ReVisit: Ninja Gaiden (NES)

With all of the excitement around the NES Classic Edition, I decided to revisit one of my favorite games and explain why everyone should be stoked to play it. Ninja Gaiden is a series that I feel doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Sure, it is popular among the people who play NES games, and many consider it to be one of the best action platformers on the system, but I’m always shocked by how many people have never heard of it. Granted, I didn’t play it until I started college 7 years ago. When I finally did play it, I felt ashamed for not having experienced it sooner. Ninja Gaiden is exactly what you should think of when thinking about a NES game: a really fun game with that classic difficulty that will either make you feel like you’ve achieved greatness from victory, or dead inside from defeat.


Ninja Gaiden was released on the NES in Japan in 1988 and North America in 1989. It was ported to PC Engine in 1992, and also released as part of the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy on the SNES in 1995. It was published and developed by Tecmo, while Hudson Soft published the PC Engine. It is one of the better known releases, which is really saying something considering the sheer amount of good games Tecmo has released. Though I have never played the PC Engine version (though I do hope to someday) I can definitively say that Ninja Gaiden is one of the best NES games ever made.

One of the first things to note about Ninja Gaiden is the graphics. More specifically, the cutscenes. This was one of the first games that utilized cutscenes throughout the game to actually tell a story. By today’s standards, it’s pretty basic, but if compared to other games at the time, it is remarkable. This definitely adds to the game and really sets it apart from contemporaries at the time. In all honesty, no one is playing Ninja Gaiden for the story, so it would be better to focus on what really makes it awesome.

Ninja Gaiden Cutscene

The gameplay of Ninja Gaiden is nearly flawless. With how hard this game gets, you need insanely fluent and precise controls, and luckily it doesn’t come up short. Everything plays as it should for an action platformer. All you do is run, jump, and kill everything that’s in your way.

The thing that really sets this game apart is how absolutely insanely difficult it can be. Sure, the first level is a breeze, but once you make it about halfway through level 2 you begin to realize how diabolical this game actually is. The platforming really amps up its difficulty with constant bottomless pits, and the sheer number and variety of enemies that begin to come at you can be overwhelming. Especially when you consider that most of the enemies will continuously respawn unless you keep moving. And really, that’s the secret of this game: Always keep moving! If you stay still for too long you are just going to make things harder for yourself. The only real way to play this is to put your head down, charge through and continuously improve.

I’m going to just come out and say that yes, it is as hard as you’ve heard it is. The constantly respawning enemies and their placement is there solely to make you stare at the TV, dying over and over again, and think “I feel nothing” as it happens.  Now this may deter a lot of people, but believe me when I say that this is still a game that must be experienced. It’s a blast to play, even with all the dying that will happen, and it’s probably one of the best examples of “NES hard” done properly. After months of playing and finally beating the game, I threw down my controller, dropped to my knees and exclaimed “I AM GOD!” at the top of my lungs. And I’m not going to lie, in that moment, I did feel like a god.

An aspect of Ninja Gaiden which I feel is underappreciated is its soundtrack. Sure, people usually admit that it has a good soundtrack, but to me this is the game that made me begin to realize how good chiptune is. It has dug a hole into my brain and laid its eggs there to nuzzle up for all eternity. Especially the second level. Dear god that song will never leave me. It’s definitely a soundtrack I feel more people should talk about.

In conclusion: I believe you really should play Ninja Gaiden if you haven’t already. Seriously, this is a game that begs to be played and is pretty unforgettable once you do play it. This is one of those games that I recommend to everyone who wants to start playing retro games. It is fast, fun, hard, and just an all-around classic in every sense of the word. It is also a great way to truly experience what “NES hard” means. Besides emulating it, the best way to play this amazing game is to either pick up an original copy (luckily it is not expensive, c. $15.00) or just wait till the NES Classic Edition releases later this year. Whatever it takes, you should really play it, and if you are able to beat it then you can stand proudly as a boss who looked into the abyss and spit in its face.

Ninja Gaiden Series




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