Release Date: 1989
First Played: 1990 (at Friends House) 2004 (Owned)
Status: DEFEATED, August 15, 2014
This is it!!! It is arguably one of the toughest games for the NES. Any gamer worth his or her salt has played it. Only half of them would tell you they beat it. And if any of them say it was easy then they are a God damn liar! This game tests your reflexes, your skills, and your patience like no other game of this console generation. And much like the way of the ninja, it will teach you discipline, it will teach you to focus…it will teach you that respect cannot be given, but must be earned. And plus ninjas are in it!! And ninjas are COOL!!!
It’s not just the game play that makes this game stand head and shoulders above the rest, but the use of cut scenes which help tell an elaborate story full of twists and turns and awesome close-ups of faces looking intense. It may be surprising, but cut scenes like this were basically nonexistent until Ninja Gaiden came along. Way back when in the 1989’s (as I call them) some games had stories, mostly something that you would read in the manual provided with the game. If they did, it was your typical “Save your girlfriend/wife/sister/daughter/princess/queen from the evil wizard/dragon/guy/large-monster-thing!” or even more common “If it moves, shoot it!” But Ninja Gaiden offers a well crafted story that makes you want to play just so you can find out what happens next! It’s games like this that paved the way for the story rich games we are so used to today.
When First We Met…
I’m actually having a bit of trouble recalling when I first saw Ninja Gaiden. I think it was at a friend’s birthday party. I have a memory of watching this game being played and seeing everyone at the party have various successes with it, though all ending in failure. Years after, I always heard it brought up in conversations of “Best Games” and “Toughest Games” or “Next to Impossible to Beat Games”. It never crossed my mind to pick it up. Perhaps I was intimidated by all this big talk about it. So, for the time being, I was happy just listening to stories…until that fateful day in 2004…
I was in university and Xbox had set up a display showing off all the great games that were being released that year. Some sports games (not really my thing) and a first person shooter most likely, but that’s when I saw this…
“OoooHOOOhoooo!!!” I said, and I gave it a whirl. Boy howdy was it great! Smooth controls, amazing graphics, and interesting story (from what I was able to see from my 5 minutes of play time). I wanted it, but that would mean that I would need to buy an Xbox. At the time, the most sophisticated system I had was an N64. “Guess I’m buying an Xbox!” but then I realized some minor roadblocks standing in the way of me getting one. Mostly:
A) I was a university student and therefore poor.
I REGRET NOTHING!!!!!
But then it dawned on me, I have an NES and can get the FIRST Ninja Gaiden instead!! So, a quick visit to the flea market that weekend and $15 later, I had my hands on this fabled game I have heard of for so long.
The action starts as soon as you press the power button. Two ninjas stand facing one another in a field. Suddenly, they run at each other, leaping into the air at the last moment. SLICE!!! Both ninja land on the ground, their backs to each other…when one of them falls to the ground DEAD! Then the Title Screen. I’m immediately impressed.
After pressing start, you’re introduced to Ryu Hayabusa; (That’s YOU) he received a letter from his father, which implies that he died in a duel of honor. So that guy from the first cut scene who died was Ryu’s Dad?? The letter says to see a colleague of his in America who will explain everything. All this story and I have yet to even swing my sword! So off to America I go, Act I Level 1 starts, where I am greeted by a whole city block full of people trying to kill me! I navigate the level and beat up the first boss with ease and, via cut scene, run into this lady…
Love the afro-mullet! She promptly shoots you. WHAT!?! Maybe because Ryu is so rude! But it was just a tranquilizer gun! When you regain consciousness, you’re in a cell; she appears again and gives you a weird Xenomorph looking statue and tells you to escape! After some platforming craziness and a boss fight later, you find your dads professor looking associate, who tells you what the statue is…
Yowza! There are two of them, One Light, One Shadow, which you have (lucky you!) and they should never come together, or else a demon will appear and destroy the earth! Oh no! That’s where I keep all my stuff! Suddenly a ninja appears and takes the statue! Crazy level and boss fight later, I get it back, but it was a ploy to draw me away from the professor! He tells you they stole the Light Statue that he had and then dies in your arms. No time to grieve, because the CIA shows up and takes you into custody! They give you more story time: Afro-Mullet works for the CIA, and the light statue is in the possession of a maniac who calls himself “The Jaquio”.
