(VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Ninja Gaiden (VC Arcade / Virtual Console Arcade)

Game Review

Ninja Gaiden Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

The original, but possibly not the best.

Ninja Gaiden is a game best known to many as a series of action-platformers that started out on the NES and has continued into the present day on the current crop of HD systems as a 3rd-person action game. It's worth remembering that it started out as an unforgiving beat-em up in arcades and thanks to Tecmo's release of it on the Virtual Console Arcade you can do just that.

Europeans may well wonder about the title since the game was originally released as Shadow Warriors due to funny laws that forbade the use of the word "ninja" in children's toys (apparently including arcade games and Teenage Mutant "Hero" Turtles), but clearly things have moved on and the nonsensical American renaming of Ninja Ryukenden prevails on the PAL Virtual Console.

As with other Tecmo VCA releases, you can freely reconfigure button layout including Insert Coin (but not Start). Wii remote, Classic and Gamecube controllers are all supported, though given the game uses 3 buttons you're better off using either of the latter two options.

It's easy to see why this game spawned such an enduring franchise. For a late-80s beat-em-up it has a good level of detail and is quite vibrant and colourful. The stages are preceded and followed by still scenes of the hero Ninja travelling to and through America on a mission to beat the crap out of tons of baddies. Most dramatically, each stage starts out with the purple-clad ninja appearing to burst right through the screen — wow! When he moves around in the game he's constantly moving his head from side-to-side, alert for danger. Pushing Up whilst jumping results in super leaps to upper platforms; moving forward whilst jumping performs a nifty flip. The addition of a third button allows the ninja to grab overhead bars and then move hand-over-hand or flip up and pressing jump whilst hanging from bars causes him to do a somersault off. Moving into a wall causes him to do a backflip, which is handy for outflanking enemies. The number of animations and moves is quite impressive even by modern standards and makes you feel like you're really controlling a badass ninja!

The hockey-mask wearing bad guys are all bigger than our ninja friend, but that doesn't stop him from beating the snot out of them with those impressive acrobatic moves, which you'll need to master to get anywhere in the game. Doing a cartwheel into an enemy and hitting the attack button results in grabbing and throwing them. Throwing enemies into objects breaks them to reveal bonus items like rings, extra time, capsules to restore your life bar and a limited-use ninja sword. Despite this you'll find enemies are immediately quite challenging.

Ninja Gaiden is a game best described as "cheap." It's quite easy to lose your default three lives in the first stage thanks to burly men with tonfas that will smack you out of the sky, enemies coming at you in groups of four or five and best of all having to cross lanes of freeway traffic by swinging between bars projecting from road signs. For many, this bit of nostalgia just won't be worth it. Despite the fact that you can change settings to make your life bar five hits instead of three, you should expect to see your ninja avatar strapped to a table surrounded by bizarre creatures whilst a giant buzzsaw comes down to kill him with great frequency. That doesn't mean the game isn't fun, but it does mean that the game was designed to suck quarters rather than reward skill and is totally unfair, so be sure to keep plenty of virtual credits pumped into the game as you'll be continuing A LOT to get anywhere in the game.


Ninja Gaiden is certainly an arcade classic — that cannot be denied — but the punishing difficulty stemming from it's coin-sucking roots means that only true fans of the beat-em-up genre need apply. If you do have a masochist streak then it's definitely worth checking out.

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User Comments (35)



V8_Ninja said:

Wasn't expecting this, but the thing was I wasn't expecting anything at all, so I'll just let this sentence summarize the game and my feelings towards the game (are you confused yet?).



ReZon said:

Just looking at the Game Overview info up top, I thought I remembered Ninja Gaiden in the arcade being 2 player coop?



Hoffkage said:

This eat a lot of my coins and I dont remember if i ever reached the 3rd stage.



StarBoy91 said:

I have all three NES games on my VC, and the farthest I could get was stage five (in 1). I may take this same name game into consideration...



