Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden (NES)
Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Cover
Platform NES, SNES, Virtual Console
Genre Tough Ninja Platformer
MtAMinutes to Action 3
Score 7  Clock score of 7Gameplay: 6
Fun Factor: 7
Gfx/Sound: 6
Story: 7
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Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
Ninja Gaiden Xbox Cover
Platform Xbox
Genre Bloody Ninja Action
MtAMinutes to Action 5
Score 8  Clock score of 8Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 8
Gfx/Sound: 9
Story: 3
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Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden are NES and Xbox games with the exact same name. Ninja Gaiden for the NES came out in 1989 and Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox came out in 2004. I'm not sure why Tecmo and lead designer Itagaki didn't give the Xbox Ninja Gaiden game a subtitle, but it's too late to wonder, because there are officially two games under the name of Ninja Gaiden, just released 15 years apart. In first hour tradition, I will be only playing Ninja Gaiden for one hour, but because they are named exactly the same, I will first play half an hour of Ninja Gaiden for the NES, and then half an hour on the Xbox. This will complicate the review a bit, but I'll try to always make is clear what game I'm talking about.

This is an exciting time for the Ninja Gaiden series, as Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was released last month for the DS and Ninja Gaiden II will be out in a few weeks for the Xbox 360. Remember, this is a new Ninja Gaiden II, not Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos which was released on the NES in 1990. Yeah, Tecmo does it again. I plan on playing Dragon Sword (not Dark Sword) someday as it sounds pretty cool, but this review is all about the first hour of the two Ninja Gaidens. So let's get right down to it. To start, the first thirty minutes of Ninja Gaiden for the NES.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - Begin Ninja Gaiden NES. I was about to press Start to begin the game, when a story cutscene began! Two ninjas are facing each other in a green field with a giant moon overhead. They begin running at each other with the game just showing their legs moving at high speed.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Cutscene Moon Battle

01 - They jump and meet in the air in front of the moon! Their swords clash and they both land on their feet. In classic movie fashion though, the ninja wearing pink then stumbles to the ground. Some text appears wondering why he fought and died, must be the main character, Ryu, speaking.

02 - A young man is on screen now, he looks young but he's got huge, muscular arms. He's reading a letter from his father. He tells Ryu to take the family's Dragon sword and go to America to meet an archaeologist named Walter Smith. "Ryu, be always brave..." "I will get my revenge!" Pretty epic!

03 - I press Start and the real gameplay of Ninja Gaiden begins. Act one. The game starts right off with Ryu in the streets. A is jump and B is sword slash.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Hayabusa Revenge

04 - Enemies explode in one slash of my sword! There's some kind of ninja dog running around being annoying. Lame pup. Ryu can't double jump. Isn't it ninja law that all ninjas must learn how to double jump before anything else?

05 - There's an enemy above me and I have no idea how to get to him. Oh sweet I just jumped and attached myself to a street sign! Wow cool you can jump off of walls, this has to be one of the first games to ever allow that.

06 - I picked up some sort of power-up that when I jump I do a cool ninja swirl with my sword that protects myself.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Boss Battle

07 - I have reached the first boss. I was fooling around so much in the first stage that my time almost ran out! It was actually really fun to hop around and jump off of buildings.

08 - Well, that guy really wasn't that hard. He was pretty tall though so I had to jump off the wall Chun-Li style to get over his head. He was really slow though so I just slashed him in the back a lot.

09 - A cutscene, our ninja thinks these thugs are following him. How could street bums be following a ninja?

10 - A "girl" appears behind him. She has a gun! She shot Ryu! And thus Act 2 begins.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Girl Cutscene

11 - More cutscenes, Ryu is in jail now but the woman appears and gives him a statue and lets him escape. Odd. Ryu asks, "didn't you try to kill me?" Good question.

12 - I regain control and I'm now in some underground cave. Probably some evil overlord's lair.

13 - Ugh, the platforming is getting tougher now with small little areas to land on and anti-ninja bats flying all over. I fall in a pit. The level restarts.

14 - Man, there's like unlimited of these annoying ninja dogs. What the heck? I had to wall jump up a ladder to get to the next area above me, but then I wall jumped off and fell to where I should have been before and died. Lame!

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Dog Enemy

15 - OH. You can climb the ladder like a normal video game character. Nice. The game was kind enough to let me off where I died just now.

16 - Sweet, you can throw shurikens by pressing up and B at the same time after you collect some.

17 - Oh no I died again! Game Over! Back to the beginning of Stage 2. Dang, a ninja dog just knocked me into a pit.

18 - Ryu just attached himself to a wall that I had no choice but to jump into the abyss. Game Over again.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Flanked By ENemies

19 - You can pick up a flaming shuriken that makes enemies explode. That's pretty cool.

20 - Woah, I finally made it outside the cave lair. Backgrounds look pretty good honestly. What the heck... there's like ghosts and dragonflies out here trying to kill me. Well, the dragonflies are for collecting stuff but there's bad men with machine guns!

