It’s hard to believe that Ninja Gaiden was once a forgotten property during the 16-bit era like Metal Gear and Rygar. These were all beloved NES classics screaming for an update but none would appear. In the case of Metal Gear it’s understandable; realistically what advancements to the series could they have added with the Super Nintendo or Genesis? Not much. The Ninja Gaiden games, though ball breaking hard were still some of the best games released for the NES so the response was favorable when Tecmo announced a compilation of all 3 games and although it isn’t the legendary collection of 3 classics we were expecting it’s still a worthwhile package for anyone who has never sampled Ryu Hayabusa’s seminal adventures.
The Ninja Gaiden series was released at the perfect point in time to make a splash in the market. The 80s were Ninja crazy with a ton of ninja movies assaulting theaters and video stores repeatedly. Admittedly most of these movies were made on a shoe string budget and starred actors and actresses who probably didn’t know how to spell ninja but whatever; we ate it up all the same. When you look at it through that lens you can see why games like Shinobi, TMNT, the Last Ninja (seriously, I’ve never been able to figure out why Europe went so crazy for this shit), and Ninja Gaiden were so popular.
For the uninitiated Ninja Gaiden follows Ryu as he initially sets out for revenge against the men who killed his father. His simple quest for vengeance soon spirals into saving the world. The following sequels find him drawn into the machinations of evil demons who want to harness ancient powers for world domination. The series became famous for its use of cut scenes between levels to move the plot forward as well as its tight action and high point of entry. Ninja Gaiden Trilogy takes these 3 games and puts them in one neat package with a number of enhancements and sadly flaws that bring the quality of the overall bundle down but nothing that deter you from reliving part of 8-bit history.
For the most part each game with the exception of part 3 is a perfect match for its NES counterpart gameplay wise. All of the item locations and enemy placement are the same and the same boss strategies can be employed. That means the Ninja clones in NG2 can still be employed to do all of the work for you if you so choose and the jump and slash of NG1 is still massively overpowered. The Ninja Gaiden games were obvious Castlevania clones, sharing the same front end and many of the same gameplay elements. There are a number of sub-weapons in each game, all of them powered by ninja scrolls, much like hearts in Castlevania. Unlike that series Ryu isn’t handicapped and is a nimble protagonist, able to scale walls like Spider-Man and is overall faster.
While the first game shares Castlevania’s retarded difficulty, Ninja Gaiden 2 went to great lengths to scale it back and while still hard at some points is fair overall. Ninja Gaiden 3 saw many cuts for its US release, many of them for the worse. Ninja Gaiden Trilogy rectifies some of these mistakes but introduces a number of its own problems with the game and is something of a missed opportunity. Password saves have been added to each game and trust me they are a god send. Each game isn’t necessarily long but does become frustrating; sometimes it’s best to walk away and come back to it later. Those of us that spent hours banging our heads against a wall due to the ridiculous difficulty and had to leave the NES on for hours to progress know exactly what I mean. Stage 6-2 I’m looking at you!
While the gameplay of each game is more or the less the same the presentation has seen a slight upgrade. Although the graphics are the same the SNES’ higher resolution produces a cleaner look. Some changes such as the removal of the lightning on stage 3-1 of Ninja Gaiden 2 completely alter the look of the level which is a stylistic choice that can go either way. All of the cut scenes in each game have been redrawn and benefit from the richer color palette. There is some light censorship which is baffling as Nintendo of America had eased up on their practices a year ago. All blood in the cut scenes has been changed to green and the numerous pentagrams and circles of David have been removed.
The music has been recomposed and in my opinion is worse than the originals. It might be my familiarity with each game’s music having spent countless hours listening to the soundtracks as I died over and over but the added instrument’s in each tune don’t fit and throw off the “feel” of each song. The sound quality is better but the”soul” of each song seems to be lost in ambient noise.
The version of Ninja Gaiden 3 in this collection is the most interesting. This should have been a slam dunk considering it was based on the superior Japanese version but it instead features a number of problems. Graphically it turned out worse; most of the parallax scrolling in the backgrounds is gone as well as a number of effects. Some of the music tracks are missing as well. Ninja Gaiden 3 is one of the best looking NES games ever conceived and was a technical accomplishment; seeing it butchered (a bit harsh but…) is sad.
The controls in Ninja Gaiden 3 were noticeably floaty, probably due to the increased vertical scrolling in the game but are a hassle in this port due to their unresponsiveness. NG 3 was a tough game but it at least had solid controls behind it like the prior games. At the very least the game has been rebalanced to level of the Japanese version, meaning enemies take far less life from you and there are unlimited continues as well as passwords to save. If they could have fixed NG3’s flaws it would have really put this compilation over the top but instead it drags it down a bit.
At the end of the day you’re still getting 3 phenomenal action games for one price. One exorbitantly high price. Since it was released in 1995 Ninja Gaiden Trilogy was printed in limited quantities and now commands a price in the hundreds of dollars. While it is good you’re better off buying the individual cartridges rather than paying those ridiculous prices.