The month of May was a pretty good month for the Virtual Console. Act Raiser, Final Fight, Kid Chameleon, DKC2, all good games. My favorite for the month is Ninja Gaiden. The very close runner up is Act Raiser, and will 100% be the next VC title I download, but Ninja Gaiden holds a very unique place in my heart. Act Raiser brought a blend of sword swinging platform style and a "god game" Sim-City theme along with it. A fantastic game that should not be missed by anyone, but Act Raiser doesn't have the emotional reaction that Ninja Gaiden brings to me.
Ninja Gaiden, developed by Tecmo, was released for the NES in March of 1989. Two sequels follow, and the 2nd game, The Dark Sword of Chaos, is my favorite of the series, thanks in part to Shadow Clones and wall climbing. The game stars Ryu Hayabusa of the Dragon Ninja Clan. He comes home to find a letter from his father Ken (yes, Ken and Ryu, not a Capcom game). His father has left to go fight an unknown battle, and requests Ryu go to America with the Dragon Sword if he does not return.
The story telling is the first thing that set Ninja Gaiden apart 18 years ago. Not only did the game have a story, but it wasn't just text and a snippet in the manual. This game brought forth the use of the cut scene. Between each level (and at some other points) Ninja Gaiden presents animations to move the story along. We aren't talking full animation, but still pictures with limited movement and text, but at the time, it was something not done on this level. Getting to the next level to find out what is going to happen to Ryu, his father, and "the girl" (I won't ruin her name for you) is a huge motivation to move forward in the game. Doing that, though, is harder than some gamers may like.
Ninja Gaiden is a very difficult game. Growing up in my neighborhood, just getting to the 3rd stage was a testament to your gaming prowess. This was the game you played to show how good you were at games. I remember being 9 and beating Basaquer (finally) and my friends all sitting in awe. Little did we know the game only got harder from there! Ninja Gaiden has fast moving enemies, enemies with projectiles, lots of bottomless pits, tough bosses, and when some of these elements are combined, such as a projectile tossing enemy on the other side of a bottomless pit, the game can become downright frustrating.
In the early stages of the game, if you die (or game over and continue) you will restart at the beginning of the level. For example, if you die halfway thru level 2-2, you begin at 2-2, not at 2-1. For many of the first levels, this is a godsend. However, by the time you get to the later stages, dieing halfway through the level means replaying the past 10 screens, practically replaying an entire earlier level. This is one of the reasons that Ninja Gaiden is regarded as one of the hardest NES games around. It is not impossible to beat (I did, once, right before I got my SNES for the holidays), but you will die so many times, it will not be possible for some.
The actual gameplay is rather simple. The game is similar to Castlevania in that you wander around a level, hit candles/lights/hornets to grab power ups and power, attack enemies, and finally fight the boss. The mechanics are very similar, but Ryu controls much differently than Simon Belmont. One button attacks with the sword, another button jumps, and holding up while attacking uses your special power, all just like Castlevania, but the action in Ninja Gaiden is 5 times faster than the early Castlevania games. Ryu flips thru the air, runs, hangs onto walls, and slices quick, and could take Simon in a fight any day. Ryu is a ninja, and controls and moves like a ninja.
This game is not for the impatient, for the whiny, or for someone who hates their butt getting kicked. This game will cut off your face and serve it to you on a platter; it gets that hard. You will probably not even get to the 2nd stage (the 3rd screen in the game) your first play thru. Luckily, Ninja Gaiden on the Wii VC lets you continue even after losing your lives, so once you DO finally get to the 3rd stage, you can die and continue without restarting the entire game. I have had the game for weeks, and have only made it halfway thru the final stage. I can pick up any Mega Man game (even the X series) and beat it in 2-3 hours. Ninja Gaiden doesn't give me that bragging right. If you love platforming and action, and have enough control to NOT toss the Wiimote against the wall, then $5 is a steal for this NES classic.
4.5 Stars (out of 5)
Images courtesy of Tecmo, Nintendo, VGMuseum