21 - I made it to the end of the level and it looked like there was no where to go, so I went the only place I thought I could. Down. Died.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Machine Gun Enemy

22 - Oh, you're supposed to climb a ladder down, not just jump. I got a sweet power-up though that put a ring of fire around me, so I was jumping from small pillar to small pillar killing guys instantly. But the invincibility ran out the moment I hit a guy with a sword and he knocked me into a pit, killing me.

24 - Game over but the game started me outside again, not bad. I got my vengeance on the sword wielding edge hogger with my awesome ring of fire.

27 - Man, this is such a hardcore platformer. There's this small little pillar I have to jump to and a guy is standing on it! Get off!

28 - Well, I finally got past him and got killed by the next guy. What's the point of 15 life points when you always die from falling off?

Ninja Gaiden Nes Ryu Dead

29 - This game wouldn't be nearly as hard if you didn't always jump fall back three feet after being hit.

30 - Begin Ninja Gaiden Xbox. Okay, that's enough of the original Ninja Gaiden! I admit, I suck at it! Now onto the new Xbox version! I select New Game and the game starts telling me about the "evil Dark Dragon Blade" and a really ugly full of jaggies sword appears. What the... this is nasty looking. The guy keeps talking to me in Japanese as I try to keep up with the subtitles. Whoever uses the sword will become evil.

31 - Oh, now the Dragon Sword appears, as opposed to the Dragon Blade I guess? This sword too is also made up of graphical jaggies. The Dragon Sword is owned by the Hayabusa family. A ninja appears in the background, it's Ryu!

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Hayabusa Opening Cutscene

32 - A wall of text appears, it is the Book of Fiends. This serves as the loading screen but the reading is pretty boring. Ancient tribes have struggled for thousands of generations. You know how long thousands of generations is? That's like a minimum of 20,000 years. That's a really long time. Still loading.

33 - More text appears, wait, it's the same stuff from before. Oh, the loading is finally done. Chapter 1 - The Way of the Ninja. Ryu jumps from the top of a waterfall and slices a brown-clad ninja in half. Sweet.

34 - Some woman is looking down on my from the cliffs, and then I get control. The gameplay is really smooth, feels like Assassin's Creed. Woah, the right thumbstick does not control the camera, just zooms me into Ryu's view. That's going to be annoying.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Wall Run

35 - Something got thrown against the cliff wall... it's a in-game hint! Must be from that girl ninja. The hint is about climbing walls, seems to work just like Assassin's Creed and Prince of Persia.

36 - Ryu doesn't open chests with his hands, he kicks them open with his big, black boot. I receive an Elixir of Spiritual Life. Some vines are blocking my apparent path but Ryu's ultra-sharp katana can't cut them down. Lame.

37 - Not sure where to go...

38 - I find a locked door, no dice though.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Village

39 - Oh, I have to climb a fallen tree that's laying over the vines I mentioned before.

40 - My first kills! I kick one brown ninja off the cliff and impale another with my dragon sword. Game is kind of bloody, but the blood doesn't stick around.

41 - I wall jump into a cave and then more brown ninjas appear. I kill them easily.

42 - I have just wall jumped into a building complex. It is the Ninja Fortress! Oh neat, I can throw shurikens, just like in the original.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Nunchucks Brown

43 - I get a map of the fortress and check it out, seems confusing. Don't think I'll bother with this much. Why is it angled? That's just annoying.

45 - I just fought about ten brown ninjas in a small, locked room. Is there a block button in this game?

46 - Apparently block is the L button. I discover a suit of samurai armor in a corner, but it is missing its mask. I probably need to find that.

47 - A ton more browns appear, when a ninja dies, its soul is transformed into a small yellow ball. What a ripoff of Onimusha!

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Brown Blood Gore

49 - Ooh, white ninjas! These guys jump around like little hamsters. I wall jump myself and finish them off with a well timed slice of my blade. I think my biggest enemy is the camera though, this thing is obnoxious.

50 - Whoops, just fell into a trapdoor. I'm now underground and the anti-ninja bats are back (see minute 13). Some things never change.

51 - I find the Fangs of the Samurai in a chest down there and start to look for a way out, guess I was supposed to fall down here. Just noticed that Ryu does this sweet little flip when he throws shurikens while running.

53 - I'm out of the caves now and back to the Ninja Fortress.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Shadows

54 - Just racked up a 17 hit combo on some bad ninjas and it restored my health. Nice. You can also jump on the heads of ninjas and it sort of leaves this shadow behind, pretty cool animation. Oh, a save point. Must be a boss up ahead...

56 - I insert the Fangs of the Samurai into the armor and get the Key of Courage. This room I have to keep running through spews new white ninjas every time. Get out of my way, I'm running out of time!

57 - Ryu reaches the Inner Sanctum and I get a hint on how to roll from my purple-clad female friend. I use the Key of Courage on the door.

58 - Oh snaps I just decapitated a white ninja! Awesome! Then another! You can hold Y to charge up a super attack that triggers a hands-off super combo.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Murai

59 - A man with long gray hair is sitting on the floor of a large room, he's wielding nunchucks. He stands up and shows off his nunchuck skills by twirling them all over, I'm not impressed. We begin to fight.

