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Ninja Gaiden

Year released: 1988
Company: Ninja Gaiden
Genre: Action

After reading Kuririn's1 review of my site for the PaNESian Press, it occurred to me that the reason everyone enjoys my reviews is because I don't automatically jump on the bandwagon when it comes to endearing Game A or lambasting Game B. Sure, I might do it eventually, but I've got to give each game a solid look-over before handing any kind of judgment. As such, I feel more pressure than I normally do in presenting this review, as this is considered one of the foremost games released on the console, for a number of reasons.

Although I haven't completed the game (and probably never will), what I have seen is a terrific example of what happens when the designers actually create a storyline as opposed to just a backstory. Never have I seen a game so plot-driven2 made so early in the NES' life. It helps the game's rating to point, although there are several minor flaws that detract from the game's quality.

I'll spare you the list of innovations that the Ninja Gaiden series has created. Needless to say, before this game went on the market, a game's plot consisted of three tasks: To slay the dragon, to save the damsel in distress, and to restore order from chaos. All that is well and good, but when you've been playing games with that same underlying theme over and over (and over), it gets pretty tiresome. That's where a game like NG comes in. It doesn't give you all the information at once. In fact, the opening sequence is essentially a series of questions: Who killed Ryu's dad? Who is this Walter Smith? What relationship do the two have? And what is the importance of Ryu meeting Smith? Something obviously is afoot, but you don't really know what it is until much later in the game.

As the game progresses, you learn more and more about the central conflict. It seems that the person who killed your father3 is trying to locate and collect two mystic statues that, when brought together on a particular night, will unleash a powerful demon that will presumably do all sorts of horrible stuff. But even there, the game designers keep going and add other characters into the fray to help, hinder, or otherwise flesh out the story. It's not just the good guy against the bad guy, it becomes the actual forces of good against the forces of evil.

This is not to say that Ninja Gaiden is flawless. Actually, there's one glaring fault that presents itself throughout the game. The interface is essentially that of Castlevania, only a lot more fast-paced. Personally, I prefer CV's gameplay to NG: It's less frenetic, more fluid, and more strategic. A week ago, I couldn't get anywhere past the third act. Now, I can make it all the way to 4-3 on one life. What that tells me is that the difficulty rating may be high, but superficial; once you solve the problems therein, there's very little holding up the challenge.

The technical areas of the game are quite well done, although there is some room for improvement. The graphics for the most part are crisp and detailed. Much ire has been directed towards the game for its overuse of black in the backgrounds and sprites, but I haven't really noticed anything that bad. If there was one real gripe with the graphics, it seems as if Ryu looks a little bland during the action scenes. The cinema scenes are beautifully rendered, with distinguishable facial expressions and mouths that actually move when the character speaks. As for the music, again there are a number of terrific tunes in this game (notably the background music to Act 4, Scene 2), but on the other hand few of them sound as if they have a melody. They all sound like great supporting pieces, but there's nothing to support. The bass track to 2-1 also sounds a bit out of sync.

When it comes to the play control, any comparisons between this game and Castlevania4 are totally severed. Ryu handles much better than Simon Belmont. He moves swiftly and his jumps are much more manageable (which is good, since you'll be doing a lot of jumping). The Jump-and-Slash technique, however, has got to go. Sure, it's a nifty idea, especially when there's an enemy patrolling a narrow platform that you need to reach, but there's no way to turn it off. As such, you're using the technique even when you don't need or want to. Even breaking lanterns costs 5 points a pop.

This was another in my list of games that, for one reason or another, I didn't seem to get until now, perhaps because I lacked the skill to excel in the game. The storyline makes this a terrific game to see through to the end, however. Your actions seem to have distinct consequences to the plot, rather than just blasting through level 1, then heading off to level 2 like nothing happened in between. Without Ninja Gaiden, video game stories may have taken much longer to develop.

There are some faults to the game, but they're easily outweighed by the tremendous inspiration the programmers put into this game. I once gave this a reluctant recommendation; you can take the "reluctant" out now.

1. If Dragonball Z were a drug, I'd be a full-fledged junkie by now. A month ago, I didn't even have a clue what the show was about. As of today, I have seven of the first eight tapes. I've never been so hooked into something since... well... the NES came out.

2. And that's a good thing, if you're wondering.

3. That is, Ryu's father. That sentence is written as if you are assuming the role of Ryu, hence Ryu's father would be your father. Now that we're thoroughly confused...

4. Why I'm making comparisons between two games that weren't made by the same company, and - by my judgement - have little more to do with each other than their interface is beyond me.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 20
Overall Score: 83%

You are now listening to the Act 4, Stage 2 music to Ninja Gaiden.