Instant Replay: Ninja Gaiden (NES)

[Editor’s note: RJB talks about how he’ll keep going back to Ninja Gaiden until he beats the game flawlessly for his Monthly Musing. — CTZ]

Why would anyone subject themselves to this torture, time after time? Because I can.

I can finish Ninja Gaiden on NES. I can do it with no continues. I cannot, however, do it in one life. I almost made it, once, but I died against that bastard Jacquio.

And that’s what keeps me coming back.

Ninja Gaiden is a series well known for its brutal difficulty. While the recent 360 title might have gone too far and relied on cheap tricks, like infinite staggers and juggles, to defeat you (a problem exacerbated by the ridiculous camera) the original Ninja Gaiden on NES relies purely on skill and timing to get through.

Obviously, there are some cheap moments, like birds that spawn mid jump and knock you to your death. But once you know they’re there, or if your reflexes are fast enough, you can hit them the moment after they spawn and safely make your way through.

The most epic video game opening of all time…

Playing Ninja Gaiden isn’t like playing a simple platformer. It’s not a basic left-to-right action game. Ninja Gaiden needs to be played like a finely tuned instrument. You have to know each note, and hit it at exactly the right time.

Finishing the game takes less than an hour. If I’ve got an hour to kill before going out, I can fire it up and have it done before the girlfriend has her hair done. This is another one of the reasons I keep coming back. It’s quick, but it’s not easy, and it’s always satisfying.

This is why I replay it, time after time. I want the perfect play through. Like pianists who play Bach without dropping a note, I want to play Ninja Gaiden without missing a life.

It is a matter of gaming pride that I do this (and hopefully record it). This isn’t about Achievements or Trophies. Ninja Gaiden is from a time before such crass novelties. Ninja Gaiden is from a time when simply getting to the end was the feat, not unlocking all the points for an e-penis no one cares about.

Ninja Gaiden was from a time when finishing a game meant something, was something to be proud of, and finishing Ninja Gaiden was one of the greatest things you could do. Ninja Gaiden is from a time when gaming achievements were looked on with awe, not with derision and the label of being an “achievement whore”, as if gaming pride can be shilled out by the console makers, a petty lure for the “hardcore” crowd.

Ninja Gaiden is beyond such pettiness. It is what it is, and you can take it or leave it.

And I can’t leave it alone.

Ninja Gaiden has, for me, that perfect blend for replayability: Short, brutal, fun. And I will perfect it. I will play it until I do, and then, when I have bent Jacquio over and made him my bitch, I may finally put the game to rest.

But probably not, because after I do that, I know I will need the high score.

You get used to it…

P.S. Ninja Gaiden was actually called Shadow Warrior in Australia (as part of the PAL region) because ninjas are illegal in England.