Ninja Gaiden Shadow

Developer: Natsume
U.S. Publisher: Tecmo
Original U.S. Release: December 1991
Genre: Platformer
Format: Cartridge

Based on: Inviting a clumsy home intruder to become a part of your family.

Games | Game Boy | Ninja Gaiden Shadow

Article by parish | June 29, 2009

I have a friend who finds himself nearly apoplectic with rage when the topic of Ninja Gaiden for NES comes up in conversation. After all, the real Ninja Gaiden was a crappy, shallow arcade beat-em-up! How dare anyone suggest that the intricate, nuanced, story-driven Castlevania-esque sidescrollers for NES have anything at all to do with that masterpiece of crap! But I kid. Still, sometimes I idly wonder what he thinks of Ninja Gaiden Shadow. Maybe I should ask.

See, despite the name, Shadow isn't really a Ninja Gaiden game, and it's even further away from the arcade original than the NES titles were. No, this Game Boy offshoot was developed by Natsume, which suggests it was intended to be a portable rendition of NES Ninja Gaiden clone Shadow of the Ninja. But apparently somewhere along the way Tecmo caught wind of the project and decided that rather than sue Natsume into the stone ages for ripping them off so brazenly, they should instead profit richly—and so they did. They licensed or bought the game outright, slapped a few Ninja Gaiden look-and-feel elements into the mix (mostly in the cinema sequences), and ended up with a damn fine portable game that straddles the line between two slightly different franchises with aplomb. It's a game that would work with either series' name on it, which could be seen as damning evidence of Natsume's creative theft... but ultimately, the result is a really fun and moderately challenging Game Boy adventure, so who cares?

The resulting work doesn't feel 100% like Ninja Gaiden all the way through, since Ryu has a grappling hook with which to navigate the levels. Yet it does incorporate elements of the Ninja Gaiden trilogy, like the overhand crawl Ryu adopted in his third NES outing. As forgeries go, this is one of the best. The graphics are rich and detailed, though proportioned correctly to work on the Game Boy's screen, and the music is driving if not particularly memorable. That's probably better than gamers have come to expect from portable spin-offs like this, especially when the work reeks of such cynicism: not only is it a Ninja Gaiden knockff, but Ninja Gaiden's creator is happily skimming off the top of someone else's skullduggery. Shameful, really. But in the end, Shadow plays beautifully, focusing on tight action and strong level design over flashy visuals, so it remains one of those rare and precious Game Boy adventures that holds up to the ravages of time (and color screens).

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