Ninja Gaiden

Sega Master System

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 7

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 8

Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden series has remained a consistent favorite in the U.S. ever since the original arcade game debuted in 1988. It was very well received, but when the first NES Ninja Gaiden title appeared a year later, the popularity of the series exploded. It was followed by two very successful sequels on the NES (Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos and Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship Of Doom), a GameBoy game (Ninja Gaiden Shadow), a Game Gear game (an all new adventure not based on any of the previous games), two Atari Lynx games (a conversion of the original arcade game and a port of the NES Ninja Gaiden III) and an SNES cart that contained slightly enhanced versions - or slightly degraded versions, depending on your point of view - of the NES trilogy (appropriately entitled Ninja Gaiden Trilogy).

After that, U.S. Ninja Gaiden fans went hungry, not knowing that overseas, there were several NG titles that never made it here. NG games were released for the Sega Mega Drive, the PC Engine - and the Sega Master System. It's the last one I want to talk about here. Had the SMS not died in the U.S. in the early '90s, there's a chance (a slim chance) that this version would have made it to our shores. Of course it didn't - and we missed out on a pretty damned good game.

Ninja Gaiden is an all new adventure - no ports or conversions here. Ryu Hayabusa has returned home to Japan, only to find that his village has been destroyed, and an artifact called the Bushido had been stolen. The Bushido, according to the game, is "an Ancient Scroll that has been handed down through generations of Dragon Ninjas. This document contains secrets about ways to summon the powers of this world. According to Ryu's ancestors whoever summoned these powers could even conquer the world." Ryu is then confronted by a sumo wrestler and a group of thugs who tell him that they destroyed the village, and are surprised to find a survivor. Ryu, of course, takes the Dragon Sword in hand and sets off to get some answers. From that point, the story is filled with your typical Ninja Gaiden twists and turns. Among them, Ryu is asked to save a samurai's daughter, and of course eventually finds out who's behind the theft of the Bushido. No, it's not Jaquio or Ashtar (or even Clancy, for that matter) - it's a new villian by the name of the Shogun of Darkness, who is trying to use unlock the powers of the Bushido to rule the world. Naturally, Ryu is the only one that can stop him.

I'm going to get one thing out of the way right here - Ninja Gaiden falls flat in the graphics department. The cinema displays are very well done, in some cases quite a bit more detailed than the ones in the NES games. Ryu looks great, and the bosses are very well done. As far as the regular enemies and backgrounds are concerned, though - forget it. Several of the minor enemies look small and nondescript, and almost blend in with the backgrounds sometimes - and the backgrounds are horrible. What immediately comes to mind here is the background of stage 2, which has to be one of the worst cityscapes I have ever seen in a game - ever. Sega could have spent a bit more time on those aspects of the game, but they didn't. Also, the music is decent, but doesn't really stand out. It's good for the SMS, but that's about it. The sound effects are likewise okay, but nothing overly spectacular.

Thankfully Sega spent time on what really counts - the actual gameplay. The control is spot-on, which is unusual for an SMS action game. The action is fast, and quite reminiscent of the NES games. The way the controls are set up is identical to the NES games, so if you're familiar with them, you'll feel right at home here. One button jumps, one button attacks, and pressing up and attack uses the special weapon if you have one. There are some gameplay changes, however... since The Ninja Gaiden Homepage has described them pretty accurately, I'm just going to quote what Deuce wrote there here:


  • While Ryu can grab onto overhanging bars and ledges, he can not climb hand-over-hand, like he can in Ninja Gaiden III.
  • Ryu can no longer cling to walls. In order to do the wall-spring jump, you must jump to a wall, press the pad toward it, then jump again. Ryu will turn around and spring off in the other direction. It's much like the original Sunsoft Batman game, but timing isn't really an issue.
  • The Ninja Arts are different in this game... there is the standard shuriken, as well as a more powerful version. It will not return when thrown, however. There is a four-way shot, as well as the Invincible Fire Wheel. The most notable addition, though, is the homing fireballs. Four energy orbs fire off on each diagonal, and then immediately home in on any enemies onscreen.
  • Ryu now has a "desperation attack" of sorts. By pressing Jump and Attack simultaneously at any time, the screen will flash to a negative image, and any enemies onscreen will be destroyed (except, of course, for bosses). It has a hefty price, though. Each usage costs about one-quarter of your entire lifebar. Judicious use of this, however, will save your hide in later stages.

    I also have to add that Ryu can also crouch and crawl now too, similar to Jo Musashi in the Genesis game The Revenge Of Shinobi. That move comes in handy in several areas, and is especially useful for getting under low-hanging spikes.

    One other thing Ninja Gaiden has in common with the other games in the series is its difficulty - it's really challenging. While it's not quite as challenging as any of the NES titles, it still puts up quite a fight. Even those annoying swooping birds from the NES games return, and they've even harder to knock out this time around. You'll spend time cursing at some of the areas in the game. Veteran Ninja Gaiden players shouldn't have too much of a problem with it, though.

    The question remains, though - is the game worth tracking down? I'd have to say yes. It's an extremely fun game and it's much better than a lot of the Ninja Gaiden games that have been released in the past - in fact, I'd go as far as to say that's it's better than Ninja Gaiden III, which is the worst of the three NES games. Ninja Gaiden fans and action game fans alike will find a lot to like about Ninja Gaiden, as long as they can live with the ugly graphics.

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    Last updated: Sunday, March 28, 2004 07:13 AM