Ninja Gaiden (NES) Has A Bit Of Castlevania In It… But Only A Bit

By Kris . December 9, 2012 . 12:30pm

While I’ve spend a considerable amount of time with the various incarnations of 3D Ninja Gaiden, the upcoming release of the 1989 Ninja Gaiden on 3DS’s virtual console is my first experience with the classic series.


To my surprise, I think I like 2D Ninja Gaiden more than 3D.


Given the somewhat poorly-conveyed story in the modern series, I was surprised to see how heavily the original Ninja Gaiden focused on storytelling. In between each level are these well-drawn motion-comic-y cutscenes. While not completely well-translated, they’re entertaining and remarkably impressive for 1989. It’s a pretty basic story, full of demon resurrection, inept CIA agents, and revenge; but between the fantastic music and careful use of the limited animation, I found them more effective they are than anything that the 2004-and onward Ninja Gaidens have done.


That said, all the cutscenes in the world wouldn’t matter if the game wasn’t fun to play. In a lot of ways, Ninja Gaiden’s skeleton reminds me of Castlevania’s. Instead of destroying candles to find hearts and sub-weapons that cost hearts to use, Ryu destroys lanterns (or stationary birds or bugs or whatever fits the theme of the level) to gain ninpo or a sub weapon that costs ninpo to use (both games assign use of the subweapon to Up and B, too).


After that point, however, the Castlevania comparison falls apart because Ninja Gaiden is fast.


When I say Ninja Gaiden is fast, I mean it’s fast. Practically every non-boss enemy you come across takes a single hit to kill. You can even cut through enemy projectiles if you time it right. You can’t move while slashing, but if your spacing is right, you never have to stay in one place for too long. The game also has a tendency to place rather helpful sub-weapons in each lantern, so you’ll often have the right tool for each job. Shuriken for ranged enemies, fire for diagonal ones, and the jumping spinning slash for when you need to clear a platform below you. It’s well-balanced, but it’s not an easy game by any means.


Ninja Gaiden is quite a bit different from your typical platformer. For one thing, Ryu has the ability to cling to walls. Simply jump at a wall and he’ll stick to it. This isn’t that useful on its own, but should you be between two pillars, you can hop from pillar to pillar and ascend. Because of this, a lot of stages have two layers of platforms. The ground layer might be a bit safer, but the upper layer might have more breakables to get health, ninpo, and subweapons from. It’s cool to see the mechanic used in more than just the mandatory “YOU NEED TO DO THIS TO CONTINUE” way.


There’s a rather sadistic design philosophy behind it, too. The game likes to throw a lot of enemies at you at once, particularly when you have a challenging bit of platforming to do. For instance, one particular jump seemed simple enough to do. I was quite a bit higher up than the bit of land I had to jump onto, but I had three enemies in my way.


The first was a cheetah or wolf or… something on all fours (the sprite’s not really that clear), which would come at me from behind. I seemed to be in exactly the right spot so that whenever I turned around to slice it I’d be moved back to the exact spot it needed to respawn, so I’d inch forward and another one would come running out. On the platform below was a soldier moving back and forth, which meant I had to time my jump carefully, or take damage.


Now, bear in mind that taking damage in Ninja Gaiden also means Ryu flying backwards, which in this case would toss Ryu into a bottomless pit and kill him.


Lastly, there was an eagle. A goddamn eagle. Eagles take three segments off of Ryu’s health with each hit (that’s more than bullets and explosives!) and have just the right flight pattern to ruin your day if you mess up a jump. I played to this segment multiple times. I kept dying. Each time, I restarted from the beginning of the stage. This single was all that kept me from taking on the boss of the level.


However, after prolonged suffering, I realized that I could time my jump so that I cut through the eagle and landed right behind the patrolling guard as he turned around.


I had finally done it. I finally figured it out. I felt like I was on the top of the world! I could face any challenge! All obstacles were nothing to me!


Then the boss killed me and I had to restart the level again.


