Hello all! Last week, we looked at a neat color changing WW2 game.
Today, we’re going back to an oldie. An NES classic...well, people call it a classic for some reason. I love it, but it’s so hard as to not even be fun. Anyway. Here we go.
Ninja! Buildings! Fire EVERYWHERE! Wonderful box art is wonderful.
Ninja Gaiden is a ridiculous 26 years old, having been released for the NES in 1989 (in the U.S). It was developed and published by Tecmo, known more nowadays for Dead or Alive. And known back then for the immortal Tecmo Bowl series.
Ryu Hayabusa seeks revenge for the death of his father, as most of these stories usually begin. Also, Ryu’s father here is named Ken, which is delightful. Journeying to America at the request of the last note left by his father, Ryu soon becomes tangled in an elaborate plot involving magic statues, an evil, world-destroying force, and some twists and double-crosses.
What makes Ninja Gaiden so special is the way it tells this story-the cutscenes. For better or worse, this game practically invented the modern cutscene, at least for console players. There’s probably a metric ton of classic PC adventure games that did something resembling cutscenes before this. Maniac Mansion comes to mind; that game’s designer, Ron Gilbert, coined the term “cutscene” after all.
But Ninja Gaiden’s scenes were pretty special, in that they were far more cinematic than most anything that came before.
Don’t bother, Ryu. You don’t learn her name till the ending.
Ninja Gaiden is a pretty standard side-scroller, yet playing it is almost like watching a movie. Lots of games from the era had plots, but Gaiden took it a big step further and told a complete story. And it was one of the first titles to take this approach. Again, whether that’s good or bad is subjective, but it’s pretty rad to see these cool cinematic breaks in a game this old. And they’re really well-done, too. Here’s a playthrough of the entire game I found (I couldn’t find a video that looked good enough, besides this one); check out some of the cutscenes, particularly the opening:
Tell me that’s not awesome. That opening music, too.
At some point, though, I have to mention how the game plays. Ninja Gaiden is a side-scroller, as mentioned earlier. You have the Dragon Sword as your main weapon, along with sub-weapons like shuriken and such. And, you can hang onto and rebound off walls.
The main attraction here, though, is the difficulty. The absolute, soul-crushing difficulty. I’ve talked before about games who’s difficulty becomes synonymous with their title; when you hear that game’s name, you think “impossible to beat,” and nothing else.
And despite the cutscenes, people remember Ninja Gaiden for its difficulty. Replaying the game made me see how hard the game is; how it ventures boldly into “unfair” territory.
This dude throws crap at you while you’re trying to jump across. That’s like a running theme in this game. And the series as a whole.
The game suffers from that thing in lots of old games: kill an enemy, run off screen, come back and the enemy has respawned. That’s of course due to technical limitations of the day, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. There’s also flying enemies that nail you as you’re jumping from platform to platform, jumps that need to be timed perfectly...it goes on like this. And yes, I know I posted a no-death playthrough up there. But I guarantee that dude played this game again and again and again in order to get to that point.
It’s still a solid game, though, as it controls pretty well. I wish Ryu could climb up walls like in later installments; as it is, he can only hang onto walls here. Boss battles are pretty fun, and the art and music are spectacular. I just wish the game was a little more fair; get used to cheap deaths here and there.
Totally replay Ninja Gaiden, though, if you’re up for the challenge. Like I said, the cutscenes are still pretty awesome. It’s at times not fun, but it’s cool when it’s being fair. And the story ends up being cool in that retro martial arts movie sort of way. Not to mention, it lays the foundation for what would end up being another awesome trilogy on Xbox 360/PS3/Wii U.
Thanks for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, and find me on Twitter! Also, read more of my stuff at Current Digital, and catch up with my (currently on hiatus) other article series here!
Next week-Let’s have some fun. Weave through traffic. Hit some jumps. Drop people off at Pizza Hut. Listen to Offspring. I can’t be more obvious than this :)