Ninja Gaiden
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Master System
  • Developer:
    • SIMS
  • Publishers:
    • UK Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    • UK Brazil 1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 02/09/2017.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by SIMS and published by Sega for the Sega Master System. The Master System was discontinued early in North America and Japan due to poor sales in those regions, but it did well enough in Europe and other PAL territories to last much longer in those parts of the world. Due to that, this game was exclusively released in most PAL territories in 1992, where it actually kept its title as Ninja Gaiden instead of being renamed to Shadow Warriors, unlike most of the previous games in the series. Speaking of, this game is part of the Ninja Gaiden series by Tecmo that began life in the arcades and on the NES in the late 1980s. The most notable games in the series are the three on the NES, which shocked the world by being some of the first console games to have elaborate cut scenes to convey a more detailed story. They're also known for being some of the best action games on the NES, but also some of the hardest. After the success of the original NES trilogy, Tecmo licensed Sega to create two Ninja Gaiden games, one on the Sega Game Gear in 1991 and another one for the Master System in 1992. The Game Gear game sucked, but the Master System one is surprisingly good.

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Despite this game bearing the same title as the first Ninja Gaiden on the NES and the one on the Game Gear, it's completely different. The game's story likely takes place after the events of the NES trilogy, which starred a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa, a member of the Dragon Ninja clan from the Dragon Village in Japan. After finishing his business in America, which involved killing lots of bad people, Ryu decided to go back home to the Dragon Village. When he got there, he quickly discovered that someone had destroyed the whole village and massacred all of its inhabitants. On top of that, the sacred Bushido scroll had been stolen. This scroll contains immense ninja power, and in the wrong hands, its potential for destruction could be limitless. As the last surviving member of the Dragon Ninja clan, Ryu must find the perpetrators and get the scroll back.

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In this game, you control the protagonist of the Ninja Gaiden series, Ryu Hayabusa. You press left or right on the d-pad to make him run in those directions, down to crouch, and up to climb ladders. Pressing the 1 button makes him swing his sword and the 2 button has him jump. Ryu has access to some moves in this game that weren't in the previous ones. For one, you can now hold down and press either left or right to make him walk while crouching. Secondly, you can press both the 1 and 2 buttons at the same time to make Ryu use a ninja bomb that'll kill all regular enemies on the screen, but this will sacrifice a fourth of his life. This attack is meant for desperate situations, but it isn't too useful. Desperation attacks aside, the controls are about as responsive as the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, which means they're very responsive.

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Some of Ryu's older moves from previous Ninja Gaidens have changed in this game. Ryu can still hang underneath bars or bar-like objects like in Ninja Gaiden III, but he can't climb left or right on them like he could in that game. To hang off a bar-like object, you must jump under it while holding up on the d-pad, or hold down on the d-pad and press the jump button while standing on top of it. Once hanging off a bar-like thing, you can climb on top of it by holding up and pressing jump, or drop off it by holding down and pressing jump. Like Ninja Gaiden III, Ryu can use special weapons while hanging off bar-like things, but unlike that game, he can also use his sword. The biggest change to Ryu's move set is that, unlike practically every other game in the series, he can't cling to walls anymore. Instead, he can do wall jumps by holding the jump button and pressing the d-pad in the same direction as the wall. While this isn't as easy as climbing walls in the other games, it's pretty satisfying to pull off, especially when ascending vertical shafts by jumping back and forth between two walls.

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The special weapon system from the previous games is back, but it's a little different. This time, you cut down floating scrolls instead of orbs to reveal various items and power-ups, like symbols that restore some of Ryu's life bar, extra time, the special weapons themselves, and weapon energy. Like most of the previous games, you hold up on the d-pad and press the attack button to use special weapons, and each one uses different amounts of weapon energy as ammo. With the exception of the shurikens and the Fire Wheel of temporary invincibility, all the special weapons in this game haven't appeared in previous Ninja Gaidens. The new special weapons include larger shurikens that do more damage at the cost of more weapon energy, tiny tornadoes that blast off in the four cardinal directions, and fireballs that home in on nearby enemies. All the special weapons are very useful, and since you get more weapon energy in this game, you can be more liberal with their usage.

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There are a whopping eight stages in this game, a little more than average for a Ninja Gaiden title, and they're all quite meaty. There are forests, cities, villages, waterfall laden mountains, icy lands, lava filled caverns, and other varied locales. One stage is set in the city of Tokyo, where you scale tall buildings and fend off men armed with guns. There's a stage set in Osaka where you climb up telephone poles and run along or hang off the wires at the top. You even go to Mt. Fuji at some point, essentially giving you a tour of Japan. The cast of enemies are rather unique, such as men that shoot harmful flashes at you with their cameras, statues that toss bombs, birds that dive bomb you, snow covered ninjas that throw snowballs, tiny slimes, rocky armadillos, zombies, and more. The graphics are also pretty decent, being much better than the Ninja Gaiden on the Game Gear and almost on par with the NES trilogy, though the music isn't as good as the NES games.

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As usual, bosses await Ryu at the end of each stage. The bosses are fairly creative, even by the standards of the series. For example, the first boss is a sumo wrestler that'll attempt to tackle you every so often, causing enemies to fall down from the trees above when he rams into a wall. The second boss is like some kind of Japanese mafia guy who patiently sits in a chair while his infinitely spawning lackeys attack you, and he literally doesn't do anything for the entire duration of the fight, despite you constantly hitting him. It's both comedic and creative. Then there's an ice wizard boss that teleports around the arena while conjuring blocks of ice to slide toward you. Another boss is a stone golem that assembles and dissembles throughout the fight, all the while destroying the ground beneath your feet. The bosses in this game are just brimming with creativity.

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Aside from the lackluster soundtrack, this game has one other major issue. If you get your weapon energy up to 999, which isn't terribly hard to do, the number will then get stuck there forever. In other words, you'll have infinite weapon energy. Without the limitation of weapon energy, the special weapons become obscenely overpowered, to the point of totally ruining the game's balance. For instance, you're able to trivialize all the bosses by standing in a corner somewhere and spamming the homing fireballs. Likewise, you can trivialize all the stages by constantly spamming the Fire Wheel of temporary invincibility. Even if you die enough times to get a Game Over, you still keep all your weapon energy and current special weapon, plus there are infinite continues. The only ways to undo the bug are to reset your game or let the timer run out during a Game Over. If it weren't for this bug, the game would be fairly challenging. As it is, though, this is easily the easiest Ninja Gaiden.

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It's a shame this game never got released in Japan and North America, because it's pretty good. In fact, this may very well be one of the best Ninja Gaiden games ever made. It's certainly one of the best games on the Sega Master System. This game's got good controls, creative stages, unique bosses, and it's fairly long for a platformer. The only issues this game suffers from are that the soundtrack isn't amazing, and the weapon energy bug messes up the balance of the game's difficulty. Those issues aren't enough to sully what this game gets right, though. This is the best Ninja Gaiden game that nobody has played.

Word Count: 1,533

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