Sgathaich: Ninja Gaiden NES

Sgathaich, an old woman with long hair and wearing a crown

That list of hardest games of all time. It’s always fun with a bit of dread to experience them yourself. How many have I done so far? I remember FZero GX, but after all these years can’t recall if I touched the others. But let’s go and look at one that always instantly appears on people’s lists.

Released in 1988 Ninja Gaiden for the Nintendo Entertainment System was released alongside an arcade version, though ultimately the NES version has become the one well known for its difficulty. While it may not seem something now, this game was one of the first times on a console game that the plot was as heavily focused on with each level opening and ending with cutscenes that lead into the next level and its events.

That plot stars Ninja Ryu Hayabusa  who is out for revenge after the death of his father, which you would see in the opening. What soon occurs is a plot like an action movie as evil organizations, the CIA and an ancient demon all get involved. Now to actually GET to that stuff you have to go play though the game. While the controls are rather decent for the time, and work very smoothly, it’s the enemies that will ramp up that difficulty. Sure, the first level may not be too hard. Get used to how jumping up surfaces works, hitting enemies that are low down, even the first few bosses are rather easy. There is the issue that you have to do all of that in one life as dying will send you back to the start of the level. Even if on the boss
Of course the bosses for quite a bit are still relatively easy, but the enemies on the levels getting to that start to get a lot worse. These enemies include the infamous birds who will fly about and then home in on you often at angles you can’t reach normally. On top of all this is the fact that enemies spawn and respawn at certain bits of the level just by getting to them, so if you head backwards to tackle an enemy… they will be right back even if you killed them. And that’s before we get to the issues of enemies that spawn right on jumps over bottomless pits (because of course it has those).

'I will get my revenge' with the eyes of a Ninja on the title screen of the game

Still it’s not till right at the end of the game with the last 2 levels that bosses suddenly go insanely hard, especially right on the last one. While I could breeze through a boss everywhere else suddenly, I’m up against the masked devil and it keeps throwing flying orbs at me while having a slow-moving thing I need to constantly avoid or just takes off a third of my health. which given all the flying stuff is very hard. And then there are two other bosses after him that while not as hard are still considerably harder than all the other bosses. Also remember dying to the bosses sends you to the start of the level. My assumption is you need to have gotten the exact right powerul needed to deal with the masked devil but I didn’t have it.

Frankly I only got through this game thanks to it being on the NES player on the Switch and using the time rewind. Mainly on those last few bosses. When someone says this game is hard, they aren’t kidding and it’s not in the fun challenge way, it’s in the bad design or just intentionally made to be that way so people couldn’t just rent it. (Yes, companies did do that, look at Echo the Dolphin) But still if you playing it on the NES player, or something with save states, its worth experiencing just for the sake of it being so hard, to really understand what people are talking about.


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