Retronauts Volume III Episode 3: Ninja Gaiden

Retronauts 3 cover art

Hi, it’s Ray. I was bemused that after so many episodes of Retronauts on so many different topics, we never took time to dive into Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series. It was one of the best-remembered series of the NES days, and not only did it codify a big part of games (it was arguably the first console action game to incorporate cut-scenes), it owes a bit to its contemporaries, namely Castlevania. And that’s just one of the talking points we go over in this episode.

My intent was to touch on all of the “retro” Ninja Gaiden games, as they’re not just the NES trilogy most people remember. There was the original arcade game, the Game Boy title, some notable ports, and as you’ll find out, a whole other Sega-borne series that Tecmo licensed out. We also talk about some Ninja Gaiden-related media and merchandise. However, we don’t talk much about Tecmo’s rebooted Ninja Gaiden series — though some of you may have been kids when it got started, we weren’t, and why were you allowed to play M-rated games, anyway?!

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This episode’s breakdown:

  • 0:46 | Digital download discussion (Game Gear VC releases & Final Fantasy VII on Steam)
  • 12:25 | Ninja Gaiden (Arcade)
  • 24:00 | Ninja Gaiden (NES)
  • 39:31 | Ninja Gaiden II (NES)
  • 50:24 | Ninja Gaiden III (NES)
  • 56:39 | Ninja Gaiden Shadow (GB)
  • 1:01:26 | Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (SNES)
  • 1:05:48 | Ninja Gaiden (Game Gear)
  • 1:10:44 | Ninja Gaiden (Master System)
  • 1:14:21 | Ninja Gaiden (Mega Drive)
  • 1:18:19 | Ninja Gaiden anime & Worlds of Power novel
  • 1:24:24 | Haggleman 3
  • 1:27:55 | Closing

And this link to the Game Player’s Gametape will make sense as you listen.

NEXT WEEK: I take on Pocket with another lesser-discussed subject on the show.

28 Comments

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28 Responses to Retronauts Volume III Episode 3: Ninja Gaiden

  1. Aelfric

    I hope your pocket episode is all about how the boomerang throwing star is the best subweapon ever. That and/or flame whips. I don’t know if there are any flame whips in Ninja Gaiden, but they’re awesome enough that they should be discussed on every podcast. I still play Fester’s Quest to this day simply because there’s a flame whip.

  2. Ninja Gaiden is one of those games I remember more for the music than the games. I’ve never been able to finish any of them, although the Game Boy version seems the most doable (mostly because it’s Shadow Of The Ninja). I’ve just never had the patience for the NES trilogy.

  3. JohnLearned

    The used market for the UK Master System version has gone through the roof lately. I find this to be bogus

  4. Leliel

    Have to agree that (NES) NG2 is easier than NG1. The difficulty curve was a little different — it ramps up a lot faster (changing winds in 2-2, lightning in 3-1) but never gets as difficult as NG1 6-2 and 6-3, so someone familiar with the first game can blow through the second. Not to mention you only (“only”) get sent back to the start of 7-2 if you died at the end. I think the biggest single factor was the Phantom Doubles and maybe NG2 would have been as hard if not harder without them.

  5. josh

    I loved the Whopper flavor of this episode! I’m sure NoMoWo fans were giggling a bit!

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  7. Irene Dies

    Best episode of the Retronauts relaunch so far IMHO. Informative, casual, super fun to listen to. Thanks, this rocks.

    Ninjs Gaiden was a popular title growing up in the midWest, sort of a mid upper tier cachet NES game with Sunsoft Batman and Battle of Olympus, but not as legendary (now: tired) as Zeldas, Mega Mans, Castlevanias.

    I first saw the game at my cousin’s house when I was very young, 5 or so, and was only barely aware of games that weren’t Super Mario Bros, which came with the console I had at home. The cutscenes between levels seemed so adult and sophisticated and scary, especially when Ryu got shot by a strange lady. I was infatuated and fascinated with this.

    Just one of many memories I have in my youth of video games completely blowing my expectations of what they were capable of. Keep up the good work guys!!

  8. Ken

    While I’ll agree to disagree about the game qualities of Pilotwings (I thought it was an amazing game then, and still think it’s great fun even now) but I can’t believe you guys didn’t like the music which is some of the best on the system!

  9. Tato

    Another fun episode. I think the reason not many people remember the latter half of NG2 is because the narrative thread between the levels really breaks down once you enter the “World of Darkness,” which is really just code for “Now we can send you to the requisite lava level, ice level, and cave levels with no rhyme or reason between level transitions.” With no map screen or narrative reason for going from level to level, it just blurs together.

    It gets even worse in NG3, which has absolutely no transition between most levels and just plops you wherever the designers felt like it. It doesn’t help that the sci-fi setting of NG3 makes it so generic. There’s very little distinguishing the art style and content of NG3 from Shatterhand, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Power Blade, and all the other NG-alikes.

