Total time played: 8 hours
Short review: A puzzle game disguised as a fast paced action game featuring revolutionary cut scenes and some of the most stress inducing levels on the NES.
Interesting links related to Ninja Gaiden
- Speedrun (12minutes 29seconds)
- Speedrun w/ no sword
- Video Review (CG Undertow)
- Video Review (Angry Video Game Nerd)
The game is pretty straight forward, A jumps, B swings your sword. Once you have these basics down you can begin to add in some other moves. The games features a wall jump mechanic that allows Ryu to reach high spots by jumping back and forth between two walls. Ryu will automatically attach to a wall if you jump into it and the just tap left/right to jump back and forth.
Also, throughout each stage there are stationary items that can be hit with your sword that drop goodies. Some drop ninpo (ninja magic) and others drop secondary weapons. This is equivalent to the heart and sub-weapon system in the Castlevania series. To use your secondary weapon you tap UP + B. The secondary weapons include everything from ninja stars to fire to super fast sword slashes.
The secondary weapons are not needed to beat any part of the game but the right weapon can turn certain stages from near impossible to doable. The key here is to know which weapon is needed in each situation. Several times I had a good weapon and hit the wrong stationary item and replaced it with a crappy weapon; memorizing where all of the powerups are located becomes more important the further into the game you go.
The difficulty in Ninja Gaiden is through the roof. This game is always one of the first mentioned when someone refers to “Nintendo hard”. But, with some patience and practice and lots of memorization the game becomes very manageable. It is never unfair although it does a few things that make it harder than most.
- When you get hit you fly backwards, the game designers always seem to put enemies in the perfect spot to where you fly back and land in a hole.
- Most games feature a cool down period after you get hit to allow you time to get out of danger. Not Ninja Gaiden; if you get hit you are never invincible to allow you time to escape danger or catch your breath. Several times I would get hit, fly back, hit another enemy and then fly back into yet another enemy or into a hole.
- Enemies re-spawn quicker than any game I can think of. If a bird appears on screen and you stand still and kill it as soon as the bird is dead another bird appears. This works for all enemies, if you are in a bad spot and kill an enemy another is coming at you before you have time to react. This means you have to know all the safe spots to stand to kill every enemy. The farther in the game you get the more this becomes important.
Visuals and Music
Some of the levels look better than others but overall Ninja Gaiden features some very memorable graphics. Each stage has a unique look and no matter the number of enemies on screen the game never slows down.
The game features an actual story with dialogue and beautiful cut scenes that are easily the best in the NES library. Ninja Gaiden is a rare exception of a game that is known for what happens between levels as much as the actual gameplay.
The music is absolutely classic. I don’t think it is top 5 best music on the NES but it is definitely top 10.
My First Time
I don’t remember the first time I played Ninja Gaiden but I do have a strong memory from the 5th grade when my brother, my friend Nathan and I rented Ninja Garden and obsessively played all weekend on my families floor model console TV.
We would take turns, each time we would get a game over the control would be passed to the next person, as we got further into the game sometimes the game overs would happen as often as every 30 seconds.
After 2 days of playing we finally reached level 5. We played over and over for at least an hour when things got out of hand. Nathan died and his anger was expressed in the form of his fist into the control panel of the TV. From that point forward the remote control quit working on the tv. I decided it was time to give the game a rest and reached up and pushed in the power button. Nathan grabbed my hand before I could release the button turning off the system, he said he could beat it and wanted one more try. For the next 20 minutes I sat with my finger holding in the power button as Nathan tried over and over at level 5 and failing.
We finally had a MacGuyver moment and leaned one of my parents heavy encyclopedia volumes in front of the Nintendo holding in the power button. We tried for another hour before finally giving up. Level 5 was impossible.
My College Experience
My freshman year of college I moved into a spare room at my aunt’s house which was close to the college campus where I was attending school. I hooked up my 13″ tube TV and my surround sound system and would play NES with chip tunes blaring loudly from my speakers. I hadn’t played Ninja Gaiden in 8 years and decided that now that I was older and had hundreds more hours of gaming experience I could knock it out.
I rolled through the first 4 levels and after some work I was able to patiently learn level 5 and get to stage 6 which I had never seen. As it turns out, stage 6-2 is probably the hardest stage of any game on the NES. I left my NES paused for a week and would try dozens of times every day after class but could never get past 6-2. I eventually had to call it quits leaving the game unbeaten again.
