The Ninja Gaiden series, released by Tecmo, was one of the best selling series for NES system. The popularity of this series was so strong that, like many other popular NES series, the series continues to be released on modern gaming systems. The reason for this popularity can be attributed to a combination of powerful story, innovative new game mechanics, and nearly perfect timing of the original release.
To understand the popularity of Ninja Gaiden, requires understanding the market that the game was released in. Ninja Gaiden was released in 1989. Some of the most popular games on the NES at that time were Kid Icarus, Metroid, Castlevania, Megaman. Ninja Gaiden had very similar game play to these games and slightly improved graphics. On top of this, Ninja Gaiden added two innovations that were not present in any of these popular games: cut scenes and wall jumping.
Cut scenes may seem like a video game staple these days, but in 1989, it was a rarity. A few PC games had cut scenes, and nearly all such games were either tactical or strategic games. Ninja Gaiden used cut scenes at the beginning and end of the game and between every chapter. The use of these scenes staggered the action while simultaneously telling a powerful story. Also, the cut scenes were artistically portrayed to visually simulate a classic samurai movie.
The other innovation involved game play. Ninja Gaiden was a pretty standard side-scrolling platform game with ability for the main character to jump and attack. Unique to this game from any previous game was the ability for the main character to hang on walls. This allowed unprecedented ways for the character to move and attack. It was the closest thing to a third dimension of gaming that would exist for any console gaming system for years to come.
These two elements alone would probably have been enough for the game to be popular, especially given the timing of its release, but the series continuing popularity has spurred from one more facet of the game. The game and nearly every sequel in the series (including the current generation games) have an exceptionally high level of difficulty. This difficulty has made the game popular among hard core players and the ability to defeat any game in this series is considered a point of pride among many gamers. Twenty years after the initial release, both the original NES versions and the modern Xbox versions of this game are still frustrating gamers with a blisteringly high difficulty. Fans of the series wouldn’t have it any other way.