|genre=Platformer |modes=Single player |ratings= |platforms=Nintendo Entertainment System |media=Cartridge |requirements= |input=Control pad }} , known in Japan as and as Shadow Warriors in Europe, is a platform game developed and published by Tecmo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released on in Japan, March in North America, and in Europe. Ninja Gaiden is the first installment in the NES trilogy of Ninja Gaiden games featuring the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa. It has also been ported to the TurboGrafx-16 and the Super NES.
The story centers on a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa, whose father was recently killed in a duel. Ryu then sets out for America to investigate his father's death and to seek revenge. However, Ryu eventually finds himself involved in a sinister plot that threatens the entire world. In Ninja Gaiden, the player must control Ryu through six platforming levels in order to find out the mysteries behind his father's death. Players encounter many enemies along the way, which must be dispatched with Ryu's katana sword.
Ninja Gaiden was developed by Tecmo — known for their later achievements such as the Tecmo Bowl series, Rygar, and the Xbox Ninja Gaiden series. This game is renowned for its innovative use of cinematic cutscenes as well as a full, movie-like story. The game's success spawned two sequels and several ports to other video game systems. It also garnered extensive coverage in Nintendo Power magazine, and it was also novelized as part of the Worlds of Power game adaptations written by F.X. Nine.
The player controls Ryu Hayabusa through six platforming levels, known as "Acts. The player has a life meter which denotes the player's "physical strength." The player's life meter drops every time the player gets hit by an enemy or a projectile. The player loses a life when the player's life meter runs out, when the player falls off the screen, or when the timer runs out; the game ends when the player has lost all lives. However, players can continue the game and restart the level in which the player has lost all their lives. At the end of every act, the player fights a boss. Unlike the regular enemies, bosses have a life meter; they can endure greater damage than their underlings before being defeated.
Players mainly attack by thrusting with Ryu's Dragon Sword — a katana–like sword that has been passed down the Hayabusa clan for generations. They can also use other “secondary” weapons that rely on Ryu's “spiritual strength” as ammunition. These secondary weapons include shurikens, fire wheels, and "jump and slash" techniques. Every time the player uses a secondary weapon, the player's spiritual strength decreases; when the spiritual strength meter becomes too low, the player cannot use that particular subweapon. However, players can replenish spiritual strength by collecting various items.
Other supporting characters include Walter Smith, an archeologist who, along with Ken, found some sacred ruins in South America which contained evil secrets. Foster, head of the Special Auxiliary Unit of the CIA, tells Ryu about the secrets of these ruins and asks him for help in eliminating the story's antagonist, Guardia de Mieux, also known as "the Jaquio. Jaquio plans to use two demon statues recovered by Walter and Ken to gather the power to summon an evil archdemon and rule the world. Finally, throughout the story, Ryu battles with the "Malice Four" — the four evil forces hand-picked by Jaquio to carry out his evil plan. The four members are Barbarian, Bomberhead, Basaquer, and Bloody Malth.
The story takes place presumably in modern time.
The crux of the story of Ninja Gaiden revolves around two demon statues that, when brought together, can awaken an evil archdemon (known colloquially in the game as the "demon") bent on the world's destruction. After Ryu's father, Ken, is killed in a duel with another ninja, Ryu finds a letter written by Ken, telling him that if he should fall, then he must go to America and find the archaeologist Walter Smith. Before Ryu can find him, however, he is kidnapped by a young policewoman, who hands Ryu one of the demon statues.
Eventually, Ryu finds Walter, who tells Ryu of the demon statues that he and Ryu’s father had found in the Amazon ruins as well as the origins and history of the demon and of "Light" and "Shadow" demon statues. Ryu shows Walter the "Shadow" demon statue he received from Irene. However, during their conversation, a masked figure suddenly breaks into the cabin and steals the Shadow statue. Ryu gives chase and retrieves the statue, but when he returns to Walter, he finds that Walter had been killed and that the Light statue has been taken. A moment later, Ryu is captured by three armed men.
Ryu is taken to an interrogation room, where he is addressed by Foster, head of the Special Auxiliary Unit of the Central Intelligence Agency. Foster explains to Ryu that they have been monitoring the activity someone named Guardia de Mieux – also known as "The Jaquio" — who has moved in to an Amazon temple where the body of the demon is located. Jaquio wishes to gain the demon statues so that he can release the Demon from the statues and bring forth the end of the world. He then asks Ryu to travel to South America and to eliminate Jaquio.
