Review by magx

Reviewed: 12/22/09

A Cut Above

A Cut Above

The first NES Ninja Gaiden title was released in North America in 1989, and is a departure from its' beat em up arcade roots. The NES title is a hack n slash platforming title, that finds the player climbing and jumping between walls, utilizing magic techniques called Ninpo, and being an all around badass. This game has garnered much notoriety over the years, for three reasons. One, for its brutal difficulty (especially evident in the infamous stage 6-2); two, for its presentation, and three, for the three F's: its fast, fluid and fun gameplay.


Ninja Gaiden tells the story of a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. Ryu finds a letter written by his recently missing father, Ken, telling him to go to America and meet with his friend, the archaeologist Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith tells Ryu that he and Ryu's father hid two statues that have the power to end the world - if united. Ryu is instructed to locate the statues before they fall into the hands of evil........

One remarkable thing about this early video game was its use of cutscenes to tell its story- a first for the NES. Over twenty minutes of scenes are present in the game.


Graphically, this game was ahead of its time. A definite head and shoulders above the competition when released, especially in light of the fact that there were actual cutscenes. The game featured detailed backgrounds and sprites, lots of colour, and much background variety.


Catchy music and good sound effects. Complimented the great visuals quite well, aiding in making this a very impressive game at the time.


There are six acts, broken up into 2-3 levels. As stated earlier, this is an action platformer, which has you running through levels killing everything in your way with a combination of your trusty Dragon Sword, as well as throwing weapons like shurikens, and ninpo (magic) attacks. The enemies you kill range from bats to footsoldiers, to hulking bosses that await for you at the end of certain areas of the game. The ninpo and other ranged attacks you use are earned via powerups (pretty standard for the genre) which you attain by slicing through these powerup containers found throughout the levels. It's fairly standard fare, but it's executed very well. The excellent gameplay is complimented by the cutscenes, which are interspersed between levels.

The game, as mentioned, is quite difficult. However, before we get into why, it should be noted that unlike some early NES titles (Castlevania for example), the difficulty is NOT due to poot control. One of the great things about Ninja Gaiden is the sublime control. You can control yourself mid jump. You can attack in mid-air. You can destroy incoming projectiles with a quick sword slash....and I mean quick. Ryu is fast, and this is translated perfectly through the great control. Anything you try and do, he does, with no delay. It's all very fluid, not stiff and archaic feeling like many other games.

The difficulty is primarily due to the fact that enemies respawn when killed. The rate of respawn, and the points on the level that trigger them mean that anytime you're fighting and you backtrack just a couple of steps, the enemy will respawn. The game seems pretty fussy about where it wants you to actually be standing to kill something in order to avoid triggering a respawn. So, the player will inevitably encounter points in the game during which they will backstep during an encounter, only to kill the enemy and then find it has reappeared again when they move forward. This can get pretty irritating when you're fighting an eagle or a bat on a narrow piece of landscape surrounded by death pits. There will even be times where multiple enemies will respawn.

Another factor adding to the difficulty is the fact that when hit, Ryu is knocked back. This isn't so bad when you're on normal land (although at times it can lead to an enemy respawn) but when you're on one of the aforementioned narrow strips of land trying to jump across a can imagine what happens. Combine this with the respawning enemies, and you'll have moments of sheer frustration unmatched by any other game.

One thing that the developers did to mitigate some of the difficulty was to give the player infinite continues. And, generally, when you die, you don't start all that far back from where you perished, with the exception of at boss fights. In that case, back to the beginning of the level with you......with three exceptions. Die at any of the games three (yes, three) final bosses, and it's back to the beginning of the act for you. Yes, back to 6-1 if you die at a boss in 6-3. Which means you get to experience the infamous 6-2 again......


All of the talk of difficulty and frustration could easily lead one to think that this game is best left in the annals of history, and, for some, this may be true. However, if you don't mind dealing with some frustration, and you are accustomed to the pattern based AI and associated required memorization often seen in 8 bit games, the gameplay in this one is very engaging, and worth your time. There are going to be some gamers who will curse this games' very existence, and others who revere it for its excellent gameplay and presentation. What camp you'll ultimately end up in is up to you. The game is definitely worth checking out to find out.

Overall score: 8/10.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Ninja Gaiden (US, 03/31/89)

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