Ninja Gaiden

Disastrous Ninja Gaiden run is a reminder of what makes GDQ marathons great

Low% run nearly serves up a heartbreaker.

Summer Games Done Quick is well underway, so we’ve already been treated to a couple days worth of fantastic speedrunning feats. One of today’s had TheRetroRunner taking on a Low% run of Ninja Gaiden on NES, and the fact that it nearly ended in defeat really showcases what makes these events special in the first place.

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For those unfamiliar with the Low% category for Ninja Gaiden — I had never seen it before myself — it’s essentially a sword-only run with some key restrictions. While it’s okay if you pick up a few items by accident, you can’t use them on enemies and you can’t pick up anything that automatically activates. That means no fire wheel, no time stopping, and no health potions. 

Thankfully, TheRetroRunner and others who run this category have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. Chief among them is the sword cancel technique, which lets you mash down and B in mid-air to execute slashes in rapid succession. Even with those tools at his disposal, though, the final halls of Ninja Gaiden provided cruel company. A few misplaced boosts left his health on the wrong end of the bar, and he soon succumbed to the third form of the game’s final boss.

And then it happened again, and again, and, unfortunately, again! 

Dance with the demon

Ninja Gaiden
Screenshot via YouTube

TheRetroRunner’s rapid-fire down+B slashes — for which he even had a cutting board on his lap to make things a little more stable — made short work of both the Masked Devil and big bad Jaquio. Thus, he went into the battle with the Demon Statue with plenty of confidence.

A single misstep ended Ryu’s fight just as it was about to conclude, but TheRetroRunner and his couch were quick to hop back in with just a dash of disappoinment from the Runner himself. You only have to replay one stage and you end up right at the final form of the fight again, after all. As the following attempts failed in the same spot, though, his enthusiasm was wavering. The last couple of runs through the final stage were grueling. Nothing had changed in the game, of course, but the mood had certainly taken a turn.

It was rough enough that TheRetroRunner was ready to call it quits. He questioned whether or not the folks behind GDQ wanted him to go on, as he was fast approaching his estimate, which could affect the overall schedule. That’s where the runner’s couch and the GDQ attendees and viewers came into play. TheRetroRunner was on the cusp of victory but needed that extra push, and he got it every time. 

The jaws of defeat

Screenshot via YouTube

After some thorough encouragement, TheRetroRunner eventually made it through to the end while strictly adhering to the Low% rules established from the start. No one would have blamed him for putting the controller down after a handful of last-minute losses, but that’s the beauty of Games Done Quick and other similarly positive and welcoming events. Victory wasn’t guaranteed, but there’s always room for improvement in the next attempt. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the virtual acrobatics associated with marathon speedrunning. There’s nothing like watching a flawless run that pushes a game beyond its boundaries. TheRetroRunner’s sword-only dash through Ninja Gaiden reminded me of what really makes these events special, though. The downs can have just as much impact as the ups, and it’s a good reminder that these runners are really doing it live and trying their best in front of thousands of viewers who are donating money to a good cause in exchange for some well-rehearsed entertainment. 

I’m pumped that there’s still almost a full week of Summer Games Done Quick to go. I’ll be looking forward to the next mind-blowing, potentially record-breaking run on the packed schedule. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the speedruns that aren’t quite so clean. Let’s cheer them all on for good measure. 

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Image of Joseph Luster
Joseph Luster
Joseph has been writing about games, anime, and movies for over 20 years and loves thinking about instruction manuals, discovering obscure platformers, and dreaming up a world where he actually has space (and time) for a retro game collection.