This morning, while at work, I listened to the most recent episode of the Player One Podcast and they had a brief retro segment on the original Ninja Gaiden game for the NES, which made me think of the original NES trilogy-- I used to own all three.
I must have played Ninja Gaiden when I was in first or second grade living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The initial thing that blew me away about the game was the cut-scenes. It was a NES game with a plot that progressed as you got further in the game with detailed scripted cinematic sequences. This happens all the time in modern game (and far too often in some titles), but at the time, this was a huge deal. The only other early NES game I played with comparable detailed attempts at narrative was Golgo 13. The gameplay itself was a lot of fun, but very challenging, particularly in the maddening final couple of levels.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dragon Sword of Chaos I didn't get around to until I was in 3rd or 4th grade. The storytelling in this game was a lot more detailed and the difficulty was scaled down to a more reasonable, but not unchallenging, level. You had a villain who wasn't really the main villain, a hard-boiled CIA American sidekick, and a more epic scope than the original game. On top of all this, you could also get orange ghost ninjas to help you slice enemies to bits-- what's not to like?
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Ruins is by far the hardest in the NES trilogy. The first level in a medical facility is a cakewalk, but then the second level is merciless with a vertical scrolling section in a cave where lava is bubbling upwards to eat your precious ninja bits right off. The plot starts off with an intriguing murder mystery slant, but then devolves into oddball anime WTF moments. To make things worse the NES version had only 5 continues for the whole game, making it nearly impossible--the Japanese version had passwords and unlimited continues!
The second game is my favorite in the NES saga of the series-- anyone agree or disagree?