Ninja Gaiden Review

Ninja Gaiden has garnered itself a reputation of being one of the original “NES hard” games. Players get a taste of this as they play through the game and experience relentless enemy spawn points, difficult enemy placement, and the dreaded damage knockback. The ending of the game in particular is notorious for its difficulty, but like anything, practice will be the key to your victory; that or save states, whichever comes first. Ninja Gaiden is known for more than just being a difficult game, so let’s get on to discussing the joys and cons of Ninja Gaiden for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

A Cinematic NES Experience

Aside from its difficult nature, Ninja Gaiden is also known for being one of the first cinematic video game experiences. The game begins with an introduction cutscene that lays the foundation for the game’s story. The game gradually uncovers more of its story before and after the end of most acts, of which there are a total of six. There are a few twists along the way, making it quite tough to predict the story arc. Overall, this cinematic experience was quite unique for its time and makes Ninja Gaiden a must play for gamers.

Gameplay is Fun, But Could Use a Few Tweaks

For those that aren’t aware, Ninja Gaiden is a sidescrolling action game featuring a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa. Controlling Ryu is quite simple; movement is done by using the d-pad, jumps with the A button, and sword slashes with the B button. Ryu can also pick up a variety of power-up items such as shurikens, fireballs, etc. Utilizing these moves with great execution is the key to surviving this game. The game is broken into six acts, each ending in a boss encounter. Most will actually have fun taking down the first three acts with ease, but after that, you’ll start to see why this is known as a difficult game.

Part of the game’s difficulty comes from enemy placement, and the rate at which they spawn. There are some areas where you’ll come to a gap that must be crossed, but the enemy is waiting on the next platform, making it difficult to cross safely. You can try jumping and attacking, but chances are, you’ll hit the enemy and because of damage knockback, you’ll end up being thrown into the pit. If you time it correctly, it’s possible you’ll be able to cross, but chances are some bird or bat is waiting to be spawned, and instead, they are the ones to knock you into the pit. If you land safely, kill the bird or bat, you may notice that the bird or bat spawns again almost immediately. This scenario can be frustrating and it happens frequently during the second half of the game. Adding to the frustration is Ryu’s ability to cling to walls. In future Ninja Gaiden games, Ryu is able to climb most surfaces, however, in the debut game, he sticks to most walls and can only move by jumping from them. This can result in some of those aforementioned knockback deaths.

Because of the nature of how enemies spawn in this game, staying in one place can actually hinder your chances of success. One could argue that the game is balanced by placing helpful items nearby, but for most, the level of frustration isn’t alleviated by power-ups. The developers did give Ryu a health meter, however, that’s not helpful when being unfairly knocked back into the abyss. Like most NES hard games, practice and memorization will be necessary, however, I strongly believe that the game could have been improved by making enemy placements and spawn rates more fair.

The last thing that frustrates a lot of players, including myself, is losing during boss fights. The boss fights themselves can be quite easy if you know what to do, however, losing will send you back, forcing you to cross over treacherous terrain a second time. Giving fair checkpoints would immediately make this game a little less frustrating, and a lot more welcoming to all gamers.

Excellent Visuals

Ninja Gaiden is one of the better looking NES games and demonstrates this in two ways. First, the actual in-game sprites and backgrounds are colorful, detailed, and are well designed overall. Second, Ninja Gaiden’s cutscenes have breathtaking visuals for a game of its time. I’d compare the cutscene art to that of a comic book. There isn’t a lot of animation in these cutscenes, but the format works for the game and has left its impact on the industry.

Fantastic Soundtrack

I’ve praised the game’s visuals, cinematic feel, and parts of its gameplay, however, I’d be doing the game a disservice by not mentioning its soundtrack. From its catchy, athletic themes, to the dramatic melodies of its cutscenes, Ninja Gaiden delivers a fantastic aural experience. It’s not easy choosing one standout theme, but my favourite track has to be the one first heard on stage 2-2.


Ninja Gaiden is not for the weak of heart, although it can be mastered with patience and practice. The gameplay could have been tweaked to make the game better, however, I still feel that this game is a ton of fun to play. Not to mention that it comes with a badge of accomplishment upon its completion. Ninja Gaiden also revolutionized storytelling in gaming by way of its comic-like cutscenes, so it's easy to see how the game has left a lasting impression on the community.

Final Score: +3

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