Since it was first released in 1988, Ninja Gaiden has become one of the most successful franchises of all time. We'll look at the history of the original and discuss the impact that it had, all while reviewing the game as if it's being played for the first time.
The History Of Ninja Gaiden
Tecmo had already achieved success on the NES through titles like Rygar, Mighty Bomb Jack and Star Force, but Ninja Gaiden would help to cement its legacy on the console. Given that Mighty Bomb Jack had its fair share of issues, hiring Hideo Yoshizawa as director of the new franchise seemed a bit out of place. It ended up being a chance for Yoshizawa to redeem himself. Initially, Yoshizawa wanted to create a fighting game of sorts, but changed his mind and created a platformer instead that drew major inspiration from the Castlevania series. Additionally, he wrote the story surrounding the game himself and incorporated a large number of cutscenes that were designed to draw the player into the story behind the character that they were playing. This was a first for the NES and would help to ensure its inclusion in future titles on the platform.
With the help of lead artist Masato Kato, Yoshizawa was not only able to craft a unique character that didn't fit the typical ninja mold, but he was also able to create beautiful cutscenes that mimicked the pages of popular Japanese manga at the time. This not only helped to set the game apart from its arcade version, but also allowed the game's designers to push the limits of the NES. Like many titles in its day, Ninja Gaiden had its fair share of issues when it came to direct translation. Due to the limited amount of space on the screen, Tecmo's America division would have to take the rough translations of the story sent to them from Japan and substitute words so that the story still matched while fitting on the screen. Additionally, the America division would have to edit out many key elements of the game due to the steep restrictions placed onto it by Nintendo of America - references to God and hexagrams were removed. Despite all the hurdles that Yoshizawa and his team had to overcome, Ninja Gaiden would go on to have tremendous success, achieving the number three spot in Nintendo Power magazine for the months of July and August.
What Makes Ninja Gaiden Unique
While it incorporated a lot of elements found in a typical side-scrolling game developed by Tecmo, Ninja Gaiden was different in many ways. Unlike Tecmo's other titles, Ninja Gaiden would be programmed specifically for the NES and Famicom respectfully, rather than being a simple port of the arcade version like other company titles at the time. Furthermore, enemies would be placed in such a way that fighting them was made difficult by the fact that you could fall to your demise if you made a simple misstep while engaging them in combat. Additionally, both player and enemy movements are much faster than those found in typical side-scrolling games at the time. The game also allowed the player to climb objects within the game in order to progress and avoid enemies, rather than simply jumping from one side to the other. This not only provided the game with a vertical element that wasn't found in other side scrollers, but it also caused a greater deal of difficulty for the player due to the varied movements of enemies on screen. To that end, enemies could shoot projectiles at the player even when they were not on the screen, causing players to have to think more in depth about how they approached every situation due to the uncertainty that they faced. While games at the time introduced the player to the character's story through the instruction manual, Ninja Gaiden used over twenty minutes worth of detailed cutscenes, something that wasn't present in any title on the market at that time.
Reviewing A Classic
One of the first things you'll notice about Ninja Gaiden is its wonderful soundtrack. Not only does it help to draw you into the story, but it also underscores your emotions throughout the game. When you fall to your demise, you are greeted with a tune that brings you back to the typical arcade while also spurring you on to play more. While you are greeted with a game that does follow the Castlevania mold in that it allows you to gather powerups and launch projectiles at your enemies, this is where the similarities end. It separates itself from other side-scrolling platformers by increasing the speed of both you and your enemies and places your enemies in such a way that it is nearly impossible for you to quickly memorize any given level and beat it. Unlike Super Mario, your screen is flooded with enemies that you must navigate past or destroy, all while avoiding traps and pitfalls on your way to completing a given level. While the extra health and powerups might make you feel invincible at times, this feeling is quickly shattered when you realize that your enemies only get tougher as the game goes along. Additionally, you always have to be on your toes because your enemies can strike when you least expect it, even when you can't see them. While the speed change is something that does take some getting used to, it feels more natural and the game seems to flow much better as a result. While it can certainly be challenging at times, Ninja Gaiden provides you with a rewarding experience that isn't present often enough in games today.
Tips and Tricks
-On the third level of the tower found in Area 5-3 you can farm extra lives by grabbing the one-up present there and retracing your steps.
-Use your shuriken to clear out unseen enemies and pick up items before you jump across to another area.
-Bomberhead's weapon can be destroyed to make it easier to defeat him.
-Staying under the columns during the Kelbeross fight will prevent you from being hit by any projectiles.
-Wait in certain areas for enemies to cross your path before you jump to avoid unnecessary damage.
If you're a fan of games like Castlevania you'll absolutely love what the NES version of Ninja Gaiden has to offer. It's a game that you can play many times over and still feel as if you haven't truly experienced it all. If you have a Switch and a Nintendo Online account you'll be happy to know that you can try it out for yourself right now.