  10. Zman

    INCREDIBLE!! I’m so happy you guys are back. I guess I’ve been living under a rock the last few months cause I knew absolutely nothing about the Kickstarter and your return until a few days ago. I just happened to be procrastinating at work and decided to re-listen to some of the earlier episodes (I have already heard them all at least once), and there it was. I feel terrible that I didn’t know about the Kickstarter and wasn’t able to support the revival of this AWESOME podcast, but it looks like you guys did ok without me. Plus I get a new episode every week….this is unbelievable!!!! I was so bummed when you guys got shut down at over at 1up. Love all the new Episodes so far, especially the Captain N one (I hadn’t though about that show in years). Keep up the great work! Loved the movie series you guys did last year with the Wizard. What do you think about doing a segment discussing the the new Android gaming system Ouya. I think its really interesting how this thing is being sold with classic emulation as a feature. The nature of the type of many of the games being released for it is also very retro. Anyway….. Cant wait to hear more. Thanks Again.

  11. transmet2033

    If I find myself purchasing copies of Ninja Gaiden sometime this week, I will blame you. It happened the last time, when you guys talked about Wario.

  12. Glad that Robot Ninja Haggleman Lady got a mention. While RNH3 is great, I found that I enjoyed the simplicity of the earlier Hagglemen more than that ultimate sequel version.

    Also, the arcade game did have a button on its top, like some weird PC joystick. What a strange and awesome feature that required ninja-like dexterity of the fingers.

  13. Suto

    For some reason the song “An Honest Mistake” by The Bravery sounds like a ripoff of Ninja Gaiden music to me.

  14. Sean C

    Great episode. Strangely the original I played the most was 3. I had been at a friends house playing the first two but the 3rd came out when I finally got a NES in the early 90’s and I rented it and played the hell out of it. It probrably does have the best production values. But the game just strayed a little too far from the first two. I still enjoyed it but was a bit underwhelmed by the gameplay at least. Looking back at my fanboy days as a SMS owner I remember that many SMS games had cutscenes and art panels in the games. But when this game came out I really couldn’t use that as a bragging point anymore as it really did the the cinematic cutscene thing on the NES and it did it spectacularly. Great series, at least on the NES. And I’ll add , to close, the obligatory, screw yoooooooouuuuu!! Eagles. You caused almost as much controller throwing as the Red Gargoyles in Ghost and Goblins.

  15. I know the show focuses on retro games (it’s right in the name!) but I was hoping to learn at least a tidbit on the Ninja Gaiden DS game. It seemed unlike all the other titles in that series.

  16. I remember Hardcore Gaming 101 did an interview with Masato Kato about Ninja Gaiden. They actually asked him about the last level of the first game, and apparently the whole “go back to the start of the act” was actually a programming error that they just decided to go with. It would explain why every time you beat one of the final bosses for the first time it takes away your magic like if you beat a level.

  17. rmckee78

    Another good episode. I had just commented about Worlds of Power on the last episode, before I had a chance to listen to this one, so it was a bit surreal to hear it mentioned. Let’s face it, Worlds of Power does not come up very often in polite conversation.

    I liked the approach of discussing all of the NES games and then moving on to other releases. Sometimes when podcasts discuss all of a games releases in chronological order I can get a little bit lost (I am looking at you Wonder Boy/Adventure Island discussions!). I thought organizing it this way made sense, especially given that the NES games are the most well known.

    I always found it odd that NG kind of disappeared after NG3. At least in my circle it was on par with Contra/Castlevania/Mega Man in popularity. It seems like so much could have been done with it in the 16 bit era, although I am sure the PS1 NG would have been painful had it persisted.

  18. CB

    Jeremy’s comments on playing and mastering the original NES version really brought me back… I remember playing that game a mind-numbing number of times until I could zip through every level, perfectly dodging every shitty bird.

    YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE HALL OF JUDGEMENT

  19. Trouble Turkey

    Great episode!

    I seem to remember something in Nintendo Power around the time that Ninja Gaiden came out, breathlessly introducing the concept of “cinema scenes”. At the time it seemed like a pretty mindblowing concept, and though that sort of thing has fallen 0ut of favor over the last 10 years or so, it really was kind of step-forward for narrative in this type of game.

  20. Chris Cates

    Great episode, I love how the different hosts have their own style.

    I thought it was funny you were talking about Joe Ninja and Ninja Gaiden being progressive with the name but missed one of the famous “Joe Ninjas” from that very same series: Joe Hayabusa, Ryu’s father.

  21. META BODY

    Cool episode. Glad you mentioned Masato Kato’s involvement, though I don’t think you point out that he also did most (if not all?) of the design artwork — at least for Ninja Gaiden II. Maybe the first game, as well. I just remember seeing his drawings in the big guide in Nintendo Power, and then finding out that it was in fact him via HG101 a few years ago. If only I had known about this back when I played Chrono Trigger and Xenogears…! All of the above were favorites during my childhood and teens.