to break in the new old NES i just got off of ebay i thought i’d start in on the classic ninja gaiden. i’d been interested in the game even back in the days when the NES reined supreme after seeing it repeatedly in the monthly list of top 10 most-played games in nintendo power, and my interest got an additional boost when i played through the game boy ninja gaiden game a couple of years ago.
the ninja gaiden series is famous for its difficulty, so i was leery of starting the NES version of the game instead of the SNES remake which had passwords. i thought i’d just play through the first few levels to get a taster, but i got sucked into it and ended up spending the afternoon playing all the way to the final stage. the difficulty wasn’t too bad, esp. thanks to the infinite continues, although the game generally requires too much memorization and there are a ton of cheap deaths due to enemies strategically placed right where you’re most likely to jump. everything was more or less fine, though, until the final section (act VI) where if you die at the final boss (at the end of stage 6-3) you have to restart all the way back at the beginning of 6-1, which just ends up being a ridiculous amount you have to replay. i ended up beating the first part of the final boss, but after realizing that there was another boss immediately following i just couldn’t face starting all the way back at the beginning of act 6 yet again and just gave up, which is not something i ever do. but it’s kind of good that i did, because it turns out that there’s a 3rd part to the final boss battle, and that would have really sent me over the edge. it was hard for me to put the game on the shelf for the time being, completist that i am, and i’ve contemplated picking it up again, but i just can’t face having to slog through the whole game again and replay act 6 over and over again just to figure out the last two boss battles. the insane amount of having to replay previous parts of a game is a large part of what’s kept me from getting an NES again in the first place, and although i still think of myself as a retro gamer at heart i think this has made me even more cautious about starting NES games than i was before.
as for the game itself, i was surprised at how much the mechanics rip off of the original castlevania, something that wasn’t immediately obvious from the game boy game i’d played. even the enemies almost all have analogues to castlevania, although the powerups in gaiden are slightly improved. i found the wall jumping ability to be underused and the graphics seemed hit or miss, particularly with the backgrounds, although the enemy designs in general are pretty good (despite being ripped off of castlevania). the music is quite good, which i’d been looking forward to from enjoying the music from the game boy game. the much-touted cinematic cutscenes are definitely impressive for the time, although the story is pretty flimsy. all in all, much as i wanted to like the game i just have to chalk this one up as yet another game that was noteworthy for the time but just hasn’t aged gracefully. but i’m still up for playing the sequel (and beating the original once my blood pressure has gone down some).
– the ninja gaiden website at classicgaming.gamespy.com has some nice screenshot comparisons between the NES and SNES versions
– text of the instruction manual
– a walkthrough at IGN
– entry at wikipedia.org
– history of the ninja gaiden series at eurogamer.net
– youtube videos of the intro, the ending, and some gameplay.