Bass_X0 said:

Sean, you've made a mistake. This review was posted in Retro not Virtual Console. There is no link to this review from the game's main page and if you make a new page for the review to be in the Virtual Console section, it is very likely you will create a duplicate entry in the listings (one linking to the retro review and one linking to the VC review). Which unlike Prosody's "get used to the duplicate entries" defense, shouldn't be done in the first place. Don't know how this can be fixed without creating a duplicate entry.



StarBoy91 said:

Yeah, I don't understand some of the censorship crap from back then. How was it that the word "ninja" was tabooed in Europe back in the eighties and early nineties? I don't get it.
But, I don't feel like arguing on the subject.
Ninja Ryukenden seems like an enjoyable beat'em up.



Bass_X0 said:

Nunchuks were also banned. Even in TMHT. I think it all had something to do with the kung fu movies from the seventies but I'm not sure. Just the general attitude at the time I suppose; a scapegoat probably - "kung fu and ninja movies lead to kids committing physical violence". This was before ninjas and kung fu had entered pop culture.



StarBoy91 said:

So, what have they used in place of Michelangelo's nunchakus in Turtles in Time, then? A jumprope?



Bass_X0 said:

I don't remember actually. I think they were edited out completely. I was a kid in the eighties, unaware there was censorship so i accepted everything that was shown without question.



StarBoy91 said:

Oh, well. When I used to live in Italy, I would visit my American relatives each summer, and played Turtles in Time; unaware of censorship laws in Europe and America. Funny how I learn certain things several years after.



warioswoods said:

Hmm, to me the first NES Ninja Gaiden looks horribly boring and horribly ugly, from every gameplay video I've seen. This, on the other hand, actually looks like some entertaining if repetitive arcade beat-em-up action. I believe I'll get around to downloading this long before I'll go for the oddly-more-popular NES game.



StarDust4Ever said:

I played the crap out of Ninja Gaiden on my Atari Lynx back when I was a teen. Only fighting game I ever liked, actually. Judging by the screen-shot and the description, this appears to be the version they ultimately ported to Lynx, just the Lynx version had lower resolution graphics. And it was isometric, not flat like the NES versions. I remember that buzz-saw well, LOL!

Hopefuly they release this sometime soon in N.A.

Quick question about VC Arcade titles... Knowing how asinine Nintendo can be at times, do they impose a limit to how many virtual quarters or credits I can use, or can I just keep clunking away my "virtual quarters" (like in a real arcade) until I either beat the game, lose my patience, or get bored?



Sean_Aaron said:

Yes this does support two-player simultaneous co-op, but no I didn't mention it in the review. I also neglected to mention there's an option to display scan lines so your flash TV which probably costs about the same as a Ninja Gaiden cabinet can look like an old raster display. If there's more, please do mention the omissions and make a game of it!

Just a little behind-the-scenes info: reviewers have nothing to do with categorisation, screenshots, tags, etc. We just choose the game from a drop-down list, put in intro, body conclusion and score. For news items we do get to select the area. Thankfully it's been sorted though!

@StarDust: I cannot say I've tested the "credit limit" however for this game (which I actually bought myself and enjoy lest anyone think my score results from not liking the game) I try to keep it topped up at around 13 credits, though I think it took me something in excess of 20 to get to level 4 and then I was messing about with key configs and such and accidentally let the timer run out -- d'oh! From memory games of this era allow for 99 credits normally. It would have been nice to have a free-play option though.

I also agree the NES graphics are hideous, hence my having the arcade version only!



StarBoy91 said:

The main gripe I have with the first NES Ninja Gaiden's/Shadow Warrior's graphics is that in a few stages it can get quite grainy on my Sylvania TV screen I've had since I moved here. Otherwise, they look decent for NES standards.



