This week’s game is NES Essential Play #4 – Ninja Gaiden II.

Not to be confused with the newer Xbox games that bear the same names, Ninja Gaiden was a pretty popular trilogy for the NES (released as individual games and then eventually as a single cart trilogy for the SNES). Of these, Ninja Gaiden II was the best offering, balancing difficulty and smooth game mechanics with a simple yet worthwhile plot. Ninja Gaiden II sported enough improvements over the first game to distinguish itself and did not suffer from the convoluted plot and punishing difficulty of the third game.

Picking Ninja Gaiden II as Essential Play #4 was a tough call since it was competing directly with a similar and popular game franchise: Castlevania. Both games are great, but as there is so much gameplay overlap between them, I had to make a choice. As a series I think Ninja Gaiden was better than Castlevanania, though did not garner as much name recognition. Part of this can be attributed to the horrible game that was Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The rest is down to Ninja Gaiden providing a more solid play experience using many of the same mechanics.

As were most games on the NES, Ninja Gaiden II was a side scroller. You controlled Ryu, a ninja, as he hunts down the dark wizard who has abducted his girlfriend. These were the plots back on the NES. Deep, no? The basic controls of the game is that you have your sword which you can melee at close range, and you can pick up usable items to supplement your arsenal. These items can be things like throwing stars, throwing knives, stop potions, etc. You basically jump and hack and slash your way through each level. Ninja Gaiden also introduced one of the first instances of wall jumping or wall hanging, which became a staple of SNES games and still exits to some extent, though it’s faded for more realistic wall climbing abilities these days. One of the neatest features added in Ninja Gaiden II, was the Phantom Double ability. By picking up shadow spheres throughout the level, you could form up to two invulnerable clones that followed you through the level. These clones could be used to attack while keeping yourself out of harms way.

The Shadow Double is the red one, following Ryu in the "black."

I have fond memories of Ninja Gaiden II mostly because it was the first game I was actually able to beat. Indeed it seemed as though the first two Ninja Gaiden games were made to be challenging but not punishingly hard, unlike many games of the NES era that sported gameplay which required hours of repetition to get the patterns correct (or at least get lucky enough times in a row). This accessibility of play rather jumped the shark with the third game, which is unfortunate.

You can pick up the Ninja Gaidens on individual NES carts for about $5 each, though NGIII is a bit harder to find. The 3 game trilogy for the SNES is less affordable due to the rarity. As of yet I’ve never seen the trilogy sell for less than $50.

-Confusion was a state of mind, or is it?