid air causing me to fall down a hole or into another enemy. The upside though like nearly all enemies apart from the bosses you only need one hit to destroy them. Stage 2 is longer than the first with what seems like more screens, moving up and across through the level I found I was needing to perfect the wall jumping and slashing, again credit to the game designers on this. Stage 2-2 and I am now feeling the game is getting warmed up. Jumping over ramparts and landing on smaller platforms with enemies guarding them often causes me to fall off after landing on the enemy with a mistimed slash. Also enemies run at you with a fast pace and chase back after you once they have hit the end of the screen. Realising that now im needing to just jump and dodge enemies and choose when to attack them adds another gaming element into Ninja Gaiden which generally causes me to make a human error. Using lessons learned from the previous level I find myself using the power ups and choosing what power up to use for certain situations again fantastic game design. With stage 2 boss defeated who needed mix of power ups and a lot of “ducking” im greeted with more comic book style cut scenes before stage 3.
The level learning curve and enemy difficulty now increases with each stage. Levels get longer and more enemies are thrown my way and yes the poor reliable NES pad gets squeezed incredibly tightly during lets just say some difficult moments of the game. Stage 6-2 is particularly difficult and has a well known tough jumping section in which timing and reactions are everything. By the time you reach the two phase end boss on stage 6-4 you know you have been in a challenge and played through one of the toughest NES games released. Unfortunately I cannot add my own comments on beating the game as i have run out of time playing the game and writing this review but i will try and add to this review in the coming months when I finally beat the game.
In brief Ninja Gaiden is a well designed platform game. You will need to have patience and learn enemy patterns as well as adjusting the games steep learning curve in later stages. Graphics and sound are fantastic for the time and the game will keep you coming back for more. This truly is a classic video game not just in the NES library of games but across all platforms.
Final Score: Own it!