“Do you like my pimple jacket? It was $12.99 at Target!”
He’s hanging out in a temple in the Amazon, go get ’em! After an incredibly tough journey you meet this guy named “Malth”.
“Ok, I’ll give up then! Thank you for being so honest with me!”
I remember having so much trouble with him. Unlike the previous bosses, who have some sort of repeatable pattern you can exploit to your advantage, Mr. Malth here has none. All he does is slowly walk towards you swinging his sword and shooting lightning bolts at you; there is no wall at your back, just an open pit. So, you guessed it, I died…a lot. Oh, and to make matters worse, if you die at the boss, even if you have lives remaining, you go back to THE BEGINNING OF THE ACT (Act 5 in this case). So you have to go through 3 full levels to give the boss another go.
This is one thing that I found so frustrating about this game! Why can’t I just start the boss again? Eventually I find a strategy that works, just keep swinging and hope to God he dies before you do! Malth reveals that my father is actually alive!! And I’ll meet him soon enough…how ominous of you Malthy. But, I would never know what happened to my father, and here’s why…
One thing that becomes apparent while playing is how relentless the enemies are! Here’s an example, let’s say you have a shuriken (Ninja Star) and decide to kill that guy with the baseball bat and biker helmet at the opposite side of the screen.
“I’m fighting a ninja you say? I better bring my helmet!”
In MANY instances, if you kill him, he will immediately respawn and you’ll have to deal with him again and again until you get past the point where the game decides he should pop up. You run into this problem a lot more with the birds and bats in the game.
They dive bomb you out of nowhere, usually while you are in mid air above a bottomless pit. Wonderful! Not frustrating AT ALL! It was this problem that drove me to quitting this game. I had been playing Act VI (The final Act) for hours, unable to get by that bird you see above! So, tired of failing and yelling obscenities at the screen, I gave up. Like many before me, Ninja Gaiden had bested me. It would always be there, lurking in the darkness of the past, judging me; the memory of disgrace never fading…
Meanwhile in the Present…
It was just as hard as I remembered. I was hoping it would be like some of the previous games on my list, where it was really hard the first time around, but on the second play through it would be relatively easy. NOPE. Though, I was able to make it to Malth rather quickly, that damn bird I mentioned previously still stumped me. So, I decided to try a different approach; instead of barreling through like I did with most levels, I tried patience. I found a spot right near the edge of the platform that would make the bird come out and attack; from there, I quickly back step and jump over it. While it’s turning around to kill me from behind, I run like a bastard and jump onto the empty platform! It took 10 years, but I’m finally standing on that platform! No time to think, a ninja materializes out of no where! Jump slash up the ladder and the rest of the level; is straight forward! Hazaa!!! My celebrating ends quickly when I realize that THE FINAL BOSS AWAITS. *nonsensical whimpering* I go through the door and I’m greeted to a cut scene where Jaquio says my dad is under mind control and wants to kill me! The cut scene reveals that, during the boss fight, I need to attack an orb that is controlling my father in order to win. This is easier said than done. I die…and go back to the beginning of Act 6. Meaning I have to go all the way back, ALSO meaning I have to face that bird/ledge problem again! Ruthless! Just ruthless!
It’s here that I found a video that presents a strategy for fighting my father, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0ZGlf7cgHE . When next we meet, I cling to the wall like the video says and am able to survive with only minimal damage! I win right!?!? NOPE. The Jaquio wasn’t to happy about what I did to his orb, so he shoots a lightning bolt at me….but my father jumps in the way! Saving my life at the cost of his own, needless to say that didn’t make Ryu too happy…
Time to kill me some Jaquio!!
