Review: Ninja Gaiden (3DS Virtual Console)

4 mins read

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

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  • I love that rush of nostalgia when I have my retro game goggles on… Then I'm soon blinded and brought back to reality when I realize some of these games are bone-crushingly difficult. I know my gaming/platforming skills aren't near what they used to be and for good reason. I'm not practicing 20-40+ hours a week to land those jumps like I did as a kid.

    I also like what they're doing with bringing NES titles to the 3DS in theory; perhaps it doesn't always turn out well. (at least on the standard 3ds)

  • You're not starting my day off very well at all with this review!

    It isn't that hard of a game either. I can usually make it at least halfway through the game without dying a single time. All of the enemies are avoidable and have very clear movement lines, with the few exceptions in the last stage and final boss too.

    It's also quite the lengthy title for a NES cartridge, with an extensive (awesome) soundtrack, that is one of the best of its time too.

    Ninja Gaiden is my absolute favourite game of all-time. You sit down and put some time into it on a better system to play it on, and you'll see exactly why it is too.

  • Sorry dude, this really isn't the kind of game I enjoy. Ninja Gaiden 3 is more my kinda thing – please don't hate me 😛

    I'm sure the fact it's a bad port doesn't help though.

  • This was a fairly tough game, but one I beat several times back on the NES. It was the sequel, Ninja Gaiden 2, that I thought was the easiest of the NES trilogy. I enjoyed the cinematic quality to all three games.

  • So I replied earlier via my iPhone and it literally ate my comment (again), but there was supposed to be a smiley after my first sentence this morning, but I was flying out the door to work and forgot to put it there. 🙂

    From an old-school hardcore gamer, Ninja Gaiden was ground breaking, not only for it being the first game to introduce the CG cutscene, but in the fact that the game forces you to play extremely aggressive. You keep your momentum constantly moving forward and get the jump on your enemies, instead of waiting for timed attacks – many of which are so small there near impossible to hit, unless your rushing them at first sight.

    Much like it's successors from Itakagaki, there's a style that needs to be learned to play them and it's an extremely tough one to master.

    Also, its not exactly a short game, especially for a game of its ilk and the soundtrack is very extensive too – not to mention absolutely phenomenal. 😉

  • preach it Chris, My 3ds and i parted ways (by means of an nasty accident..sigh) but soon enough we will reunite to relive this classic..jeje
    (Wii u launch left me kinda broke 🙂
    ** seeing those cutscenes really brings back the magic.

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