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The Best Ninja Gaiden Game You've Never Played

On 04/02/2013 at 11:04 AM by natron

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When one thinks of Ninja Gaiden, the mind will almost definitely fixate on the famed trilogy for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Developed as monuments to frustration and cheap enemies, Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos, and Ninja Gaiden 3: The Ancient Ship of Doom were designed, I suspect, in congress with Nintendo of American in an elaborate campaign to boost 1st party Nintendo controller sales. It would not be over-ambitious to suggest that over a three or four year period in early nineties more Nintendo controllers were stomped, smashed, bitten, and crushed on account of Tecmo’s influential ninja trilogy... far more then any other series on the NES, and perhaps even video game history.

Those who were not there may not know this, but ninja’s were ALL the rage in the late 80′s. Ralph Machio, Michalanglio, Michael Dudikoff… Ninjas were big business. It goes without saying that every kid (certainly every kid I knew, at least) wanted to be a ninja. We all walked out of TMNT in the theatre with our lives newly dedicated to the ancient ways of Ninjitsu. Unfortunately, my generation was ultimately thwarted via our collective inability to complete a competent roundhouse kick. The fact that we also had a serious lack of understanding of just exactly how nunchuks worked proved to further dishearten us. I don't think it would be outrageous to guess that 85% of us bailed after the second Karate class, when we learned that it was mostly just breathing and stretching. We wanted to kick ass damn it! And we wanted to do it now!

These reasons can more then explain just why ninja video games were such a huge success in the late 80s/early 90s. We could assume the roll of our favourite ninja and experience all the carnage and nunchuk beat downs we could handle, living vicariously through the 8-bit sprite of our favourite hero in a half shell.

The original Ninja Gaiden trilogy was the standard for ninja games in my neighbourhood, however. Every kid knew some other kid who’s older brother beat the third game- which was, of course a goddamn bold-faced lie. It would take months of training to even make it to the last stage, which I still contend is as unbeatable as any level in video game history.

 It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered the black sheep of the Ninja Gaiden family, the game simply titled Ninja Gaiden for the Sega MasterSystem. Not considered canon to the series, it is however a fast paced, completely original game that Sega developed using Tecmo’s license.

The game follows the same cut scene driven narrative of the NES titles, save for the fact that it looks, sounds, and plays better. The wall climbing from the original has been replaced with a flawless wall jump mechanic similar to the one introduced in the third NES Ninja Gaiden title. The bosses are big, varied and fun and the game is actually beatable with very little cheapness built in to the game play.

The main reason that this game is superior to it’s predecessors, however, is the use of the birds. If you have ever played the NES Ninja Gaiden games then you no doubt are overly familiar with the cheapest enemy in the history of video gaming to date; the Ninja Gaiden birds. The winged-hellspawn that knock you off of ledges and come out of no where to halt you mid-jump and cause you to plummet to your doom. Sure, there are birds in the MasterSystem Ninja Gaiden, but they are a manageable menace. Playing through the game, all the way to the end, a bird only caused me to die once, and it was my own damn fault for rushing- And rush you will. The game play is so fast you actually feel like a ninja running through entire stages artfully dodging pitfalls and henchmen alike.

The only real downside to Sega’s Ninja Gaiden is that you have to import a copy to play it. The game was created late in the MasterSystem’s life cycle (it’s North American life cycle, anyway), a time when it had become painfully obvious the Nintendo’s 8 bit machine had won the war and there were barely even scraps left for Sega. The MasterSystem was, however, enormously popular in Europe and Brazil, so those are the only regions that saw a commercial release of many late MasterSystem titles, Ninja Gaiden included.

 Which is really a shame. This game would’ve been amazing when I was 10 years old. Thankfully, it’s even better now.




04/02/2013 at 11:56 AM

This version of Ninja Gaiden seems great based on your description. Even these screen shots make me drool! Of course I grew up "poor" and was that kid who had to choose between consoles. I had an nes but lacked a Sega master-system. A shame too because I would have played the hell out of this!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/02/2013 at 11:57 AM

wow, I don't think I knew about this one. The graphics look great!  

And I hate those damn birds.  


04/02/2013 at 12:01 PM

I think the ninja theme of being an 80's kid was more gimmick than anything else. The NG games weren't all that hard. Yeah, the first game was very cheap, but the second one wasn't as unmanageable. It's too bad this game didn't come out in the west though. It looks pretty cool.


04/02/2013 at 01:06 PM

I did not know this game existed but cool. Sounds good and looks great. Of course, your whole article could have just said, "Ninja Gaiden on Master System--no cheap birds!" and I would have sung its praises lol. I hate those birds.

Ryan Bunting Staff Alumnus

04/02/2013 at 01:28 PM

The SMS version of Ninja Gaiden is so crisp - I hate to say it, because I loved my Nintendo, but the SMS was clearly the better 8-bit system, it just didn't have the gravity that the NES had, and while this NG game has no direct ties to the other games in the series, it's a hell of a game!

True Gamer At Heart

04/02/2013 at 01:42 PM

Nice blog, I have heard about this game but do not know that it was not available for in the usa.

Super Step Contributing Writer

04/02/2013 at 02:47 PM

This was very well-written and had a great sense of humor, glad I clicked onto it. Sounds like a superior version to the NES titles in every way, shame it couldn't have been seen as such stateside upon release.

Cary Woodham

04/02/2013 at 06:42 PM

Didn't the Genesis have a Ninja Gaiden game that was more akin to the arcade version?


04/07/2013 at 01:28 PM

I think you may be thinking of one of the excellent Genesis Shinobi games


04/03/2013 at 08:37 AM

I love the colour in that forest screenshot. That game looks great!

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