Then I died. fffffffffffffffFFFFFFFFFFFFFuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccccccckkkkyyyyyyyyy!!!!!Do I have to go through all of Act 6 again, and beat my father and then fight The Jaquio!?!? No, thankfully; you just have to go through all of Act 6 but you jump right to your fight with Jaquio…better than the alternative I guess. I tried studying the boss battle video I found, but I just could not get my head around the strategy that guy used, so I came up with my own. During the game, you come across many different power-ups, one really effective one is a “wall of fire” that you can shoot which travels diagonally upwards. So, I used this power-up and gathered as much magic as I possibly could and used it against The Jaquio. Though it took me about 3 tries to master this technique, it finally WORKED!! The Jaquio is dead!! Game Over right? NOPE.
Before I can destroy the demon statues a lunar eclipse happens which awakens…this…
Haven’t I seen you before? Oh yeah, MY NIGHTMARES. His only attack is shooting purple fire balls out of his head that rain down randomly around you. And then, you guessed, I died. The boss video showed me a strategy, attack the demons head, then its tail, then it underbelly, which will finally start to drain its life bar. But again, it just didn’t work for me, so I decided to do the ol’wall of fire routine! BUT!!! As I was getting ready to enter the boss door (on my 5th attempt at it) I accidentally picked up a big shuriken, losing my Fire Wall! Well, I’m screwed, might as well give it a shot though. The power-up I got, to me, was pretty useless through out the game. It’s a big orange shuriken that when you throw it, it flies around the stage until it comes into contact with you. Sounds snazy, but it never worked out for me, so you can understand why I was less than thrilled to pick this up. Wasn’t I surprised when I discovered that this was THE ULTIMATE WEAPON TO USE AGAINST THE DEMON. I threw it at the demons head, one shot, BOOM, no more demon head! Shoot the tail, BAM, one shot, no more demon tail!! The next few seconds are a blur, me yelling at the screen while slashing and throwing shurikens wildly everywhere. Then, with the demon and myself each having one bar of life left I SLASHED at its unclean heart…just as a fire ball hits me…but I was a split second faster! The demon’s short but disgusting life is ending with a satisfyingly long explosion sequence! Game Over right…RIGHT????? NOPE………
Thankfully, all that’s left is the final cut scene, so I just sit back and enjoy! With my father dead and the temple crumbling around us, Afro-Mullet and I escape. She gets a call from the CIA saying “Well Done! Now kill RYU!!” What the…? But she says NO! I’m too busy falling in love with him! They kiss and enjoy a beautiful sunrise…THE END.
It’s official. This is the hardest game I have ever played. It is also one of the greatest! I’m going to say that this is my second favourite NES game of all time!!! A close second to the obvious winner, Bionic Commando, in my opinion. Yes, Ninja Gaiden is dumb hard in many points, and yes you will yell, and sweat and cry while playing, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The movie style cut scenes and terrific story make all the pain worth while. The music, though slightly repetitive, is catchy and adds to the stressful platforming environments. My only complaint is the lack of a save or password system and the fact that you need to start from the beginning of the Act when you die during a boss battle; though the infinite continues help to counter this slightly.
I would definitely pick this up if you have the chance, as well as the sequels, though I have never played them and do not own them, I have heard that they are just as hard and just as crazy! I can finally count myself among the select few who have beaten this game. Nintendo should send you a diploma or something!
So what did you think? Are you going to take up the ultimate challenge and play this game? Do you have what it takes to defeat it??? Do you know what a Gaiden is??? Sound off in the comments section below!
Stay tuned next time for # 19, where we will change settings from the violent ninja world, to the calm, tranquility of a camping trip…
What could possibly go wrong!?!?