JamieO said:

Quite often when a game gets a 9/10 there is lots of user praise regarding how "excellent" the review is, because lets face it, we all love to read about a superb game, that we will buzz from playing.
However, oddly enough I quite like reading a 6/10 synopsis, it is almost as though I pay more attention in reading all the text, to weigh up the pluses and minuses.
I am the epitome of one of the "true fans of the beat-em-up genre", that "need apply". I think it is a bit of a shame that some gamers deride this one by comparing it to its successors. I am pleased to see lots of positive words from gamers on this review comments board.
@Sean_Aaron This is a really excellent review Sean, completely succinct, it covers everything that arcade Ninja Gaiden has to offer, demonstrating that this version differentiates itself slightly by genre from the others in that it is notably a pure "brawler". Reading this review it is clear that it is a fun game, check out the fourth and fifth paragraphs and Sean lays out flashes of awesomeness in a title which is predominantly let down my its unforgiving and cheap coin guzzling roots. Read in the context of your analysis, the 6/10 score is completely fair. Cheers.
Perspective and nostalgia are always an issue to take into account when viewing retro games, which is why so many people compare it unfavourably to their NES favourites, but it is this game that fuels my fun-time gaming memories. Arcade Ninja Gaiden was a much stronger start of a franchise, than a game like the original Street Fighter, I have lots of time for this nifty little title.



Sean_Aaron said:

Cheers JamieO for the kind words. I've got a number of "6" games in my collection and others that have been rated lower by peers on the site. I think it's possible to enjoy a game whilst realising its limitations and hope others can as well!



cheetahman91 said:

I agree. This game is too hard. They just made it that way so they could make more money off the machine though.



CanisWolfred said:

I'm still getting it when it comes out in NA. I love Ninja Gaiden, and expect it to be difficult.

Oh, and just so everyone knows: If you're playing Ninja Gaiden Black on the 360, the arcade game won't work. I dunno why, it just doesn't.



Austrian said:

The game is 2 player coop, not just one player.

oh and people, UK =/= Europe for godssake
Only in the UK were ninjas and nunchakus banned



SKTTR said:

Co-op is a very important thing to mention in a review!
It's a reason to buy or don't buy a game!
How could you neglect that?



Sean_Aaron said:

Eh, it doesn't change the game all that much for me and I certainly never played co-op in the arcade so honestly, I just plain forgot.

@Zubiac: I didn't find anything in my meagre research that singled out the UK as being the only territory that called the game Shadow Warriors -- was that not the case elsewhere in Europe?



Chatham said:

Sean, just admit it, you hate arcade games.

BTW, you didn't mention the Co-Op!?! SHAME! That is what MADE the Ninja Gaiden arcade game!!!



Betagam7 said:

You really ought to update the "players" bit in the overview to say '2'. People might just glance at it and dismiss it otherwise.

I think SKTTR is correct to say that 2 player mode can greatly enhance the fun factor for some people.



michaelmax said:

6 is way too low. I'd say 8 or 9. This arcade classic is a true gem. I'm getting it as soon as i get some spending money!



VermithraxDagon said:

OK, if I've already got the NES VC version of Ninja Gaiden, is the Arcade version worth the purchase as well? Can anyone give me a rundown of the differences between the 2 (Better graphics? More/different stages? Less platforming in one version as compared to the other?). Any help would be greatly appreciated Thanks!



michaelmax said:

Got it. Finally! And yes. It's a nine or ten in my book. The nes version is also great. But this version has better graphics and of course its a true arcade game. To answer your question Vermithrax...they are completely different games, yes...it's definitely worth getting both if you are a fan of old school beat 'em ups like this.
This version's got better graphics, animation, character art, and stage art. More moves. Vertical & horizontal side scrolling. BTW...the review lists the high challenge as one of the negative things about this game. I don't see how challenge is a factor in a game with unlimited continues (and adjustable life gauge). This game isn't difficult IMO.



Betagam7 said:

I've found that the game is more than beatable in a limited number of credits if you change the settings to 4 lives and 5 life bars.

The default settings really are too stingy to let you progress in the final level where there are essentially three bosses and few restart points.



BrickRockwell said:

@warioswoods "Looks" and "plays" are too entirely different things, my friend. The NES 'Ninja Gaiden' trilogy is one of the most masochistic yet completely satifsyfng side-scrolling adventure series ever. This arcade beat-em-up pales in comparison; and is not the reason the series has persisted through the console generations. BTW, 'Wario's Woods' is an awesome game; one of the best NES puzzle games, as well as the last NES cartridge ever released. (500 pts VC)

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