Ryu makes his way into the Brazilian temple, where he finds Jaquio. However, Ryu finds that Jaquio is now holding the young policewoman captive. Jaquio instructs Ryu to hand over the Shadow statue, at which point Jaquio releases a trap door beneath Ryu, causing Ryu to fall into a catacomb. Ryu makes his way back to the top of the temple, where he confronts Bloody Malth, whom after his defeat by Ryu, tells Ryu that it was he who had defeated his father and that his father is still alive. Not believing in the Bloody Malth's dying words, Ryu ventures on.
At the inner altar of the temple, Ryu realizes that Malth was telling the truth, and that his father Ken Hayabusa is indeed alive but has been possessed by an evil figure. After Ryu destroys the evil figure — hence reverting his father back to normal — Jaquio, enraged because Ryu's father was freed from the evil control, shows himself and immediately tries to kill Ryu with a projectile of power, but Ken throws himself in front of his son, absorbing the attack. Jaquio is presumable killed during the ensuing fight, but then the demon is suddenly awakened as a lunar eclipse causes the demon statues to transform into the demon. After defeating the demon, Ryu's father tells Ryu he hasn't got much longer due Jaquio's attack and to leave him behind in the temple as it collapses and to take the policewoman with him. Afterwards, Foster, communicating via satellite, then orders the young lady to kill Ryu, but she refuses to carry out the deed, choosing to be with Ryu instead. Finally, Ryu and the young lady kiss themselves and then she reveals that her name is Irene Lew.
Ninja Gaiden was first ported to the PC Engine in for Japan only. The PC Engine version featured an alternate English translation and more colorful graphics, as well as various difficulty and gameplay tweaks from the original.
Along with the two other installments of the series for the NES, Ninja Gaiden also appeared as an enhanced remake in the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy compilation for the SNES. Some reviewers appreciated the redrawn graphics and music in this version, but others found it an inadequate effort. Electronic Gaming Monthly reviewers compared it unfavorably to another updated NES remake, Mega Man: The Wily Wars, and called Ninja Gaiden Trilogy "an exact port-over with no noticeable enhancements in graphics, sound and play control".
Ninja Gaiden was released on Wii's Virtual Console on in North America and on in Europe. Europeans, Australians, and New Zealanders have been able to purchase Ninja Gaiden as part of 'Hanabi Festival', where people can buy games not released in Europe for a higher price, despite the fact that Ninja Gaiden was released in Europe on the NES as Shadow Warriors. The European version does not have the typical PAL issues and runs at 60 MHz.
In , Tecmo also began releasing episodic chapters of Ninja Gaiden for mobile phones in low-priced installments for small groups of levels. It is currently only available for purchase in Japan, although the official English Tecmo Games mobile website advertised it for a future release along with a mobile version of Tecmo Bowl. The complete game was planned for mobile release in four installments.
Upon its release, Ninja Gaiden was met with high sales, directly spawning the 1990 sequel, Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. However, some critics have bemoaned Ninja Gaiden's gameplay as being too similar to another successful NES platformer, Castlevania, despite the fact that Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden have different dynamics, and that several actions possible in Ninja Gaiden would be impossible in Castlevania. In recent times, the game has been considered "groundbreaking" for its pioneering use of stylized cutscenes, as well as its high quality music and dark atmosphere. Other criticism includes a particularly high and unrelenting difficulty level, especially late in the game; one reviewer has referred to the latter levels of Ninja Gaiden as an "unfair display of intentional cheapness."
Ninja Gaiden also received strong publicity in Nintendo Power during 1989. It was featured on the cover of the magazine's fifth issue and was referenced in the following issue in a Howard and Nester comic strip. Speaking to the game's difficulty, Ninja Gaiden also appeared in several issues that year in the magazine's Counselor's Corner and Classified Information help sections.
The title is still revered today as one of the most popular games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. In a 2006 Joystiq reader poll including over 12,000 votes, Ninja Gaiden ranked #10 in a vote on top games for the system. In a followup feature to an Electronic Gaming Monthly article, "The 200 Greatest Videogames of Their Time", readers wrote in to discuss games they felt were ignored in the list; Ninja Gaiden placed 16th in the top 25 games discussed. During the end of 2005, Nintendo Power ran a serial feature, the Top 200 Nintendo Games Ever, spanning games for all Nintendo systems where Ninja Gaiden was ranked #89.
A soundtrack CD, Ninja Ryukenden: Tecmo GSM-1, was released by Pony Canyon in February 1989. It features an arranged medley of various music from the game, as well as slightly enhanced versions of the original game's tracks. The CD also included music from the original arcade version of Ninja Gaiden.