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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (382)

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Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5
Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5

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Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow Warriors )   Nintendo (NES) 

Hell Doesn’t Have 9 Layers, It Has 6 Acts    1/5 stars

“Ninja Gaiden,” which, thanks to the 3 Japanese characters between the two words in the title, I always read as “Ninja THE Gaiden,” is one of those games that never piqued my interest back in the day. Granted, I didn’t even start gaming until the year it game was released, in 1989, and my desire to play the old NES was frequently limited by both my 10-year-old child attention span and my to-this-very-day low tolerance for the generally awful quality of the NES games my Dad bought for me, knowing nothing about them.

Perhaps I dodged a bullet? I didn’t receive a Nintendo Power Magazine advertising/shilling subscription until the issue after “Ninja THE Gaiden” received a full feature, and my local peers who played games (and, I assumed, knew a hell of a lot more about them than I did) were busy gushing over “Zelda II,” “Dragon Warrior/Quest,” “Tecmo Bowl,” and “The Adventures of Lolo.” To top it all off, the concept of ‘ninja’ hadn’t really entered my sphere of awareness, and I was too young and innocent to understand the popularity of edgelords like Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, who populated the pages of my ‘G.I. Joe’ comics.

But with emulation easier than ever, and with the alleged ‘spiritual successor’ to “Ninja THE Gaiden” – 2018’s “The Messenger” – in the rear view mirror, I figured I’d at least take a look at this supposed wonder of the 8-bit world. Unsurprisingly, I found it to be almost exactly what I expected, and if my Dad had blindly given me a copy back in the day, it definitely would have gone on the “sell” pile alongside the likes of “JAWS,” “Cobra Triangle,” and “Sky Shark.”

Presentation
“Ninja THE Gaiden” deserves some props for its visual presentation. While the actual gameplay features predictably-ugly ‘realistic’ NES sprites, each primarily dominated by a single color, and plenty of drab brown-and-gray backdrops (Well what do you know! The PS3/60 didn’t invent Brown-and-Gray!), the game also features incredibly ambitious cutscenes (which are largely static close-ups of characters talking) between Acts. These cutscenes are, by and large, the game’s sole saving grace. Not only do they seem to defy the NES’ technical limitations with regard to color, they successfully incorporate (‘80s) anime-style pixel-art to great effect. Back to the actual ‘game’ part, though, it’s a fairly drab experience, with both the player and enemies taking the form of small, poorly-animated sprites, while the enemy design itself can only be described as nonsensical, with a random mix of street thugs, martial artists, soldiers, football players, and wildlife all trying (and succeeding) to kill the player.

Audiowise, “Ninja THE Gaiden” is quite alright. The soundtrack features a variety of well-composed chiptunes that the average gamer might be able to hear over the sounds of their own cussing and the breaking of nearby objects. Sound effects are less impressive, but still adequate.

Technically, “Ninja THE Gaiden” is… kind of weirdly designed, but we’ll get to that in the gameplay section. The bright side is that it doesn’t crash.

Story
Ryu Hayabusa (which means “Dragon Falcon” in Japanese), is a 1980’s ninja whose father is mysteriously killed. Seeking vengeance, he travels to America, where he learns that his father was mixed up with some ancient occult nonsense involving an archaeological research team in South America who discovered a pair of ancient statues, allegedly containing the fragmented soul of an all-powerful demon. His father’s research partner gives Ryu one of these statues and, unsurprisingly all hell breaks loose.

The statue is stolen, the CIA gets involved (with a sexy, blonde female agent catching Ryu’s eye), and, of course, it’s up to Ryu to figure out who took the demon statues, why they took them, and how to get them back.

It’s a fairly basic and straight-forward plot with a few very predictable twists (at least predictable for anyone who has ever watched a full-length anime at some point in their life). However, for an NES game, it’s basically the equivalent of Greek Tragedy, considering that few NES games bothered with cutscenes at all, let alone to the scale that “Ninja THE Gaiden” does them. Even more impressively, the number of grammatical errors in the text-only narrative are remarkably few, though not absent.

“Ninja THE Gaiden” is a difficult (no pun intended) game to nail down with regard to length, simply because people of varying skill levels who attempt to play it will have wildly varying experiences. It could be a 30 minute game or a 5 hour game or a lifelong torture session of unending agony. I, personally, place it firmly in the latter category.