60 - Okay, this guy is a bastard. I have to use all of my healing potions to beat him but I eventually do by jumping off the walls onto his head. He was blocking everything else and breaking my block with his nasty combos. After the fight, we bow and then sit down on the floor and chill out! All that work for some tea! A moment later though my ninja friend runs in, it is Ayane from Dead or Alive! Ryu's village is on fire! Too bad the hour is up for Ninja Gaiden.

Time for some scores out of 10.

Ninja Gaiden Xbox Ryu Murai

First Hour Scores

Minutes to Action: NES - 3 and Xbox - 5

Gameplay: NES - 6 and Xbox - 8
Ninja Gaiden (NES) has precise, but difficult gameplay. This is a tough platformer and I was really surprised that after I got Game Overs, I was restarted pretty close to where I had lost my final life. This is a great bonus as it encouraged me to keep trying without getting too frustrated. Many games these days aren't as kind! The controls are obviously simple on the NES, but we get the nice little bonus of throwing shurikens. If only you could throw them at an angle.

Well, you can throw shurikens at an angle in Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, and it's pretty cool too! Actually, the fighting is pretty great in the 3D action-adventure game, the hardest part is dealing with the camera. It just never did what I wanted it to do and I had a hard time keeping track of more than one or two enemies. Either way, cameras are never an easy thing to develop properly, especially when you have such a fast-paced game. Leaping around is very smooth and decapitating ninjas never grows old.

Fun Factor: NES - 7 and Xbox - 8
Though Ninja Gaiden for the NES is tough, it was actually pretty fun. The story was actually decently interesting even if it was pretty derivative. I really thought I was going to get owned left or right while playing but the first half hour must be tame compared to the rest of the game. The game had a few headache inducing moments but hard games can really be fun if they're still rewarding and not totally unfair.

The Xbox Ninja Gaiden is not as frustrating as the NES game, but it is still really challenging. I suppose in this game you get health potions instead of nicely placed checkpoints, but you get ganged up quite quickly and must fend off multiple enemies. This is totally different than a platformer and you must have your finger ready on the block button if you want to be successful. The boss just seemed unfair though, he was whooping on me and my health bar like there was no tomorrow, and I only beat him because I was being cheap. I feel dirty.

Graphics and Sound: NES - 6 and Xbox - 9
After the impressive opening cutscene, Ninja Gaiden on the NES quickly reminded me I was playing an 8-bit game. The graphics were sharp but the colors just seemed washed out. It looked great at the time but I can't hold it up against its peers infinitely. I believe the most impressive thing about the game's graphics were the backgrounds. They were well detailed and propped the game up a bit graphically. Ninja Gaiden's sound was pretty basic and there wasn't much outside the music.

The Xbox Ninja Gaiden looks really awesome, the graphics are gorgeous and the framerate is nice and slick. Definitely no major complaints, but that obviously means I have a minor one. I feel like the game is almost too sharp, I think it could have used some filters to soften some things up. Oh, and the blood and bad guys shouldn't disappear so fast! I want to see the marvels of my awesome swordplay!

Story: NES - 7 and Xbox - 3
Definitely more story than I was expecting from a half hour of an old NES game! Ninja Gaiden (NES) sets up as a revenge story that really reminds me of Shenmue. Except Ryu Hayabusa became a ninja and Ryo Hazuki just asks for sailors. Becoming a ninja is awesome. Let's take a quick look at the opening scene with the ninjas in the grassy field. This was directed incredibly well for what is basically a 20 year old game. Nice backdrop with the moon and impressive close ups of our two opposing ninjas.

And definitely less story than I was expecting from a half hour of a modern Xbox game! The game starts off with a bunch of cryptic descriptions on Dragon Blades and Dragon Swords and then tosses a giant wall of text at me about Ancient Tribes. None of it seems to fit together. After that, there's not a drop of story until the very end of the half hour when Ayane runs in and announces the village I've never seen is on fire (what, is this an RPG?).

Overall: NES - 7 and Xbox - 8
Yes, I am awarding nearly identical scores to the first half hour of both Ninja Gaiden games. Some of you may be thinking, how could you possibly award a 15 year old game only one point less than its modern day counterpart? Well, that's a good question and I will answer it: the games were obviously released in totally different video game eras. And they're each good, above average games when compared against their peers. Remember, this is just the first half hour of each game, which is even less than what I normally play! Both games are fun though, but surprisingly the NES version has a better story! The Xbox Ninja Gaiden just throws a block of text at you that really doesn't seem applicable to what I was then playing. Though it does seem kind of weird that the NES game's story hinges on finding some random American. Graphically, the Xbox version is near the top of its game. Both games get good scores, and I would recommend trying them both out! If only to get owned in both 2D and 3D.

Ninja Gaiden galore! I think that's enough of Ryu Hayabusa for a while. And ninjas, geez, I just realized I did Pocky & Rocky last week which featured a female ninja.

Ninja Gaiden Nes Nintendo Power