Food for Thought:

1. While the 3DS re-release doesn’t add very much, I definitely appreciated that it added save states to the game. While Ninja Gaiden offers infinite continues, it doesn’t offer saves, and it’s rather nice to have that option on a portable.


2. The music in the game is fantastic. Yet another way I prefer 2D Ninja Gaiden to 3D!


Ninja Gaiden will be released on the 3DS Virtual Console on December 13th. Screenshots used are from the Japanese version.


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  • MrSirFeatherFang

    I find it somewhat disappointing that even with Masato Kato writing the story for NG3, it still wasn’t a good story…
    I can at least say that I’ve beaten this game :)

    • British_Otaku

      Can’t be helped. Okamiden had a pretty weak story with a few odd retcons despite having Yukinori Kitajima who wrote 428 – a 40/40 Famitsu rated visual novel (and the only 40/40 game never to leave Japan).

      Our favourites don’t always perform.

      • MrSirFeatherFang

        I’ve heard about that game. It’s connected to the anime “Canaan”, right? Was thinking about picking that anime up

        • British_Otaku

          I’ll probably pick up that anime when it releases in the UK (28/01/2012). It seems to have gotten pretty good reception despite likely few of the audience having much knowledge of the game (no fan translation and no localisation helps).

          Canaan is apparently a sequel of sorts to 428, but it’s got a good dub and the director of Sword of the Stranger, so I’ll probably manage. Most of the stuff that gets localised doesn’t cover the whole material anyway. >_>

  • ragingmerifes

    Save states? Like that will help anyone.

    • Juan Andrés Valencia

      Sadly that’s true. The game’s fucking relentless.

      • Jirin

        Eh. The only part that’s actually that hard is the final series of bosses that you have to fight back to back to back without any healing. Ninja Gaiden III is way harder than the first Ninja Gaiden, and not just the bosses.

        I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I grew up on NES platformers, but NG’s difficulty is very overrated.

        • Juan Andrés Valencia

          To be fair… I was fine with the first levels in Ninja Gaiden but the last ones with those birds, projectiles and random stuff flying all over the screen is WAY too much for me.

          And that’s my problem with the series because NG Sigma (Or Black) was just perfect, it was challenging and fair but NG II was just ridiculous with the horrendous camera and rocket launcher projectiles everywhere and sadly the original games suffer from being unfair which is a shame since the gameplay mechanics are remarkably good and the presentation is awesome.

      • drexxia

        i’ve recently re-beaten the game and it wasn’t that hard, all you had to do is be causious and not rush ahead, just like playing demon’s or dark souls for the first time.
        the only annoying problem in the game is final bosses.

    • Mj

      It’s a very hard game but before on the NES, I’ve only ever got as far as the 2nd to last boss before. Now with a save state on the 3DS, I have actually completed it twice already! Very happy with it.

      • MrSirFeatherFang

        WOW, I just couldn’t beat Jaquio without the spinning sword sub weapon trick. I could NEVER get how to dodge his flame OR attack him properly and eventually just died… throwing me at the beginning of the level… I had to memorize which sub weapons to not pick up, enemy locations and whatnot.
        Pretty impressive accomplishment you have made.

        • Mj

          Thank you! There’s something about the atmosphere of this game that I just love. I worked out a technique against the Jaquio that really helps.

          Try jumping onto the wall from the column type things just after he fires those things at you then jump off and attack just before he comes into your range.

          Also if you are not near a wall run in one direction to fool the magic blasts but then turn back and dodge them. It takes lots of patience but hang in there and you will do it!

          Best of luck! : )

  • Spirit Macardi

    Well of course the classic Ninja Gaiden is better than the 3D games, it was directed by Hideo Yoshizawa. The same man who would later go on to Namco and make Klonoa!

    In fact, you can see a lot of his recurring ideas the game: A focus on storytelling, respawning enemies, and challenging level design just to name a few.

  • kylehyde

    I can’t wait for play this game again. I always play it with my coisin’s copy so i never have the chance of finish. But now i will have my chance.

