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Title: Ninja Gaiden
Rom Player: NESticle
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie

Synopsis: In this, the first installment of perhaps the greatest series of ninja-related games for the Nintendo, you assume the role of Ryu Hayabusa, son of Ken Hayabusa, the patriarch of the Dragon clan and keeper of the Dragon Sword, and a bunch of other things that start with “dragon.” After Ryu’s father doesn’t come home one day, Ryu searches his room and discovers a note, meant specifically for him. Basically, it says that Ken went to a duel to the death, with no details as to whom with, and that the sacred Dragon Sword was now Ryu’s. Plus, the note also tells him to make his way to the USA and talk with one Ken’s colleagues. With that notion in mind, Ryu sets off to due just that, and the plot unfolds from there.

I don’t want to reveal too much because I’ve found that this game does have a reasonably interesting plot. It’s nothing too complex (Demons, ninjas, the CIA, etc.), but it is entertaining nonetheless. As you go through each of the levels, you’ll be given little cut-scenes where plot turns and enemies are revealed, which was quite an innovation around the time this game was made. Needless to say, you’ll want to progress, if only so that you’ll be able to see what happens next.

Of course, making progress as a ninja can be tricky, and so why not have levels with at least some emphasis on jumping? Ever single level, with the exception of the first one, has an array of pitfalls, crevasses, ravines, and what have you that cost you precious lives. Dying in such a manner isn’t so bad because you get to start at the beginning of the scene in which you died. Once you lose your last life, however, you are sent back to the starting point of the entire level. Not only that, but if you make it far enough to get to the boss, and then die while facing it, you are sent back to the start as well. This does put quite a bit of pressure on you, the player, to be nearly perfect in jumping and attacking, but it can reach hair-pulling levels of frustration at times.

In order to help get you through these tricky levels, you are given a variety of ninja tricks. Among the more useful ones is the ability to cling to walls. With some practice, you can even use this trick to slowly climb walls, because another of your terrific ninja feats is the ability to change directions in mid-jump. It’s only a subtle change in directions, one that allows you to head in the opposite direction while facing the way that you were originally going. Even better is the fact that you can do a flip, but come out of it just long enough to swing your sword, then pull back into it. Now, I know what you’re thinking; “what’s so special about that?” Well, can you do that, Mr./Ms. Jackass?

Getting back on track, you’ve got your cool sword at your disposal, plus you get a whole mess of ninja tools and magic to help you out. To obtain such things, you have to slash these item-holding devices whose appearance ranges from a lantern to a bug, depending upon which stage you’re in. Anyway, the most common things that they drop are two different types of pwerups that boost the amount of energy you have for using weapons. After that, the next most common items are these weird little bags that increase your score, but do nothing else. Then, you can get weapons. The weakest of such weapons is the shuriken. It doesn’t use much of your ninja power, but it doesn’t do much either. After that is one of my favorites, the windmill throwing-star. Once you throw this gizmo, it heads back toward you so that you can dodge it and make it pass you, then head back towards you again, for as long as you can keep it up. Another useful one is the Art of the Fire Wheel. This thing hurls three spinning wheels of fire toward the sky, and serves as a useful three-shot weapon when facing a boss. The most useful, but also the most difficult to use, is the spinning slash technique. This way, whenever you attack while jumping, you stick your sword out and just start mangling everything nearby. Unfortunately, in order to get more ninja power, you need to jump and hit the item holders, and the first kind of energy booster will only give you enough to break even, and the second occurs much less frequently. After the weapons, there are the rarest of the rare, powerups: a vial that heals some of your wounds, a 1-up, an hour glass that stops time for a short while, and the invincible fire wheel. The latter surrounds you with a spinning ring of fire that renders you invincible for about ten seconds, but removes whatever ninja tool you had before grabbing it, leaving you with nothing once it’s done.

Now, as far as opponents go in this ninja adventure, there are only a handful of different enemies, and the rest are just variants on the originals. The primary types of enemies are ones that just move back and forth, ones that are low-to-the-ground and come running at you, ones that toss things like axes and swords up in the air like amateur jugglers, ones that lunge at you, ones that run up and jump at you, and the deadliest, most sinister, and most difficult type of all: birds. Don’t give me that look. The birds in this game are homing birds that com streaking at you from either directly below you, or above you and two one side. Hitting them is a feat on its own, but trying to make jumps while hitting them is a whole different ballgame. That, coupled with the fact that the enemies respawn if you move so that the spot where they appeared is off screen makes for a truly worthy adversary. The bosses that lie at the end of every level all have weird names like “Basaquer,” and are all eight-foot tall freaks. The first two just sort of move slowly while you hack them to bits, but the rest either jump around shooting crap at you or just stand there shooting crap at you. Rest assured that neither variety of shooting bosses is much easier than the other.

To accompany all of this ninja intrigue and ninja fighting, there is an assortment of great songs, plus one uniform boss song that stays with the series all the way to the end. The sound effects, though, are mainly just explosion sounds and variations on beeps like so many other Nintendo games from the 80’s. Of course, by the time you realize that the sound effects are getting annoying, you will more than likely have just been knocked into a pit by one those damn death birds!

Ahem, this is a good game, despite the frustration of required perfection. After all, there’s nothing like proving to the game that you CAN do it, thus silencing the voices in your head. Now what are you looking at?

Best Cheats: Kill any boss easily - If you can make it to the boss with the spinning slash technique and enough energy to use it, you can defeat any boss easily using it.

Game Play: 9
Graphics: 8
Music/Sound: 9
Originality: 10
Overall Rating: 9

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