Original Release Date: 1988
In an era where story telling was virtually non-existent, Ninja Gaiden was one of the first games to make a serious attempt at conveying a narrative to go along with the gameplay. While most game plots tended to be incredibly basic, Ninja Gaiden incorporated cut scenes and extensive dialogue to give more context and meaning to the gameplay.
Ninja Gaiden places the player in the role of Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja who sets out on a quest to avenge his father, and along the way uncovers a much darker conspiracy. The story is conveyed through cut scenes that play in between each of the games levels, and they are designed to make players eager to find out what happens next.
While the story elements may have been impressive for the time, they seem rather quaint by today’s standards. The cut scenes are very basic, and while the story has a few interesting twists and turns, it’s not that engaging or memorable. In addition, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the story and the gameplay, with the game and the cut scenes not always syncing up in a believable way.
However, Ninja Gaiden was also renowned for being a good action platformer, and in terms of the gameplay, Ninja Gaiden is rather well crafted. The controls are incredibly smooth and precise, and give the player the sense of actually being a ninja. While the item system is a little unintuitive, the power-ups and additional weapons you can find are incredibly fun to use. In addition, the aesthetic of the game is quite good, with well-designed environments and memorable music tracks that suit the overall atmosphere of the game.
It also is a rather difficult game, and unfortunately a lot of the difficulty comes from flawed design choices rather than from actual challenge. First of all, every time the character takes damage, he flies back a ridiculous amount, which makes sections with a lot of bottomless pits a nightmare to navigate. It’s not as bad as in Castlevania, but it’s still a constant annoyance. Another major problem is that enemies have a tendency to respawn infinitely if you move even slightly off screen. Now, I’ve noticed this issue in quite a few NES games I’ve looked at, but it’s by far the most obvious and problematic here. Finally, the game has a tendency to dogpile a lot of enemies on you in the later levels. This wouldn’t be a problem if the previous issues I mentioned didn’t exist, but they do, and so the number of enemies the game throws at you can get excessive at times.
Despite some of the rather cheap tactics the game employs to make it longer rather than better, I still had a lot of fun with Ninja Gaiden. While the game has a number of design flaws, it still gives the player the tools they need to overcome each new obstacle, and manages to keep the experience engaging without making it too frustrating. Overall, it’s not perfect, but it’s still pretty good despite its age.
How well it holds up 2/4
Overall quality 7/10
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