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Ninja Gaiden Review Rewind

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On 10/27/2015 at 12:00 AM by Jamie Alston

Tecmo Ninja

An excellent action-platfomer fit for just about anyone, provided you can look past the formidable difficulty.

When I hear the word "ninja", one thing immediately comes to mind- the 80's. It was an era that was very friendly to ninja culture and the kids that embraced it. Meanwhile, video game developers where busy cooking up games of the same nature in the arcades. Tecmo was one of those developers, and in 1988, they released a brawler of sorts called Ninja Gaiden. A year later, they ported the game over to the NES, but changed the style of gameplay to better fit the style of home console gaming. They replaced the "beat 'em up" theme with a simple action/platformer approach with a bigger emphasis on well-timed jumps and using awesome ninja skills. Tecmo also added a deeper story and a new way to tell it.

The games plot centers on Ryu Hayabusa- a highly skilled ninja and all around good guy. After reading a letter from his father, Ryu discerns that he has been killed in a duel to the death. The letter also included instructions for Ryu to take the Dragon Sword of the Hayabusa family and go to America and see the archaeologist, Walter Smith. Ryu journeys forth to uncover the mystery of the sword and its connection to his father.


Ninja Gaiden is best known for its fun mechanics and steep difficulty that presents itself fairly early in the game. Your primary weapon of choice is your sword which you use to quickly slash through your foes. Most enemies will go down with one hit, but some can be hard to reach if they are firing projectiles at you. Careful timing of your attacks are key to a smooth victory. Taking cues from Castlevania, Ryu can collect special icons that allow him to use his ninjutsu skills by slashing certain stationary objects, like small lamps, bugs, or other objects within a level. These skills include using the Windmill Throwing Star, Jump-N-Slash, Invincible Fire Wheel and a few other abilities that can prove to be very useful when used correctly.

While these extra abilities provide some ease in dealing with the hordes of enemies, it still doesn't diminish the challenge of this game one bit. This is due in part to the recoil effect when you take damage, knocking you back a short distance. Most enemies are strategically placed so that they end being a real nuisance when you're trying to jump to the next ledge, especially the commandos and birds that constantly swarm around you. For me, there's nothing more frustrating than landing on the edge of a platform, only to get knocked off into a chasm. That being said, the good news is that every enemy has a specific pattern of movement. Once you catch on to what it is, you'll have an easier time getting through each level. You also have unlimited continues, which at the very least gives you a fighting chance of finishing the game with enough persistence


The controls are very simplistic, which makes Ninja Gaiden very easy to pick up and play. The A button makes Ryu jump, B performs the sword attack, and pressing up & B at the same time unleashes one of Ryu's special skills, if he has the proper icon and the skill points to do it. One of the things that set Ninja Gaiden apart from the other ninja-themed games was the attention that Tecmo gave to the overall "feel" of Ryu. He doesn't just walk through the levels at a slow pace, as if he's in no rush to accomplish his goal. No, this dude runs and is quite nimble, like a ninja should be.

It's also fun to jump from wall to wall, in order to reach higher ledges. I never get tired of doing it, and quite frankly- its just fun to do. The only problem that I have with it is that  Ryu cannot move up or down on the wall he’s attached to. Even so, it won't really hinder your enjoyment of the game and Tecmo later corrected that problem in the sequels that followed. Overall though, the controls are tight and precise- just a like ninja.

Graphically speaking, everything looks pretty darn good. There are a few levels that are less detailed than others, but it's nothing that seriously detracts from the presentation overall. There's also the occasional flickering that mostly shows up when bosses are defeated and explode, but that was pretty much on par for most of the NES games of that time anyway. For the most part though, the graphics are bright and beautiful.


Most impressive are the cut-scenes that are shown as you progress through each level, or "Act". Each scene adds depth and a sense of real purpose to Ryu's cause. Also, you'll get a few plot twists along the way. It can truly be said that Tecmo pioneered a form of story-telling that was otherwise uncommon in that particular era of console gaming.

Not to be overlooked too is the audio presentation in this game as well. The music is very action-oriented, yet smooth. Most people will instantly recognize this game when they hear it, after they play it the first few times. The cut-scenes have some of the best tunes in the whole game, though. The sound effects are also somewhat unique to the Ninja Gaiden series, as I don't often hear them being used in other 8-bit games.

It was pretty rare for a game to be better on an 8-bit system than it was in the arcades, but Ninja Gaiden was an exception to that notion. And thanks to its success, Tecmo went on to produce two sequels to make a trilogy of the series on the NES. While it can be frustrating at times, Ninja Gaiden still rewards the player with a good story and a true feeling of accomplishment once the game has been completed. I highly recommend this game to the NES player that's looking for a challenge that doesn't let up once you get past Act II. You'll be in for a quite a ride.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Cary Woodham

10/27/2015 at 07:30 AM

I remember renting thsi game as a kid and dying a lot in it.  The cut-scenes were a really big deal back then because a lot of NES games prior didn't have anything like that.  You might've gotten a glimpse of a story at the beginning of the game and at the end, but that was it.  The rest was up to your imagination and whatever was written in the instruction booklet.  But Ninja Gaiden helped changed all that. It may seem silly, but that was one of its most important contributions to gaming.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

10/27/2015 at 10:43 AM

I toally agree Cary. Ninja Gaiden was an innovator in presenting story elements-- in a platformer no less.  I think that's pretty inpressive for back then.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

10/27/2015 at 07:00 PM

man, I had this game and I played it endlessly.  I almost beat it, but never got to the last couple levels.  Man there were a lot of levels.  All I know is it should not be so easy for a flying bird to kill a freaking ninja.  

Still, I have fond memories of the music and the look of it.  I played it a lot, and I'll always have those memories of being sucked into the drama of it, even though there was so little.  


11/05/2015 at 01:33 PM
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