When it comes to video games, Ninja Gaiden is famous for being the first game to use cutscenes and by extension, is the first to have a storyline that is more than for appearances’ sake. It is also known for a high but not unmanageable difficulty. All in all, it’s a very strong title is well worth your time.
Plot: 10 out of 10
Like I said before, this game was unique in its strong plot. It uses cutscenes at the beginning and end to move the story along. It’s about a young ninja named Ryu Hayabusa, who receives a letter explaining that he is entering a duel and should he not return, Ryu is to take the family’s flagship weapon, the Dragon Sword, go to America, and meet archaeologist Dr. Smith. But it’s the twists and turns that make this plot stand out. I won’t spoil anything, except to say that there are lots of surprises to be found. When I first played this game, I had already played the sequel and I still was surprised despite obvious secondhand knowledge.
Graphics: 8 out of 10
At first glance, this game may not seem visually amazing. On further examination, however, its graphics become clearly impressive. For example, the backgrounds and structures have a protruding, almost
3-D effect. And the cutscenes are some of the best in any NES game. The enemy sprites are quite detailed as well. The only real disappointment is the sprite of Ryu himself.
Sound: 9 out of 10
Perhaps the best 8-bit music in any NES game. Very catchy. Lots of songs, too. Sound effects are similarly fitting. The only reason this category isn’t a perfect ten is because the music starts over every time you pause the game.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Ryu handles quite well. He moves moderately quickly and jumps with great agility. His main weapon is a sword that strikes swiftly. He also has special weapons, each of which costs a certain amount of “Ninja Power” points each time it’s used. These weapons include regular shurikens, boomeranging throwing stars, fire that flies at the up/right diagnal, a few spinning fireballs that offer temporary invulnerability, and a four-way somersault slash, which is quite weak for most of the game but is EXTREMELY effective against bosses. They are all in orbs scattered throughout the entire game (sans boss fights), along with bonus points, extra health, and extra lives.
Challenge: 7 out of 10
This game is known for its high difficulty, yet I can’t help but consider it overrated in this regard. Yes, when you first start to play, it may seem utterly impossible. The enemies are numerous, quick, clever, and well-placed. The bosses aren’t too shabby either, attacking in such a manner that it’s really hard to hit without taking multiple hits in return. And then, there’s the enemies (particularly the birds) that specialize in knocking you into pits. I tell you, that has forever damaged the sanity of many a gamer.
The problem is, once you beat a level, it never challenges you the same way again. I think what hurts the difficulty on return trips is that every enemy has a clear pattern. For instance, cloaked men with swords walk for a few seconds before throwing swords. Once this pattern is discovered, the difficulty drops tremendously.
Still, I can’t rate this category low because there’s still enough challenge left to keep me coming back every once in a while to see if my skills are still there.
Overall: 8 out of 10
While it would be surpassed by its first sequel, Ninja Gaiden is a very good game worth owning. It’s a benchmark in gaming history and is just plain fun besides.