Why Ninja Gaiden’s Surreal Arcade Version Is Worth Revisiting

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

In the primary half of the 1980s, Japanese developer Tecmo was maybe finest identified for the breezy arcade platformer Bomb Jack, or the exceedingly unusual Rygar, a fantasy motion sport by which its important character wielded what appeared like a killer yo-yo.

Towards the top of the last decade, designers at Tecmo seen one thing notable taking place in American tradition: movies, comics, and TV reveals with ninjas in them had been terribly standard. Keen to capitalize on this pattern, Tecmo created a sport known as Ninja Ryukenden for the Nintendo Entertainment System – a fast-paced, ferociously tough motion platformer. Released as Ninja Gaiden within the US and Shadow Warriors in Europe, the sport was acclaimed for the fluidity of its motion and the cinematic high quality of its cutscenes.

Ninja Gaiden‘s success was such that it spawned two sequels, ports to different machines (together with the PC Engine and Sega Genesis), and later, a brand new and exceedingly violent motion sequence starting in 2004.

If you are accustomed to the Ninja Gaiden sequence in any respect, you will virtually actually bear in mind considered one of these video games – whether or not it is the athletic wall-jumping of the 1988 NES title or the blood-and-guts frenzy of Tomonobu Itagaki’s 21st-century revival. But there, lurking behind the pack, much less generally remembered than the remainder, is the arcade model of Ninja Gaiden, additionally launched in 1988.

Like the NES sport, Ninja Gaiden was initially known as Ninja Ryukenden (which interprets to Legend of the Dragon Sword) and adjusted to its barely complicated various title for its North American launch (“gaiden” means “side-story” – a phrase reportedly chosen as a result of it sounded cool). Again, just like the NES title, the arcade machine was additionally known as Shadow Warriors in Europe.

Although it shares the identical identify and an analogous central character clad in a blue-hued ninja outfit, the arcade Ninja Gaiden is completely totally different from its NES counterpart. Where the console sport was a pixel-precise platform sport, the coin-op is a thudding, button-mashing beat-em-up that provides the sort of problem that may simply be overcome by merely throwing extra money into the machine.

If something, the arcade Ninja Gaiden appears to be like and feels extra just like the endearingly trashy, straight-to-video martial arts and motion movies that had been so standard within the late ’80s and early ’90s. It sees its high-kicking protagonist (named Ryu Hayabusa within the different video games, however seemingly unnamed right here) head from Japan to the imply streets of America. This is illustrated in a easy however atmospheric opening cutscene, by which our hero squats commandingly on the helm of a ship because the Golden Gate Bridge looms up within the background.

The cities of the US, in Ninja Gaiden‘s various historical past, are paved with madmen. The ninja’s goal is a mysterious dying cult run by a descendant of Nostradamus who plans to deliver in regards to the finish of the world – although precisely how he plans to do that is not made completely clear. If that appears like one thing Cannon Films might need produced on the peak of its ’80s powers, the B-movie tone is additional underlined within the sport itself.

The central villain – brilliantly named Bladedamus – has employed a military of pumped-up goons. The rank-and-file unhealthy guys put on tight-fitting vests and hockey masks, identical to Jason Voorhees. There are additionally bearded males wielding golf equipment, even bigger males carrying tree trunks (as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s John Matrix did in 1985’s Commando), and a small assortment of sumo wrestlers, sword fighters in addition to different unhealthy guys of various dimension and bulk.

To defeat them, the ninja employs his considerably small vary of martial arts strikes. He has an ordinary assault – a biking whirlwind of spinning kicks and punches – a leap, and a particular assault, the place the ninja can fling his opponents by way of the air. Hidden in destructible crates and telephone cubicles, the ninja can even discover a sword, which he can wield for a restricted time. Although his transfer set is proscribed, the ninja’s quick and agile. He can hold from bits of surroundings and kick his opponents within the face, stroll alongside drain pipes and do backward somersaults from partitions. 

The arcade Ninja Gaiden is clearly modeled on Technos’ beat-em-up Double Dragon, which was a sizeable arcade hit the yr earlier than. Like that sport, Ninja Gaiden supplies a colourful conveyor belt of gratuitous violence, although the fight in Tecmo’s brawler feels much less concerned, one way or the other, than Double Dragon. Although Double Dragon‘s fight wasn’t as fast-paced as Ninja Gaidens, it felt grittier and extra bruising; the fixed scramble for close by weapons – whether or not it occurred to be a knife, crate or membership – additionally added drama to the repetitive motion.

Ninja Gaiden is a slicker, smoother sport than Double Dragon – notably so, on condition that it solely got here out a yr later – however the grind of beating up the identical handful of unhealthy guys again and again palls much more shortly than it did in Technos’ trend-setting arcade machine. What Ninja Gaiden does have in its favor, although, is a various array of degree designs.

