Ninja Gaiden Shadow is a side scrolling platformer developed by Natsume and Tecmo and published by Tecmo in 1991 for the Game Boy. The game is a spinoff game of the original Ninja Gaiden games and acts like a prequel to the original NES Ninja Gaiden games. Interestingly, in Europe the game was not called Ninja Gaiden Shadow, it was in fact called Shadow Warriors. However, the original NES version in Europe was also called Shadow Warriors, therefore meaning that for unknown reason, Europe got two different games by the same company but with different names.
Naming changes like this happened quite a bit in Europe for some reason and sometimes it was due to copyright reasons. For example, the original Star Fox for the SNES had it’s name changed to Star Wing in Europe because there was an Atari 2600 game released in 1983 called Star Fox and to not run into copyright issues or confusion, Nintendo changed the name. Contra for the NES was called Gryzor and then for Contra 2, the name was changed once again to Probotector 2. Then to add even more confusion into the mix, Contra Hard Corps in Europe was renamed to Probotector 1, which doesn’t make any sense.
Ninja Gaiden Shadow is set three years before the original NES Ninja Gaiden, making this game a prequel. The game is set in New York City, where the player controls Ryu Hayabusa and has to save the city from being under the control of Emperor Garuda. It is up to Ryu to defeat all of Garuda’s minions and take the control of the city away from Garuda.
The story is actually somewhat interesting and for a handheld game from 1991, has good story. The game also has an introduction cutscene before the title screen, which was well ahead of it’s time because handheld consoles weren’t believe technologically advanced enough to have cutscenes or render them effectively, but Ninja Gaiden Shadow does a fantastic job of achieving this. The amount of detail of New York City in the cutscene as well is truly staggering and has the same quality of detail of NES games released at the same time, considering the NES was more powerful than the Game Boy hardware wise.
The second half of this introductory cutscene introduces the player to the main character and him appearing from the darkness. Then the plot is revealed and the game does this in a way that is once again well ahead of it’s time for a handheld game. The way the game reveals the plot and the main character is almost in a filmic way, which the camera slowly panning to the character and scrolling up to the character’s face. This small detail really helps invest the player into both the plot and the character in such a way that it feels memorable.
The first thing to speak about gameplay wise is the difficulty of the game, which keeping in line in the Ninja Gaiden series as a whole is a difficult game. However, interestingly normally Ninja Gaiden games start off relatively difficult and then get much harder, but Ninja Gaiden Shadow starts off with a quite a simple introduction level where the player can get used to the abilities that Ryu has. Even the first boss ends up relatively easy to beat, which means that players won’t have any issues getting to at least the second stage. However, it’s from stage 2 onwards that the game’s difficulty rises really sharply and then it is when the player realises that this is a true Ninja Gaiden game. The only sections of the game that are easier are the bosses because they are all on patterns most of the time and once the player learns the pattern, the bosses become easier, but not so easy that they become throwaway and forgettable.
The controls in Ninja Gaiden Shadow feel very responsive and have a great fluidity to them. The control layout makes quite a lot of sense because A is jump, whilst Up and A will allow the player to grab things that Ryu can grab and hold on to whilst moving. What this allows the player to do is decide which route to take in specific levels and on specific screens, this could mean a route with few enemies or secret routes leading to extra lives or more special power pickups. This also offers options to explore what might feel like a linear stage, but gives the player more than what meets the eye.
The backgrounds in this game are surprisingly detailed and have some wonderful depth to them. Even though the game is in black and white, the details in the background gives the game a sense or colour or a well crafted black and white movie. The foreground and background also never clash at all, meaning the player will know what are platforms and was it background. This is quite the achievement considering that there are some NES games released around the same time as this that were in colour what had the background or foreground blend too much and cause issues for the player deciphering what were and weren’t platforms.
The only downside about the gameplay is the fact that when there are multiple enemies on screen, the game has a tendency to start lagging and the frame rate becoming inconsistent. However, this is more of an attribute regarding the internal power of the game boy rather than a fault of the game itself because the Game Boy has issues when there are many enemies and sprites on the screen at the same time. Apart from this hardware issues, the game runs really smoothly and the enemy and character animations look amazing.
Ninja Gaiden Shadow’s soundtrack is one of the finest soundtracks I have ever heard on the Game Boy because of the sheer quality of the themes and also the quality of the instrumentation used. The themes are all extremely memorable and some of the themes are from previous games in the series, but the quality of the sound in this game sounds like it was taken exactly from the NES counterpart because it sounds amazing. Each stage has it’s own theme that really comments on what the player will be experienced. Whether it be the stage 2, which adds to the feeling of the game getting more difficult or stage 5 being more about commenting that the player is nearly there, the music really adds to the feel of each stage perfectly. The music is in my opinion some of the best sounding music on the Game Boy because it is the fact that was able to recreate NES Ninja Gaiden themes flawlessly and make them sound like that they were NES themes not Game Boy, and that takes quite a lot to achieve.
To conclude, Ninja Gaiden Shadow is a classic because it has the right balance of both being a really difficult game but has enough mercy on the player to offer them infinite continues, which a lot of difficult games didn’t offer at the time. The game boasts some of the best Game Boy music on the system, which are all extremely memorable and the player will humming the themes long after they have finished playing the game. The game is quite a short game, but the difficulty makes the game longer but in a fair way. Definitely an overlooked game that deserves some attention.
Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use