Ninja Gaiden Shadow (Game Boy)

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Written by  :  So Hai (371)
Written on  :  Mar 07, 2008
Rating  :  3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars3.5 Stars

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A Ninja in New York? This Has Got To Be Good...

The Good

"Ninja Gaiden Shadow" really is a Gameboy classic. This game (released in 1991) is a great little portable adventure, and upholds the legendary quality that the Ninja Gaiden series is renowned for. Of course, you play as the ninja Ryu Hayabusa, and it is your mission to play through each "Stage" at the end of which stands a powerful boss-character. The setting is "U.S.A. 1985" - it only when a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty is shown in monochrome glory that we figure out that this thing is set in New York. After a confusing narrative from an "evil messenger", we are introduced to our hero, and are ready to start the game.

There are no options to this title, you just have to press Start and we are thrown directly into "Stage 1". Ryu's moves are controlled with Button A (strikes your sword), Button B (a flip-jump), Up+A (special-move) and Up+B (a hook-shot device). You can see that he's not overly-equipped, but as this is a Gameboy game, and that's quite a repertoire. It's worth noting that the controls in this game are spot-on. His sword's reach is perfectly balanced for challenging strikes, and his jump is smooth and fluid. The special move, a kind of screen-high fire-blast is fine for taking out annoying drones and weak enemies, but practically useless against bosses. The hook-shot is used for attaching to special platforms that Ryu can then hand-climb across - in fact, one of the bosses requires you to skillfully wield this device.

Graphically, this game is outstanding. The clever use of the limited pallet is a treat to see. The attention to detail is apparent from the first level, and things don't slack off towards the end either. There is always an interesting and suitable background, as well as a functional and un-cluttered foreground - it seems they understood the Gameboys tendency of visual-blur, and programmed around this somewhat. The sprites are fine and detailed, and the animation is as good as you could expect. The bosses stand-out well also - they are always twice as high and pretty damn intimidating, (seeing as you only have a sword to take them down with).

Sonically, this game is well-done. The sound-effects are suitable - the "schink" of the sword is the one that I remember most. Also, the various industrial and city-scapes that you play through have some varied sounds, while the missiles and lasers that fire at you sound fine too. The music is very upbeat and synthy; is reminiscent of arcade beat-em-ups from this era, (think "Double Dragon"). The opportunity to have a Japanese influence on the soundtrack was passed-up by the composer(s) though.

The Bad

After all of that, Ninja Gaiden Shadow's biggest flaw is in it's ridiculously short length. There are five stages, and when you've played through once or twice, I can't imagine thirty-minutes going by before you see the end sequence (which is fairly disappointing I might add). The level design itself is great, and you are challenged decently to get through each one, but the shortness of them would only make you feel quite ripped-off, even by 1991's standards. Perhaps this was a memory limitation, but I find that hard to believe. Other titles have crammed much more content into these carts, with arguably more complicated programming and visuals; (I can thing of "Donkey Kong Land" for one). It could easily be twice as long and would not feel as if it were outstaying it's welcome. Tecmo might have underestimated the quality of their own product here!

The Bottom Line

"Ninja Gaiden Shadow" is a great little jewel in the Gameboy's monumental back-catalog. It really is worth a play-through just to see what Ryu Hayabusa has evolved from. Try it out, if you don't like it, at least it won't take you long...