The first stage sees the ninja fling his enemies by way of a string of telephone bins and run throughout some drainpipes earlier than collaborating in a climactic battle exterior a bar that has an enormous mural of a Viking on its frontage. We can solely think about what a San Francisco bar proprietor would assume if a battle between a half-naked sumo wrestler and a ninja happened exterior his institution. Imagine the YouTube movies…

Stage two sees the ninja pull off the tough job of crossing a New York freeway earlier than participating in a pitched battle with a pair of masked motorbike riders in entrance of a billboard poster depicting a boxer known as Lucky Rabbit.  

The additional into the sport you go, the extra surreal it will get. Stage three is a nightmarish reimagining of Las Vegas. The display screen’s saturated with so many flashing neon lights, photographs of clowns, and big cowboys that it is tough to even focus on who you are presupposed to be beating to dying. Then a person rides in on a tiny helicopter and issues get much more unusual.

Things seem to calm down a bit by the point you get to degree 4 – a tour by way of a muddy-looking Grand Canyon – till you discover that bits of it are flooded, and that muscle-bound, snake-like males with blonde hair dwell within the floodwaters. By the time you get to the top of the stage and also you’re confronted by an enormous carving of Nostradamus’ head, you understand you are taking part in one of many extra eccentric brawlers of the 1980s. 

After a battle by way of a practice yard, issues attain their loopy zenith within the sixth and remaining degree. It’s a bone-crunching trudge by way of Bladedamus’ lair, which is populated by but extra masked goons. In truth, Bladedamus appears to have a factor for masks and barely kinky occult imagery, as a result of his enclave is packed filled with it. As the sport makes you battle a load of outdated space bosses once more (a standard staple in coin-hungry arcade machines of the period), you discover that it is all going down in entrance of a stained glass window that includes a burning Joan of Arc. Another rematch unfolds in entrance of a second portrait of Nostradamus.

Finally, Bladedamus himself makes his grand entrance. He descends from the sky on what appears to be like like Emperor Palpatine’s throne from Return of the Jedi – an extra signal of his eclectic style in inside design. Bladedamus, true to kind, hides behind a silver masks with horns, wears little apart from skinny strips of studded leather-based and little zip-up booties. Just in case you are tempted to make a wry remark about his style in clothes – or his mural of a showering man in a leather-based thong – he is wielding two gigantic swords. 

Oddly, Bladedamus affords comparatively little resistance, which leaves us questioning whether or not he was ever a reputable menace or just a Judas Priest fan with plenty of violent mates. Then once more, there are indicators in all places that Ninja Gaiden‘s creators do not anticipate us to take the story too significantly in any case.

The sport’s ranges are punctuated by an more and more odd collection of graphic interludes. The first sees the ninja sitting in a sushi restaurant, the proprietor clearly turning a blind eye to the hero’s blue masks. Another sees the ninja on a practice, studying a newspaper and oblivious to the horse-riding Native American waving a gun exterior his window. A 3rd has the ninja at a playing desk, carrying a pink go well with however, hilariously, nonetheless carrying his masks. 

As you have in all probability gathered, Ninja Gaiden: the coin-op has little in frequent with its NES companion. In a 1988 interview, artist Masato Kato (who labored on the NES model) revealed that each video games had been developed concurrently by separate groups, and that “each team developed their game as they pleased.”

This actually explains why the 2 video games ended up so vastly totally different, although it is also controversial that every model performs to its personal particular market. Platform video games as taxing and complex as Ninja Gaiden had been higher suited to residence techniques, whereas the quick-fix, easy-to-grasp mechanics of the coin-op model had been tailor-made to the noisy environs of the amusement arcade. Konami took an analogous method with its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles licensed video games in 1989. It launched a four-player arcade beat-em-up and a rock-hard NES platformer at virtually the identical time.

Tecmo’s arcade model of Ninja Gaiden was ported to a variety of computer systems by Ocean Software in 1990, and there was additionally a surprisingly correct model for the ill-fated Atari Lynx handheld – it even retains the leather-clad murals from the unique. Ultimately, although, the Ninja Gaiden coin-op is much much less celebrated than the console platform sport sequence, with its string of sequels and spin-offs.

But the Ninja Gaiden coin-op is, for all its repetition, nonetheless an entertaining brawler – significantly with two gamers. It evokes the spirit of an age of trashy motion movies, and likewise incorporates what is definitely among the many finest proceed screens in any arcade sport of its time. Run out of lives and also you’re confronted with a startling graphic of the ninja, strapped to a desk and staring in horror as a spinning noticed blade descends in direction of his chest. Do you throw one other coin within the machine to save lots of the ninja’s life or go away him to his grisly destiny? We’d wager that fairly a couple of gamers merely stood, arms folded, to see simply how gory the end result can be…

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