Guilty Party – Retro Redress
Crime – Giving up on Ninja Gaiden at Stage 6-2 due to being intimidated by the difficulty
Redress – Get over the difficulty and try to beat Ninja Gaiden!
When I look through by backlog of unfinished and abandoned games, I always look for games that I know I can beat. Games that are near the end and just need a few hours to beat. Games that just need one big session to get to the end.
Ninja Gaiden isn’t any of the above. Ninja Gaiden is insanely hard, so hard that I simply just gave up on it…
If you’re not sure why Ninja Gaiden is so hard, I’ll explain. On top of being ‘Nintendo Hard’, Ninja Gaiden plays a cruel trick on it’s last stage, Stage 6. There are three acts in each stage, with the final act being the boss. Nothing unusual about that right? No…except on Ninja Gaiden, if you die on 6-3, then you get sent back to 6-1. That’s right, you get sent back from the final boss to the beginning of the final stage.
I’d loved Ninja Gaiden – my lazy description is basically ‘Castlevania but way faster’ – but I had got stuck on 6-2. I knew about being returned to the start of 6-1 if I lost on 6-3 and that put me off. I’d battled through the first five levels of the game and the thought of repeating Stage 6 over and over again put me off the game. So much so that I gave up without really trying….
…but I know that I need to try and beat Ninja Gaiden, that it can’t just stay in my backlog forever. I can’t just assume I’d fail…I need to actually attempt to beat Ninja Gaiden. It’s time to fire up Ninja Gaiden and give it my best shot…where did I stop playing?
So here is where I left Ryu Hayabusa…standing at the start of stage 6-2, in probably the calmest screenshot of Ninja Gaiden you will ever see. Walk forward about 4 steps and the chaos beginnings. Dogs race along the floor, enemies wielding guns and swords advance, birds swoop at you…it’s a relentless assault, not helped by the fact I haven’t played the game in over a year, maybe two? I’m fodder and get about a quarter of the way through the section before dying. There’s sprite flicker to contend with too, but knowing Ninja Gaiden, it’s probably deliberate. Anything to stop me from progressing.
Take a look at the above screenshot for example. Ryu has to 1) jump on to a ledge 2) kill the enemy on the ledge before he can attack Ryu and 3) dodge the flying enemy’s projectiles. There is just so much going on in Ninja Gaiden that you feel helpless. As I play Ninja Gaiden, I realise that the best way to progress is to treat Ninja Gaiden like American Football – just charge forward and try to make progress. There is no way you can kill all the enemies or dodge every attack, you just need to keep moving. If you can make it to a checkpoint, it’s like a first down. I keep charging forward over and over again, just getting that little bit further towards the end of the screen
Finally I make it through the section of ledges, soldiers and well trained animals…and get ready to move onto the next section of of ledges, soldiers and well trained animals. Ninja Gaiden does give you little moments of respite before throwing you back into the action. I like that, it shows good pacing. These quieter sections aren’t long, they merely bridge the action together. I actually think Ninja Gaiden is a really good game, it’s just a really hard game. I’ve no issues about collision detection or controls, nothing like that, Ninja Gaiden is just a legitimately hard game.
Here is another tough scenario for Ryu. I have to jump at an enemy wielding a machine gun and land on the ledge safety. A bird swoops at Ryu about a second after landing. Like Castlevania’s Simon Belmont, Ryu gets knocked backwards after taking a hit, so a badly timed collision with either enemy will send him into the pit. It’s a tricky section of a level that has lots of tricky sections. The challenge level must be high because it completely tires me out…I fell asleep on my couch and had to drag myself to bed at 12:20am.
When I restart my laptop, this redress just has ‘KKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK’ written all over it. That either means my cats have jumped on the laptop or my forehead has been lying on the keyboard…frankly, it could be either answer. It doesn;t change anything though…I still need to try and beat Ninja Gaiden.
So, I get stuck into Ninja Gaiden…yesterday’s session has helped me a lot. I’ve memorized the enemy attack patterns now and I’m getting through the level quicker now. I’m also giving Ninja Gaiden a taste of it’s own medicine – I’ve used my 3DS Restoration Points to save after the first section of 6-2! Normally, I’d feel bad as it’s kinda cheating but it’s Ninja Gaiden…I still have to get through hundred of awkward enemies and tough platforming. I’m grateful I’m not playing Ninja Gaiden on original hardware though – even with infinite continues, this game is crazy hard.
My save point spamming does work though – it gets me to ‘the section.’ I have never been past the following section before. It’s an absolute horror…birds, charging enemies, niggly platform jumps…..I’m sorry I didn’t take a screenshot, but there is no way I can do that and get past the section. It’s literally a mad charge to the end, with me leaping over bats and crossing my fingers. Yes, it would probably be easier for me to play Ninja Gaiden without crossing my fingers, but I’ve got this far, why chance it?
My mad charge through ‘that section’ actually works…I’ve done it! I’ve got further than ever before! Another identical section awaits though. I struggle with it at first then I realise my mistake…I’m trying to run through the level a la American Football. Abandoning my previous approach, I slow down and focus on each part of the section individually….and this rational approach actually works. I’m now on 6-3….with a third of my energy vs a boss that has three forms. My chances do not look good. However, Ninja Gaiden makes a rare mistake. In trying to be sadistic and extend the pain with an actual level before the boss fight, it means I die, but can restart at the beginning of 6-3. See, it’s only dying on the boss fight that will see me sent back to 6-1. So now, I’m on 6-3, with a save point at the start of 6-3 and a full health bar and three lives. Advantage, Retro Redress, no?
No. Stage 6-3 is insane. The enemies are fired up and are launching themselves at me. The Union Lizard guys from Shadow Dancer could really take some tips from Ninja Gaiden’s grunts – special mention to the green ninja who chases me non stop around a tight corner. That guy has really earned his Christmas bonus. Can you imagine the conversation with the big boss?
“So how did you kill that infernal Ryu? Did you eviscerate him? Did you crush his skull? Did you watch him bleed to death?”
“No boss, I threw myself off a platform and grazed his shoulder and he just about fell into a bottomless pit…you know, the one in our HQ that we never fill in? I fell down the pit too,but Mike has filled in the Accident Book and I should be in tomorrow for the overtime shift.”
When I’m having conversations in my head with enemy soldiers and the Big Bad, I know what that means…I’m tired. It’s time to get some sleep and move on…
Verdict – Well, I failed in beating Ninja Gaiden…but I did make some progress with the game. Sometimes, you have to game the system. Save points are cheating a bit, but there is little other way against theses rock hard 80’S/90’s fare.
Still, Ninja Gaiden remains unbeaten. One day I’ll come back to Ninja Gaiden and defeat it. It may well be another two years or so, but this redress has given me some faith that Ninja Gaiden is beatable.