Thursday, July 8, 2010

NINJA Gaiden Shadow (TECMO, 1991, Gameboy)

Ninjas. Ninjas are cool. Ninjas are awesome. Everyone knows this by now, and if you don't, Ninjas probably snuffed you out already. Or you're just lame.

Anyway moving on. The Ninja gaiden series is held in high regard by it's fans, including myself, and it's easy to see why: Intense, fast paced gameplay, energetic and catchy soundtracks, a surprisingly EPIC storyline conveyed with comic-like cutscenes (In fact, Ninja Gaiden was the 1st game to use in-game cutscenes to convey a story.) One thing to note about the series is it's insanely difficult nature. You really need ninja-like reflexes, a sharp mind, and a lot of patience to master these beasts. But with practice, a lot of practice, the games are beatable. Plus aside from NGIII the games offer unlimited continues so there not impossibly tough.

There's one game in the franchise that a lot of fans don't know about. It's a Gameboy game called Ninja Gaiden Shadow, which released in 1991, the same year that Ninja Gaiden III released.

There's some history behind it too. In 1990, a game company called Natsume released another action game very similar to Ninja Gaiden called Shadow of the Ninja. Natsume had plans to port over Shadow of the Ninja to the Gameboy. Sometime during the development, TECMO purchased the rights to the game and reworked it into a Ninja Gaiden game, set to be a prequel to the trilogy of games already released at this point.

The storyline is short, bittersweet, and to the point. In 1985, a "generic evil dictator" named Garuda takes over a skyscraper in New York City and turns it into his HQ. The series hero, Ryu Hayabusa, goes out to stop him.
Unfortunately the usually epic storyline is very downplayed and in fact not even mentioned during the course of the game, only in the intro. This is common in games of this type, but it's a Ninja Gaiden game. Story should be a crucial part of it. A insignificant quibble, yes, but it's worth noting to long-time fans of the series.

The gameplay is a little different than the NES games, since it wasn't supposed to be a Ninja Gaiden game in the first place. You can run forward and backward, jump, swing your sword, etc etc.
But it's slower paced than the NES titles. You have six life units instead of twelve, you have only one Ninpo (Ninja magic) attack: The Art of the Fire Wheel. Spiritual energy which was for being able to perform a ninpo attack, is measured with Japanese symbols instead of a number count.

There are six levels (?) each ending with a boss fight, pretty basic as far as action games go. The difficulty is somewhat easier. It's still quite hard, but it feels softened from the other Ninja Gaiden games. There is usually next to no way to get knocked into a bottomless pit (the most common way to die in a Ninja Gaiden game),
enemies are typically kinda easy to evade for the most part, there is a surprising abundance of life powerups and ninpo charges, and the boss encounters are a little too easy aside from the end boss. Good news for newcomers, I suppose. The music is standard Ninja Gaiden stuff, but there are songs ripped from Shadow of the Ninja, such as the title jingle and the final boss theme. On the same note the villain of this game, Garuda, is also the villain of Shadow of the Ninja, in appearance and in story context, I think.

Ninja Gaiden Shadow really isn't a Ninja Gaiden game. It wasn't supposed to be. So we are left with a  relatively mediocre Ninja Gaiden game, but a pretty sweet action game in it's own right (a lot better than Ninja Gaiden III in my opinion). There are no glaring flaws in the game aside from the lack of a coherent story. It's worth checking out for Ninja Gaiden fans for curiosity's sake, but action game fans who want some challenging action gaming on the go will get the real kick out of this one. Be warned, however, obscurity often leads to rarity, meaning this game may be expensive. Emulators are always an option, though..........

7.6 out of 10

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