Review by Kunzait 83
"Quite possibly one of the most underrated games of all time"
Ahhhhh, now HERE is a nostalgia trip! Good ol' Ninja Gaiden. No I'm not referring to the classic NES trilogy (although they to rank among my all time favs), but the Arcade Gaiden. I've probably lost most of you right here, as not many people have heard of or remember this little gem. But yes there was in fact, an arcade Ninja Gaiden adventure. This is most definitely my favorite arcade game, with X-Men, Mortal Kombat, and Shinobi right behind it. This game was one of my first arcade gaming experiences, at the tender age of 4 and I remember it fondly. But anyways, enough with my sappy childhood reminiscing, and on to the game itself.
You take on the role of Ryu Hayabusa, ninja of the Dragon Clan. There is no actual storyline to this game per se, but if you play the game straight through start to finish, you can kinda piece together that Ryu travels from Japan to America to stop some street gang from resurrecting some strange (and obnoxiously powerful) demon/god/person. But no matter, one does not play arcade beat em ups for a riveting story (that’s what RPGs and Metal Gear Solid are for). Yes that is not a typo. Unlike the NES platformer, this is a side scrolling beat em up in the vein of Double Dragon or Final Fight. But with some platforming aspects and a few neato twists.
For starters, your main weapons are your fists and feet NOT your super cool Dragon Sword. Don't worry the Katana is still in the game, more about it later. There are three buttons, attack, jump, and a hanging button mounted atop the joystick which I'll get to in a minute. You have your basic spin kick/punch combo, and you have two different kinds of jumps. Your basic front or back flip, or a super jump that shoots you straight to the top of the screen, ideal for getting to those hard to reach ledges. Press the attack button while flipping over an enemy and you perform a neck breaker throw. An absolutely ingenious touch is if you run up to a wall you automatically do a rebounding back flip off it, a great technique for getting the drop on pursuing enemies. Press that third joystick mounted button while underneath pipes, street signs or any kind of pole and you'll hang from it. While hanging, you can kick enemies, flip forward or backward off the pole, or sometimes climb hand over hand (sometimes you have to in order to advance in the level).
Items can be procured by hurling enemies through background objects, like telephone booths, street signs, popcorn stands, and dumpsters. They include basic health, points, 1-ups, and the almighty Dragon Sword. When you pick this baby up, your regular spin kick combo is replaced by a sword combo that makes you practically untouchable! Just sit back and maim the opposition as they come. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, as your sword will be removed from your person either when you buy the farm, or after a certain number of sword kills.
The gameplay is responsive and fast, and moves are a snap to pull off. However there is a SLIGHT learning curve with using the hanging button, but this is easy to master after about a half hour of play. The only real downfall I can find gameplay wise is the insane difficulty. This is by no means an easy play through as the enemies are EXTREMELY cheap and unfair. Ironically the bosses aren't too tough, as they have very little health. The exceptions are the third level bosses (yes plural) who are quick to gang up on you and are a pain to hit, and the final boss who has waaaay to much health for his own good and can drain ALL your life with one hit!
The main draw to this game though (and my favorite aspect) is it's character and level designs. This game's look is just so freaking original (and VERY 80's)! I've never seen anything like it before or since. Ryu is drawn with a very Todd McFarlane-ish style (particularly in the level opening and continue screen), and the enemies are just so out there! You've got basic thugs who are a cross between a football player and Jason Voorhees, rival ninjas, mermen (also drawn McFarlane-ish), fish-lipped sumo, WWF wrestlers, Circus acrobats the list goes on and on! This game is like the ultimate acid trip. Locations include slums, a traffic jammed highway, neon lit Las Vegas casino rooftops, beautiful mountain wilderness areas lined with billboards and street signs (huh?), a train yard on a cliff hundreds of feet up (again huh??), and a gothic mansion. This games designs are in a class all their own, and I'm stunned that it didn't get a lot more attention than it did. I mean there wasn't even a home version for crying out loud! The Super NES could have EASILY handled this game, and there would've probably been enough room to add an extra level or two (the game had only six). Ah well such is life.
Anyway, this game is a RARE find in arcades nowadays, probably nonexistent (I haven't found it in the arcades since I was like 10) so I HIGHTLY recommend hunting down a ROM ASAP! This is a game that's just begging to be experienced for all its trippyness and fun. Just don't play it if you’re intoxicated or else your brain will probably explode.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/18/02, Updated 10/18/02
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