  • With save states the game diffuculty should be more bearable, especially on stage 6 where there’s lots of platforms, flying monsters, foes throwing sh** at you and all of them respawing if you step back a bit >_>

    Plus when you fight the final boss it’s frustrating that you have to go ALL the way through the stage to reach the final boss and give it a go again and lemme tell ya it’s not easy to beat all of the boss rushes on one shot D:

    But yeah, this game for it’s time had a nice story, graphics and sound! I played this game first than Castlevania so when I played Castlevania years later I inmediately remembered Ninja Gaiden! For a minute I thought they were made from the same company buut nope :P

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    20 times harder then the new ones

  • Göran Isacson

    Back when a woman could appear in a Ninja Gaiden game and actually be sensibly dressed. How long ago those days seem to me now…

    Also, the days when Ryu Hayabusa could be taken down by a single tranquilizer dart. How long ago THOSE days seem, indeed.

    • Barrylocke89

      What, sensibly dressed women in Ninja Gaiden again? We can’t have that!

      That’s ok, next time let’s give players the option to pre-map breast jiggle patterns with the Wii U tablet before starting a chapter. It’s the next generation, get with it! :P

  • Jirin

    If you think 1 has mean platforming stages wait till you play 3. It’s platforming is just plain cruel but without being cheap.

    I agree the NES games are better.

  • Jirin

    If you think 1 has mean platforming stages wait till you play 3. It’s platforming is just plain cruel but without being cheap.

    I agree the NES games are better.

  • Barrylocke89

    And thus, the Ninja Gaiden Eagle claims another victim…

    • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

      It has claimed thousand of victim in the past. And now in present? It will still claim as much victim as the past lol.

  • Mrgrgr and Unacceptable World

    I hope the newer player will be able to try the famous 6-2 stage lol. I believe all of the player there will feel like killing themselves lol.

  • thaKingRocka

    This game will forever live on as one of my greatest gaming disappointments of all time. I had played the arcade game and loved it. Then, I got this thinking it was just the usual ugly version of what I loved in arcades. It was so much worse than that.

  • WizardoftheBlueOrder

    Is it bad that I recognized your description right from the end of 3-2?

    I’m almost good enough to clear the original Ninja Gaiden in 30 minutes. But Stage 6 just takes too much time…Oh well, I’ll get better.

    A save state would make it easier for many though!

  • LustEnvy

    The product of my rage in the NES days. I hated this game. Hated what it did to me. This was the origin of RAGE QUIT for me.

    Those enemies were trolls… you think you’d make a jump, and BOOM, crashed right into them, and down to the pit o’ doom we go.

    Didn’t help that the later levels were so… impossibly difficult, and if you died… it was back to redo that gauntlet of death once again.

    Later on, through emulation, there was save states. Yet this game STILL managed to make me cringe at it’s impossibility. I couldn’t believe it. I still dunno how anyone managed to beat it without save states. I did… and I’m beginning to think I was superhuman back then.

  • LOMFA! I owned this game 1, 2, & 3 when growing up. As with every one who played this we all died. But once I beat the games and replayed it over and over again I master all the bosses moves, where every enemy came from the screen to having 9 lives with out ever dying again! Yes when I was small I perfected all three ninja gaiden games with out dying and loved playing them in order to get a movie like feel to the game. Off topic here is Battle Toads nes perfected that game as well! So even with the save state on this won’t matter to me because all will come back to me on beating it again. Nintendo if your listening please remake Nes ninja gaiden games like the ninja gaiden console system because I miss the old story lines of the nes ones. It would be awesome to revive Clancy and foster again and also irene! I didn’t like how they dragged Robert T from NG2 Nes to Wiiu NG3 to him saying to ryu ”who is that guy” even thou they meet in NG2 nes. But then they give Irene memory of knowing ryu which doesn’t make sense! Nintendo again please remake Ninja Gaiden nes 1,2, & 3 for wii u in full 3D please!

  • This should have been a released as a 3DS classic with 3D effects so that those damn birds can fly in your face while killing you lol!

  • The first time it’s available on a Nintendo Handheld. At last Nintendo Handheld Gamers is finally getting games that should have been on the Gameboy Color many years back in the Handheld 8 bit era.

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