-AM for sure!- Brief history of the Ninja Gaiden series

In honor of the new Ninja Gaiden releasing this month for Xbox 360, here is a history of the series . . .

1988 Ninja Gaiden (arcade)
developer/publisher: Tecmo

Many gaming nerds are familiar with the NES games in the series but not with this one – THE ONE THAT STARTED IT ALL. This game is not a fast-action platforming adventure but rather a slow-paced beat-em-up in the vein of Double Dragon and Final Fight. I daresay this game is somewhat better than those as there’s more variety and there are checkpoints. Unlike most arcade beat-em-ups, having a million quarters in your pocket doesn’t guarantee victory as everytime you die you’re sent back to a certain point.

1989 Ninja Gaiden (NES)
developer/publisher: Tecmo

The game that made the series famoussssss. This game fused the platforming action of Castlevania with the high-octane action of Contra. It’s sweeeeet. And it was the first, or at least one of the first, console games to use cinematic cutscenes between levels to advance the story and provide motivation and context for your wacky adventures.

1990 Ninja Gaiden II: Dark Sword of Chaos (NES)
developer/publisher: Tecmo

More of the same and that ain’t bad.

1991 Ninja Gaiden III: Ancient Ship of Doom (NES and Lynx)
developer/publisher: Tecmo

Uses the same engine as the previous 2 games but definitely more changes this time around. New enemies and power ups but still a familiar situation.

1991 Ninja Gaiden Shadow (Game Boy)
developer: Natsume
publisher: Tecmo

Tecmo bought a ninja game from competitor Natsume, changed some of the sprites and the story, and called it a Ninja Gaiden game. Kinda annoying, right?

1991 Ninja Gaiden (Game Gear)
developer/publisher: SEGA

Apparently not content with their own popular ninja series, Shinobi, SEGA licensed Ninja Gaiden from Tecmo and made this piece of shit. Good job!

1992 Ninja Gaiden (Master System)
developer/publisher: SEGA

I haven’t played this all the way through but it’s something of a redemption for the shitty Game Gear effort. It plays much more like the NES games but with some of its own peculiarities and shows pretty clearly how much better looking Master System is than NES.


The Ninja Gaiden series kinda died after the Master System game but the character did not go unused. In 1996, Tecmo released the 3D fighting game, Dead or Alive, featuring Ryu Hayabasa (the Ninja Gaiden dude’s name!) and he’s been in all 4 installments in the series.

2004 Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo

1,000 years later, the development team behind the Dead or Alive series was allowed to make a Ninja Gaiden game. Not surprisingly, it looks and feels like a Dead or Alive game. The gameplay has more in common with the original beat-em-up than with the NES games.

2008 Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword (DS)
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo

Like the Xbox game, but with a stylus.

2008 Ninja Gaiden II (Xbox 360)
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo

The new one, duh!


2 responses to “-AM for sure!- Brief history of the Ninja Gaiden series

  1. Have you played the first Xbox or DS games?

  2. okay… here are my thoughts…

    ninja gaiden one for nes is tight, two is also tight, but i think three MIGHT be my favorite so far. i’ll have to play ’em all again to be for sure, though.

    also… i recently played the master system ninja gaiden and was very pleasantly surprised with it. i didn’t even play through all of the first level, but it seems like a very good time. i’ll probably beat it on tour or something.

    and thirdly: the ninja gaiden arcade was at adventureland last time i checked. i didn’t play it.

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