Bargain Review: Ninja Gaiden and Strider

We’re bringing back the Bargain Review with two NES games that first saw the light of day in arcades in the 80s. And since this is the NES we’re talking about, you already know the arcade version of each of the games was better than its console counterpart. Grab your swords and cover your face because today Bargain Review is looking at the first console appearances of Ryu Hayabusa and Strider Hiryu.

Ninja Gaiden
Tecmo, 1989

The first thing you notice about Ninja Gaiden once you start playing it is that it’s nothing like the arcade game which was very similar to Capcom’s early brawlers. In fact, it’s very much like Castlevania. While the physics of the game and the hero’s weapon are different, the core mechanics of the games are nearly identical.

In both games, artifacts are scattered throughout the levels for the players to strike, giving them varying status benefits such as health refills and special sub-weapons. In both games you activate your sub-weapon by pressing up and attack simultaneously. Both games also temporarily immobilize you when you take damage, frequently causing you to fall off of ledges.

Where this game is different, however, is where it succeeds. First of all Ryu Hayabusa has a much higher level of mobility than Simon Belmont ever did simply because he could cling to, jump from and climb up walls. And unlike many games that still forget to fully implement novel game play mechanics, Ninja Gaiden provides ample opportunity to wall cling, climb and spring.

The game is also surprisingly full of story and color. The story is separated into acts and at the beginning and end of each act are some of the earliest and best cut scenes in video game history. The story and characters that play out the Ninja Gaiden drama on our current generation hardware were born from these humble beginnings on the NES.

While the story may be simplistic by today’s standards, at the time Ninja Gaiden was one of the must have titles for any gamer. It helped set the bar for how to develop and portray a storyline in a platformer setting. Most other games at the time relied on the instruction manual to provide the bulk of the game based narrative.

Capcom, 1989

If only the original NES had been powerful enough to run an accurate portrayal of the arcade hit that would soon be ported to it. Whereas the original arcade featured flashy graphics and a Neo-Soviet Cyberpunk sense of style, the 1989 NES version is considerably drabber and only has a loose association with the arcades style. In fact, much of the story line was also changed to more closely reflect the manga all the games were based upon.

The levels are cast about the globe and you play in futuristic versions of real-world locations. New locations are opened up as you discover files which can be analyzed back on your giant, space-based, dragon-shaped ship.

Control of the game can be spotty especially when going up or down inclines. There’s also a wall jump ability that doesn’t work nearly as well in this game as it does in the Mega Man games or Super Metroid. It takes too precise timing and is thankfully used sparingly in the game.

I found hours of enjoyment in this game when I was young trying to beat it without taking any damage, but I don’t think I could in good faith recommend this game to any newcomers to the world of NES gaming. When the game was new it had spotty performance and took a bit of work to get started. Years after its release these issues have only exacerbated with time.

The Strider series lives on in Strider 2 released 1999 and Hiryu appears as a popular playable character in the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting games. Unfortunately he has yet to make a next-gen appearance.

Ninja Gaiden is available for the Wii virtual console and is a worthy purchase. But the only other way you’re going to play Strider is if you have the NES and a well stocked local game store. Instead, I suggest you save your money or buy Castlevania if you don’t already have it just so you remember how well platformers can be executed.