Fast forward 16 years and I finally decided to give Ninja Gaiden another shot. The main reason is that two friends of mine recently beat the game. I figured if two friends of mine can beat the game then so can I.
I now have a Retron 5 allowing me to create save states and that keeps me from having to leave the NES on for weeks while I play the game. I didn’t cheat, I would create a save state when I was done playing the game based on where I started when continuing.
This time I really struggle with stage 4-3 and the twin dogs boss at the end. After two days of trying I finally got passed and got through level 5 quickly even though I struggled with it so much as a child.
When I finally got back to level 6-2 I was hoping that I could breeze through it now that I’m older, more mature and more confident in my NES abilities. I was wrong, so very wrong.
I wish I had kept count at how many times I died, I would bet it was easily 500+. I finally gave in and watched some YouTube videos on how to get past the stage. This is where I learned something about the game I had never thought about. The game is portrayed as a fast paced action game but it is actually more of a puzzle game. Every time you play the game the enemies always follow the same patterns and appear in the same spots. Even though the first few stages are easy enough to run through the later stages should be taken very slowly and you will need to memorize where to stand and where to jump and which magic to use to get past each stage.
Once I realized this I was able to zen out and calmly take stage 6-2 a few steps at a time until I was able to get through it most of the time with no trouble. 6-3 was tough but after the gauntlet of 6-2 it didn’t take too long to master it with my new found realization that Ninja Gaiden is a puzzle game, not an action-platformer.
But, the most annoying challenge still was yet to come. The final boss of the game is fought in 3 waves. If you die on any of the waves you are transported back to stage 6-1 even if you still have extra lives.
So, what this means is that if you don’t beat all 3 forms of the final boss on your first try you have to fight your way through 6-1, 6-2 and 6-3 just for another attempt. The only consolation prize is that if you beat a form of the boss you start at the next form the next time you get back to the boss.
Everything I read online said form 1 was very easy. I did not find this to be the case. It probably took me 15 tries to finally knock him out. That wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to play through all of level 6 after each death.
The second form of the boss I found to be nearly impossible. I watched YouTube videos and read walkthroughs and although I felt I was doing what I had seen others do I could never get more than 1 or 2 hits before dying. That is when I learned if you get the SpinSlash ninpo it will kill the 2nd wave of the final boss in one hit. So, that meant I had to find the SpinSplash somewhere in level 6 and then make it to the final boss without accidentally picking up another weapon and also having ninja power left when I got there. What makes this tough is that anytime you jump and press the B button to attack the SpinSlash activates, since so many enemies require the jump + attack maneuver to get passed I was alway running low on ninpo. Luckily after only 5 or so tries i was able to get to the boss with SpinSlash and 5 ninpo, enough for one use. That one use was all it took, just as the walkthrough said, SpinSlash killed the 2nd wave boss in one hit.
The final boss (wave 3) should not have taken so many tries. Everything I read, every video I watched and talking to my 2 friends all told me that the final boss was the easiest of the 3. I easily died more on the final boss than both other forms combined. I would estimate it took me 50 attempts to beat this boss. The strategy was pretty straight forward:
- Kill the head, when it falls off you are guaranteed to get hit at least once
- Kill the tail
- Kill the heart
Step 1 and 2 were pretty easy but killing the heart was tough. The boss would randomly throwing dozens of shrimp shaped projectiles that I couldn’t find any pattern to which hit me over and over. Each time I got hit it took off 3 pellets of health meaning if I didn’t get to the boss with near full health it would only take a few hits to kill me, factor that in with a guaranteed hit when the head falls off meant I had to play almost flawlessly.
I’m not sure what I did but on my winning run I jumped and landed on the bosses heart and instead of jumping and swinging my sword I could just swing the sword over and over again. I am not sure if I was standing in a place where the projectiles couldn’t hit me or if I just got lucky and didn’t get hit.
After watching the final cut scene that nicely wrapped up the story I can finally say I beat Ninja Gaiden. I am looking to playing through Ninja Gaiden 2 as I hear it isn’t quite as hard as the original. But, I hear part 3 is near impossible because you do not get unlimited continues.