This week Defunct Games is proud to present the season finale of Cyril Reads Ninja Gaiden, the one show brave enough to read A.L. Singer's 1989 literary masterpiece. But before we unveil the final episode we thought it would be fun to look back at all of the Ninja Gaiden games, from 1988 to 2008. With twenty years of Ninja Gaiden action you can expect a lot of shurikens, masked men and attacking birds. Always that bird.
In this article we intend to rate each of the 15 Ninja Gaiden games. To keep this simple we've decided to keep our This Week in Defunct Games rating system, where green is good, yellow is caution and red means bad. If that easy to understand guide confuses you then I suggest you actually read our text, it's only a paragraph long and full of pithy comments. I would say that it's good for you and will cure cancer, but our lawyers have advised us against that (but it really is good for you ... way better than Vitamin C).
This three-page special feature will give you all the context you need for tomorrow's amazing, life-changing season finale of Cyril Reads Ninja Gaiden. So make sure and come back tomorrow for that, but in the mean time you should check out our salute to Ryu Hayabusa and the ninja spirit that is in all of our dads. Or something like that.
It's only fitting that we begin The Ultimate Ninja Gaiden Players Guide with the game that started it all - Ninja Gaiden. While most people remember the classic 8-bit NES game, it's this mediocre side-scrolling arcade brawler that introduced the world to Ryu Hayabusa. There are elements of this game that bear a striking similarity to what was later seen in the NES version, but this is not the same game. Instead this is basically a disappointing clone of Double Dragon, only this time it featured ninjas and a few extra moves. Unfortunately this game isn't as fun as it sounds. The gameplay is slow and sluggish and your character (for no reason at all) moves forward even if you don't want him to. He's always walking, which means that you're always having to steer Ryu in the direction you want him. Needless to say having to do this is frustrating and cumbersome. The graphics may be nicely detailed, but the original arcade Ninja Gaiden just isn't much fun.
This is, of course, the most popular "old school" Ninja Gaiden game. When people think about the original Ninja Gaiden this is generally what they are thinking about, and for good reason, the arcade game was absolute garbage. Beyond just being an all around great game, this Ninja Gaiden actually broke new ground for adventure games and created a few milestones. Perhaps the biggest achievement linked to Ninja Gaiden was the birth of the long-winded cinema. Sure games had attempted cinemas before Ninja Gaiden, but Tecmo's action game was the first to get it right. Ninja Gaiden told a story, a silly and convoluted story, but a story nonetheless. It's no wonder that we remember the cinemas so vividly, the game itself is somewhat basic and entirely too difficult. Don't get me wrong, the 2D action s still a lot of fun, but the punishing difficulty and boring power-ups standout 19 years later. Thankfully the story is compelling enough to stick around to the end, because if this was solely a 2D action game I might have given up hours ago.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES)
[ Release: 1990 - Developer: Tecmo ]
One year after unleashing Ninja Gaiden on the world, Tecmo is back with (you guessed it) Ninja Gaiden II. When you think about it there's really no place for this sequel, the story was neatly wrapped up in the first Ninja Gaiden outing and Tecmo really didn't bring much new to the table. That's not to say that they didn't add anything new to Ninja Gaiden II, because The Dark Sword of Chaos has a few new power-ups and an even sillier and more convoluted story (complete with lengthy cinemas). The graphics and sound are about as good as the first game, even though the music in this sequel isn't as memorable as it is in the first game. Unfortunately Ninja Gaiden II decides to cut a few corners and cheapen the product. I'm certainly not a big fan of recycling bosses, especially if they come from the first game. Continuity is one thing, but nobody wants to fight the same bosses two games in a row. You didn't see Hideo Kojima using the Metal Gear Solid 3 bosses in Metal Gear Solid 4, and Tecmo should have taken that advice (18 years in the future) and not tried to pass off Ninja Gaiden 1 characters in Ninja Gaiden 2. I'm just saying.
Although the NES game had been out for two years, Atari decided to ignore that game and release a port of the poorly received Ninja Gaiden arcade game. There are a couple of things to note about this release; the most important is that at the time this was just about the best looking handheld game on the market. While it may look a little rough and the backgrounds don't quite have the same amount of detail, Ninja Gaiden on the Lynx was considered a breakthrough by the gaming press and handheld coinsurers the world over. Unfortunately the game itself is terrible, much like the arcade original. In the arcades this game was barely controllable, so you can imagine how bad it was given the Lynx's unresponsive D-pad and the strange button layout. Oddly enough, this was the only console port of the arcade game (it was released on a number of old computers), which almost makes this game worth owning ... almost. If you're a Ninja Gaiden fan and feel like you need to complete your collection, then this is the best version of the franchises humble roots. Just keep in mind that the game isn't very good and there's never a good reason to play this arcade port.
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (NES)
[ Release: 1991 - Developer: Tecmo ]
After seeing the success of the original Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo decided to do the one thing that every game developer dreams of - release annual sequels. This is the third sequel in three years, and you can really tell that the developers behind this game were at a total loss as to where to take this game next. In some ways this game feels just like the game two NES titles (it's punishingly difficult, it plays exactly the same, the levels all look kind of familiar, etc.), only this time around the story is way too convoluted for its own good. Actually, the story itself actually contradicts itself, and it almost feels like something was lost in the translation. By the end of the game you're stuck with a game that feels exactly the same as the other two but has a worse story. This may still be worth checking out, but if you've seen the first two games then you already know what to expect from this sequel. And for the record, "The Ancient Ship of Doom" is one of the worst subtitles in ninja history. You probably should have known it was going to be disappointing right from that terrible name.