Ninja Gaiden
Box Shot
Ninja Gaiden
Platform: NES
Publisher: Tecmo
Designer: Tecmo
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1989
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

Ah, who can forget Ninja Gaiden? This was not only one of the first games that had a plot that evolved from the beginning of the game, it also had cinematic sequences telling this story. At the time, this was excellent stuff, and although it has been replaced by the use of video scenes in today's CD-ROM games, it still holds as a landmark. And the other main reason why this game is famous is because of that blasted level 6-2.

Let me explain a bit: the game opens with a duel between two Ninjas. One of them falls. Shortly afterward you learn that the loser was the father of one Ryu Hayabusa. In his final letter, Ryu's father tells him to go to American to seek an archaeologist by the name of Dr. Smith, and advises Ryu to take this Dragon Sword (supposedly carved from a dragon's fang!) From there, the game begins as a faster paced version of Castlevania. The life bars seem vaguely similar, and must of the game involves hitting little "containers" that will yield power-ups. Many of these give you various different weapons and powers, like shurikens, boomerang stars, a technique that allows you to swing your sword around when jumping (known as the Jump and Slash) and other neat powers. However, the game is much quicker than the more leisurely Castlevania series. Everything is fast and furious, with enemies running and jumping from every direction. Ryu can actually control his jumps in mid-air, and he can hang and jump off walls (although he can't climb them unless a ladder is present.)

On with the plot already, you say! Once you defeat the first level, Ryu is shot by a mysterious woman (and she would remain mysterious if the bloody instruction book never gave away her identity.) When Ryu wakes up, this girl hands him a statue and tells him to go. And the search for this Mr. Smith person continues. This is where the story is somewhat filled in: there are these two statues that a demon was trapped in many years ago. If put together on the correct night (which, wouldn't you know it, is coming up real soon?), then this evil demon is released. Naturally, this evil guy named Jaquio gets these statues, kidnaps the girl, and leaves Ryu for dead. Now, you must fight your way back up, save the world, save the girl, and find out just what the hell really happened to your father.

On a whole, the graphics aren't very impressive. The backgrounds are rather grainy and often look downright awful (like the South American rain forest.) The sprites usually only have a frame or two of animation, and Ryu himself looks kind of bland. However, the cinema scenes are decent, with plenty of action. The sounds themselves are just fine, but what really stands out is the music. Whether it be the frantic pace of the level 3 music (hey, you're chasing someone) or an emotional piece of music, you can feel every bit of the feeling that the composers were trying to convey. The excellent drum sound complement the score, and many of the tunes go right along with the fast-paced jumping and swinging. The play control is fine, but there is a rather large quibble I have about the level design...many times, as you are about to jump over a pit, a bat comes out of nowhere, and knocks you down to your death. This will happen many times, until you get your timing down correctly to dodge the creature. Worse yet are the moments when there are so many enemies on the screen that its absolutely impossible to not get hit (like Stage 6-2, mentioned earlier in the review.) In fact, if you reach the last boss in state 6-4, and you die, you are sent all of the way back to the beginning of 6-1, to go through the hardest stage of the game. Again. Patience is definitely required, although the unlimited continues will certainly help you get better.

Ninja Gaiden is indeed very frustrating. It took me countless hours of practice and memorization of enemy patterns to get the last boss, and even then I can't beat it without the save/load feature of NESticle. The only reason I currently own this game is because a friend gave it to me. He was sick of it, he threw it to the ground, and stomped on it a few times. At least the game works, except for that rattle (this is the same method in which I acquired Rebel Assault from him, by the way.) If you can stand the difficulty and have the patience to endure being knocked into pits countless times, then you'll soon find Ninja Gaiden to be an incredibly fun game, and one of the true NES classics in existence. Face it, it's just fun to run, jump, and attack your way through hoards of suicidal enemies! And if you can't do that, just make fun of the sometimes cheesy dialogue. Either way, you'll probably end up having more fun than frustration.