Ninja Gaiden Shadow
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Natsume
  • Publisher:
    • Tecmo
  • Released:
    • JP 12/13/1991
    • US December 1991
    • UK 1992
Score: 75%

This review was published on 11/23/2016.

Ninja Gaiden Shadow, known as Shadow Warriors in Europe and Australia, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Natsume and published by Tecmo for the Game Boy. It was originally released in Japan on December 13, 1991, North America in December 1991, and Europe in 1992. This was originally going to be a portable rendition of another Natsume developed game called Shadow of the Ninja, which came out on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 and bore a striking resemblance to the Ninja Gaiden series by Tecmo. Perhaps due to this similarity, Tecmo picked up the publishing rights to the Game Boy version of Shadow of the Ninja and transformed it into a Ninja Gaiden spinoff. In other words, Tecmo bought out its competition. As a result of this, the game received some changes to make it fit in with the rest of the Ninja Gaiden series, such as ripping the protagonist and some music from those games. The game still plays closer to Shadow of the Ninja than Ninja Gaiden, though. Either way, it's pretty decent.

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Despite having been released after Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, this game is a prequel to the entire series. In 1985, three years before the events of the first Ninja Gaiden on the NES, this game follows the heroic deeds of a man named Ryu Hayabusa, the last ninja of the dragon clan. According to the North American instruction manual, an evil dictator known as Emperor Gulf invades the United States of America and takes over New York City. Behind the scenes, the evil Emperor was actually an underling of Ryu's arch rival, Jaquio. Gulf's loyal servants include the cybernetic warrior Spider, wrestler Gregory and his brother Jack, former military leader Colonel Allen, and a nobleman hailing from Japan named Whokisai. Now the fate of the nation, nay, the world is in Ryu's hands. It should be noted that this is nearly identical to the plot of Shadow of the Ninja, except they changed the protagonist to Ryu and added in a few references to the other Ninja Gaiden games.

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This game is stupidly easy to control. You press the d-pad left or right to walk left or right, the A button to jump, and the B button to swing your trusty sword. Holding up and pressing B will use Ryu's special secondary attack, which is the Fire Wheel ability in this game. Unlike the other Ninja Gaiden games, you can't get any other special attacks or sub-weapons, so you're stuck with the basic Fire Wheel for the whole adventure. The Fire Wheel uses up Spirit Energy, a limited resource you can only carry up to five of. Spirit Energy is usually found within breakable crystal orbs scattered throughout the game. Those very same crystal balls also occasionally contain health potions and extra lives. Compared to Ninja Gaiden and Shadow of the Ninja, this game's pacing is much slower. The main reason for this is that you literally move much slower, with your running speed going at a metaphorical snail's pace. Due to that, the game is a bit less exciting, though the great music does make up for it.

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Unlike the previous Ninja Gaiden games, you can't stick to or climb walls. However, like Shadow of the Ninja and Ninja Gaiden III, you can grab onto horizontal bars and pipes from beneath and hang off of them. While hanging from a pipe or whatever, you can climb left or right, swing your sword, use the Fire Wheel art, press A to jump on top of the pipe, or hold down and press A to drop off. When standing on top of a pipe, you can hold down and press A to flip beneath it and latch on. A new thing you can do in this game that you couldn't in any of the previous Ninja Gaiden titles or Shadow of the Ninja is use a grappling hook. You use the grappling hook by holding up and pressing the A button while on the ground, and it acts as a way of latching onto pipes from a distance. Sadly, the grappling hook can only go straight up, but it's still cool.

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Each stage is a strictly linear affair in which you jump across treacherous terrain and slash through countless fiends before being able to face off against the boss at the end. The stage design is a little like the 8-bit Castlevania games in that you have to take things slow, else you get punished. Many enemies have ranged weaponry like guns and such, so you often have to duck and wait for them to fire a volley of shots before proceeding. As with Shadow of the Ninja, everything after the first stage contains plenty of pipe climbing. You'll also sometimes be forced to use the grappling hook, which is always a delight. The game's got a decent amount of environments, too, like cities, factories, military bases, caves, and so on. However, there are only five stages and they're all rather short and easy. On top of that, you even get unlimited continues. Still, all the stages are quite enjoyable.

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As mentioned earlier, the bosses are all of the Emporer's top brass. There aren't many bosses, but each fight is pretty unique, generally highlighting the boss' profession or personality. For example, Gregory is accompanied by his tiny brother, Jack, who'll grab onto you to slow you down while Greg attempts to kick you into smithereens. Then there's Colonel Allen, whose machine gun bullets you avoid by using the grappling hook to latch onto a pipe attached to the ceiling. Like the stages, most of the bosses are kind of easy, but they're fun enough that it kind of doesn't matter. The final boss is still quite tough, though. One annoying thing about the bosses in this game is that, unlike most of the Ninja Gaiden games, you can't see their life meter. It's a minor nitpick to be sure, but you don't know what you have until you lose it.

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For the most part, Ninja Gaiden Shadow provides a far more simplified Ninja Gaiden experience when compared to its console brethren, eschewing most of the power-ups and the ability to climb walls. This game is also way easier and far less intense than the other Ninja Gaiden titles. While it may not measure up to the quality of the Ninja Gaiden games on the NES, Ninja Gaiden Shadow is still a good game, especially for the Game Boy. It's a bit short, but Ninja Gaiden Shadow is still worth a look.

Word Count: 1,112

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