NINJA GAIDEN 2 / Tecmo / NES
I'm sure you're all familiar with the phrase "rose colored glasses" ... mine are pretty well super-glued onto my head when it comes to Ninja Gaiden, particularly Ninja Gaiden 2. This game IS Badass Platforming, ladies and gentlemen. This is what it's all about. However! I recognize this is a whole Brave New Post 9/11 World we live in now and sensibilities have changed. Kids these days are all spoiled by ultra mip mapped polygon porn, why should
they care about dusty old 2D gaming? So I will try to be objective here, for the sake of journalistic integrity and all that.
Ninja Gaiden 2 is running on pretty much the same engine as the first game, with a few little gameplay improvements. Ryu can climb walls now instead of having to do that awkward short hop, and you can find scrolls in hard-to-reach places around the levels that increase your maximum Ninjer Magic. There's also the shadow clones, of which you can have two following you around mimicking your movements. The shadow clones seem like a simple thing now, but it really was an incredibly cool gameplay innovation back in 1990 and it helps to kick this one up a notch over the original game and over most other platformers of the era.
The story is admittedly cliche and the dialogue is like something out of Yu Yu Hakusho or one of those other obnoxious kiddie animes. What the game does better than most others is pure dark atmosphere - with the simple but effective cinematics, the morbid detail in the artwork, and most of all the excellent soundtrack (chiptunes don't get much better than they do in this game). It all makes the rather basic and sparse story seem a lot more effective than it really is.
It's also cheap. Enemies continually respawn when you move the screen just a *little* bit, and they also often like to spawn right next to you when you're in midair or just landing from a jump at the edge of a cliff. Yet, somehow, it manages to be compelling, because it always seems *doable*, and you feel like such a badass when you get the skills down. Despite the cheap enemy spawn points, the level design is good - diabolical but good - and the gameplay is very fluid and tight.
I think it's actually maybe a touch easier than the original Ninja Gaiden. Each level has three sections, and even if you run out of lives you can still continue from the beginning of the second section (and you have infinite continues). If you make it to the boss and lose, though, you have to run all the way through the second section of the level over again.