This article is from Hamish Smith, from The Retro Underground.
Ninja Gaiden is a long running game franchise starring Ryu Hayabusa as the main protagonist. The basis of most, if not all, of the early Ninja Gaiden games is fast-paced sidescrolling action. Thankfully the Sega Master System adaption is no exception. As far as I know this is the only Ninja Gaiden game released on the Master System, but it is also one of the best I have ever played. This version most closely resembles the NES version, in terms of gameplay at least, but all things considered it is a very different game.
Ninja Gaiden is a pretty game. It looks quite polished, if not a little basic, and the sprite animations are very fluid. It really is quite impressive for an 8bit title. The game sees Ryu battle through an ancient forest, down town Tokyo, Antarctica and even through a Japanese castle. The level backgrounds and scenery changes dramtically as you move from one stage to the next, as does the music. Many of the game’s enemies need more than one hit to take out, which ups the anti a little, but I personally found that the hardest parts of the game were the tricky platforming sections. Like most other installments in the series, Ryu can jump onto a wall, grab on to it and kind of propel himself up in the opposite direction. The game makes full use of this ability and most of the more difficult platforming challenges in the game are based around this maneuver.
The music and sound effects are adequate, but nothing to write home about. About what you would expect from an 8bit action title. In saying that, to this day I still have the back ground music from the Tokyo levels stuck in my head.
What really makes this game shine is the gameplay itself. The controls are spot on perfect, the hit detection favors neither you nor your enemies, the boss battles are varied and all require different tactics, the levels progress at good pace and there are no “cheap tricks”. I could go on all day. Ryu has a simple close range attack, his Katana, and a space for a projectile attack as well. The projectile attacks range from simple ninja stars to homing missiles, however Ryu can only have one at a time and the projectiles cost ninja points to use. Both the projectile weapons and ninja points (along with extra health and other bonuses) are found inside of scrolls which are placed throughout the levels. There is no shortage of scrolls within the game, but not all of them are useful; you may have the ass kicking homing missiles only to find a scroll containing the lowly ninja star.
I think what really sets this version apart from the NES version is that the level of difficulty is spot on. The Master System version could be called “challenging”, where as the NES version would be better described as “impossible”. Anyone who has played the NES versions knows what I am talking about. The Master System version, on the other hand, never gets too hard. There are some challenging spots for sure, and some of the bosses might take a couple of attempts to defeat, but overall it is a very well balanced game.
It’s definitely a shame that there were no more Ninja Gaiden games released for the Master System but, all things considered, were are lucky there even was one released on the console at all. This is definitely one of the better games available on the SMS and a must-play for anyone that owns one.