Ninja Gaiden

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Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden - NES - USA.jpg

NES - USA - 1st edition.

Developer Tecmo
Publisher Tecmo
Published 1988-12-09
Platforms NES, PlayChoice-10, TurboGrafx-16
Genres Action, Beat 'em up, Platformer
Themes Action, Martial Arts, Ninjas
Series Ninja Gaiden
Distribution Commercial

Ninja Gaiden is a ninja-themed platform action game developed and published by Tecmo for the NES on 1988-12-09 and later for the PlayChoice-10 and PC Engine. It is the second game in the Ninja Gaiden series released only a couple months after the arcade game.

In the game, you play as Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja who is trying to figure out why his father was killed in a duel, but quickly becomes involved in a plot where a man man is trying to revive a demon. The game is known for using large cinematics between action sequences to tell a story, something that was uncommon for the time. The game was also ported to an LCD handheld and unofficially novelized.



I remember watching my brother and step-brothers playing this game around 1990, I think my brother was borrowing it from a friend. I thought it looked really cool, but I don't think they ever let me play it. At the time, with no understanding of Japanese pronunciation, we called the game "Ninja GAY-den." I remember them getting to the boss of act 2, but never beating him. A couple years later, a friend of mine had the game, and I played it a little bit, but found it to be too hard to be enjoyable. I tried it a couple other times in emulators over the years, but never had the patience to get good at it. In August 2020, I spent several grueling hours replaying the game over and over. I reached the Masked Devil, defeated him, and the got quickly eviscerated by Jaquio. Upon being sent all the way back to 6-1, I was too frustrated to keep playing. This is one of those games that could have been fantastic if they fixed a couple control problems and the ridiculous enemy respawn.


Video Game Review Icon - Enjoyment.png Video Game Review Icon - Control.png Video Game Review Icon - Appearance.png Video Game Review Icon - Sound.png Video Game Review Icon - Replayability.png
4 4 7 6 4

Best Version: NES

— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The action scenes have good graphics, especially with the backgrounds. The cut scenes are very well drawn, make good use of cinematic tricks, and were technically impressive at the time. I also like the good use of palette fade in and out during scene changes and the palette cycling when you get a game over.
  • The music, though a little repetitive in several songs, is still above par for the NES at this time, and the sound effects are good.
  • The game actually has a story with twists and a climax, far more than most action games could claim at this time.
  • The game mechanics make you feel like a ninja. Smooth running, climbing up walls, flips in the air, swift sword strikes, throwing shurikens, energy potions that grant you ninja magic, etc.


  • The controls are a little difficult to work with. For example, it's easy to accidentally jump without getting much distance if you jump shortly after changing direction. Also, it's very easy to get stuck on a wall when you weren't intending to do so. Some parts of the map even seem to be designed to trip you up on this.
  • The story is especially over-the-top with several problems. For example, Jaquio threatens murder the woman if Ryu doesn't hand over the statue, but Ryu doesn't even know her name, and, besides, this is the woman who shot him, so why would he care? Also, Irene starts off as a strong female character, but then becomes a damsel in distress, and ultimately a reward for the player. And, if the demon can only return when the two statues are brought together at the temple, why doesn't the CIA keep their statue instead of having Ryu take it to the temple?!
  • You are killed when you fall down a pit, even when there is a ladder going down and the fall would be shorter than other falls in the game which you aren't injured from. This is an annoying game mechanic that is inconsistent with the physics of the game world. You can also "teleport" into a room if you jump at the top of the screen near a ladder.
  • The jump & slash technique damages enemies every frame rather than in spaced out intervals. This makes wiping out bosses extremely easy when you have access to the technique.
  • I would have liked more variety in the enemies. Several of them are just reskins of existing enemies, and many of them are reused too much. Also, why are boxers and football players hanging out at the Peruvian temple?
  • Some of the bosses are uninspired. Barbarian just slowly lumbers toward you slashing at the air. Malth fires impossible-to-dodge lightning so the only real strategy is to hit him 16 times before he can hit you seven times.
  • The English translation has multiple typos both in the game and manual. I also assume it wasn't translated very well, since it names a legendary Japanese ninja "Shinobi," which is just an alternate Japanese word for, "ninja."
  • Rather than give the player unlimited continues, it would have been nicer if the designers made the game slightly easier and enforced limited continues.
  • The lower-case letter c in the game's typeface annoys me.


  • The knock-back from enemies is especially annoying. A single hit causes you to lose control of Ryu until he touches ground again, however, the maps are purposely designed so that most pits have enemies around them waiting to knock you into them, and most stages are filled with pits. You also only get a very brief moment of invincibility after taking a hit, so, if you're surrounded by enemies, they can quickly drain your life while you can barely react. Because of this, the game punishes you severely for even the most minuscule of mistakes, and this causes it to be far too difficult for most players.
  • Enemies respawn the moment you leave their spawn point on the map. So, if you have to backup to avoid an enemy, you'll find that you'll have to fight it all over again when you return to where it spawned, and, the enemies you already defeated will respawn when you backup. For enemies like bats, birds, and certain soldiers, they respawn over and over again until you leave the spot where they're spawning. This essentially forces the player to be always moving forward and almost never backtrack, which isn't very fun.
  • Getting sent all the way back to 6-1 if you die in the end boss fight is just a kick in the teeth. It forces you to have to re-play all the unfair sections of Act 6 before even getting another shot at the incredibly difficult boss fight.


Box Art





Commercial - USA.
Review - NES Works.
Review - Angry Video Game Nerd.
Review - NESComplex.
Longplay - NES.
Longplay - PC Engine.
History of speed runs.

Play Online

Famicom, NES, PC Engine


Strong female character?PassIrene is initially strong, but becomes a damsel in distress and reward.
Bechdel test?FailThere is only one woman.
Strong person of color character?PassThe protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, is Japanese.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.


Language Native Transliteration Translation
English (Australian) Shadow Warriors: Ninja Gaiden
English (Europe) Shadow Warriors
English (USA) Ninja Gaiden
English (Working Title) Dragon Ninja
Japanese 忍者龍剣伝 Ninja Ryukenden Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword


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