Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Take a little Double Dragon, add a little ninjitsu and several burly bad guys in hockey masks, and you end up with Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo’s entry into to the side-scrolling fighting genre. Wielding two fists of fury and a handful of special moves, the masked ninja took his quest for vengeance to the streets, ready to rumble with any thug in the way.
Like most fighters of its day, Ninja Gaiden pitted one or two players against a much more numerous army of villains, with deadly bosses waiting at the end of every stage. What set this game apart from the pack were its special moves and controls. With the proper joystick and button combinations, your ninja could pull off the Phoenix Backflip (running up the side of a wall and flipping back off), the Neck Throw (grabbing an enemy by the neck in mid-flip and hurling him away) and a few others. The joystick also held a unique button on top, which allowed the ninja to leap up and grab an overhanging pole, signpost, etc., giving him the ability to “Hang Kick” his foes.
Ninja Gaiden’s city streets were dotted with phone booths, vending machines, signs and many other invitingly smashable items. When bad guys got caught on the receiving end of the ninja’s fist, foot or neck throw, they flew into these objects, shattering glass and crunching metal. Often, the broken machines would reveal hidden power-up items, including a handy ninja sword.
Along with the fancy moves, Ninja Gaiden’s other highly memorable feature was its disturbing “Continue” screen. Once a player’s lifebar hit empty, the game switched to a full-screen animation. Your poor ninja was chained and roped down to a table with a whizzing buzzsaw slowly descending toward his exposed neck. Hideous monsters watched and laughed in the background as the timer ticked down. This wasn’t just a chance for another game; this was life or death! If a callous player didn’t care to continue or had run out of quarters, the screen flashed a bright red, covering up the ninja’s fate.
Ninja Gaiden didn’t set the fighting world on fire like Final Fight would the following year, but the Tecmo game did lend its name to a series of popular cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which at least kept the now-headless ninja’s spirit alive.