NINJA GAIDEN / Tecmo / NES (1989)

Sure, I see how this works, Tecmo. Bore the gaijin gamers to sleep with Tecmo Bowl and Solomon's Key, while Japan gets Ninja Gaiden right out of the gate. Preferential treatment of your home country and all that. Well, whatever. Before Ninja Gaiden was a frustratingly difficult Xbox game it was a frustratingly difficult NES game, and one of the most badass side-scrolling games of all time I might add. Good level design and rock solid gameplay are the fundamentals here, but the game really caused a stir with it's manga-style cinematic storytelling between levels (which was a thing that had no real equal in gaming to that point). Sure, the story might be sparse and sometimes not make a whole lot of sense, but the great art and direction made the story an intriguing hook and gave the game a dark atmosphere unparalleled in it's time. The music was also spot on, being appropriately creepy in the cutscenes and high-energy in the action stages. And sure, the difficulty was high but it was doable, and gamers who stuck with the game and got into it's particular groove were rewarded by looking like a total badass as they cut through the levels with skill and precision. The only major complaint was that the tandem of the final level-final boss stand as one of the most ridiculously difficult stretches in gaming, and more people than not are going to quit in frustration before seeing the game all the way through to the end. It's still damned fun though, in that devilish way.

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Gameplay Video
LOL Ninja Gaiden