I know there’s a gamer sub-culture that appreciates games that are deliberately (painfully) hard. These are the kind of people that buy into the retro-modern games and tributes. They’re the kind of people that arcade games would have sucked right in before people realised that buying a game and playing it at home was far cheaper than giving the arcade cabinet thousands of coins until you finally beat the thing.
But here’s the thing – games were so hard ‘back in the day’ simply because they needed to give people value for money. Because cartridge memory was so limited and a game’s length was so short as a consequence, making it brutally, unfairly difficult was usually the answer to turn a 10 minute game into a dozens of hours-long epic.
I’ve personally always felt that this design philosophy is best left to history. To me the best difficult games are those that are about the experience first, and the mastery second. In other words, I like being able to finish my games without having to grind away at the same area for hours to memorise the enemy patterns to the point where the game shifts from being tear-inducing difficult to brainlessly easy. That’s not to suggest I only like easy games, but rather I like games that challenge me by throwing new surprises at me, or keeping a constant stream of new challenges to overcome.
NES games, of course, are too primitive to be able to offer the kind of challenge I actually enjoy. Because of that I’m probably not the ideal person to be reviewing NES games, least of all Ninja Gaiden, which is one of the most ridiculously “retro difficult” games you’ll ever play. That said, let’s look at some of the reasons that even fans of these older games might want to avoid this port:
For starters, for a game that relies on players being precise and accurate to work through, the tiny 3DS screen is less than ideal for seeing what’s going on. Power-ups are barely distinguishable from one other. The background is impressively detailed for a NES original game, but because it’s so crushed into such a small space that detail becomes an ugly aesthetic of basic colours and lines. And while enemies and lead man, Ryu, are animated smoothly, this technical feat (considering the other games from the era) is ruined by the fact that they’re a couple of pixels high.
So, even if you’re the kind of gamer who can enjoy the fact that enemies are deliberately placed to be impossible to avoid, or that the level timer is slow short that you’re essentially forced to speed run thorough levels and right into those unavoidable enemies… even if you can handle the fact that once you’ve memorised all the enemy patterns and can get by without losing too many lives the game is a scarce few minutes long, Ninja Gaiden is just not a very good port.
It’s a pity, because this series is quite legitimately one of the most compelling ninja stories you’ll ever experience, and Ryu is a great character. It would have been great for more modern gamers to have enough of a reason to work through the genesis of the series.
– Matt S