Gameplay
“Ninja THE Gaiden” is a very by-the-books NES platformer. You’ve got your left-to-right sidescrolling (which, *gasp* transforms into right-to-left sidescrolling more and more as the game wears on), your somewhat stiff physics, excessive knockback for the player (and none for enemies), and inconsistent hit detection which frequently leads to the player getting hit by things they feel like they dodged and enemies taking no damage from what appear to be obvious connecting blows.

If I had to compare “Ninja THE Gaiden” to another generic NES platformer, it would have to be ‘Castlevania,’ as the player can direct Ryu to attack background objects like torches and… dragonflies? in order to collect power-ups. Most of these power-ups take the form of sub-weapons, ranging from a spinning slash, to a thrown shuriken, to a ring of magical fire, and are powered by some sort of ninja energy, which also drops from said background objects.

Unlike most NES games, however, “Ninja THE Gaiden” seems, at first, to award perseverance through its unlimited continues and gracious checkpoint system. However, all of this abruptly drops off a cliff at the bitter end of the game, where the checkpoint and continue system suddenly seems to remember that it’s an NES game and becomes significantly more cruel.

However, the most cruel thing about “Ninja THE Gaiden,” and the thing that cemented it in the memories of Millennials and Gen-Xers as one of the worst “Nintendo-Hard” games on the console where that phrase originated, is the level design. “Ninja THE Gaiden” loves to throw bottomless pits in its stages like they were on sale at a deep discount, but it also loves to throw enemies at the player while they are trying to traverse these pits with Ryu’s merely-adequate jumping capabilities and sub-par wall-grabbing capabilities. And these enemies frequently just come out of nowhere. The thing that makes enemy placements in “Ninja THE Gaiden” so maddeningly infuriating, however, is the fact that each enemy’s spawn point will continuously generate a copy of that enemy so long as the spawn point is in a ‘sweet-spot’ near the edge of the screen. Thus killing enemies without rushing recklessly forward simply results in continuous enemy spam (there’s one spot where I stood and watched a continuous stream of football players commit suicide by jumping into a pit, which is the only thing about “Ninja THE Gaiden” that made me happy). The worst of these continuously-spawning enemies, however, are birds. Taking the form of both brown hawks and white doves, these things move erratically and much faster than Ryu can, making them literally the most dangerous thing in the game, as they WILL hit Ryu and, thanks to the game’s overzealous knockback, toss him into a pit.

“Ninja THE Gaiden” is a game that seemingly begs the player to plod through it as slowly and methodically as possible, feeling out enemy spawns, edging close enough to keep them from entering spam mode, and countering each in turn. However, it also has an annoyingly short stage timer, which does not provide enough time to do this. Over the course of the game’s 6 Acts, the sub-stages get progressively longer, to the point where I kept running out of time whilst slogging through Acts 5 and 6.

Lastly, there are the bosses. While the early bosses are simple pattern-recognition affairs and fairly par-for-the-course in a NES game, later bosses are absolutely atrociously designed. There’s a battle between two animated dog statues, only one of which can take damage to the boss’ life meter, while the other summons two more dog statues if destroyed, making the arena impossibly cluttered… and there’s no way to tell them apart, since they’re both/all identical. There’s a heavily armored warrior who claims to be an amazing swordsman, but really just spam-throws nearly-impossible-to-dodge fireballs at Ryu, and who must be defeated in a simple Face-Tank battle of attrition. And there’s a ridiculous boss gauntlet at the end, each of which employ erratic, bird-like projectiles.

Overall
The original “Ninja Gaiden” certainly earned its unforgiving reputation. Between merely adequate controls, iffy hit detection, seemingly-intentional technical issues, and an absolutely cruel difficulty curve, it’s the epitome of nearly everything bad about the NES and the games of its era. On the other hand, it’s one of the earliest games to try to graft cinematics and storytelling to the Action genre, which was indeed a noble goal. Regardless of that last fact, it’s not a game I’d recommend to anyone, not even my worst enemy. Self-abuse is a cry for help.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 3.5/5
Gameplay: 1/5
Overall (not an average): 1/5

 

 


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