First Samurai (SNES)

Pub: Kemco | Dev: Vivid Images | July 1993 | 4 MEGS
Pub: Kemco | Dev: Vivid Image | July 1993 | 4 MEGS

When I got back into all things Super Nintendo in early 2006, one of the reasons was the desire to play longstanding childhood curiosities that I never rented. Among those 100+ curiosities was an odd little action title by the name of First Samurai. Coming out in the summer of 1993, it largely flew under the radar. But I’ll never forget seeing it previewed in an EGM issue in early ’93. Its dark and dreary screenshots left a mark on me, and I always wondered if it was as decent as my imagination had made it out to be. First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991 and it earned some rave reviews. In fact, Amiga Power rated it 91%. The success of their action platformer inspired little known developer Vivid Image (who also made Street Racer) to convert First Samurai to the 16-bit powerhouse SNES. Kemco picked up its publishing rights and we’re off the races, right? Not quite. The summer of 1993 saw a GLUT of Super Nintendo games being released, and First Samurai didn’t carry with it much press or clout. As such, it quickly faded from memory. But not mine. When I got back into the SNES in early 2006, First Samurai was actually the 7th game I played, and I had a choice of over 50 games to pick from. It was one of those strange childhood games I just had to finally play. So, is it any good, or does it deserve to stay obscured in the shadows? Let us endeavor to find out.

Amiga? No thanks. Oh what, 91%? I'm listening...
Amiga? No thanks. Oh what, 91%? I’m listening…


One of my favorite EGM issues of all time
One of my favorite EGM issues of all time

EGM issue #43 (February 1993) was one for the ages. It featured a badass 59-page preview of upcoming SNES games, and I devoured every bit of it as a 9 year old kid. Many of the game previews had me intrigued, but one in particular really caught my eye: FIRST SAMURAI. Most SNES games at the time were bright and bold but First Samurai was different. It was dark and foreboding… the kind of game perfect to play leading up to Halloween. Indeed, there’s a reason why I put First Samurai on my list of SNES games to play during Halloween season.

I must have read this 100 times over and then some!
I must have read this 100 times over and then some!


Nothing beats quelling a childhood curiosity at last!
Nothing beats quelling a childhood curiosity at last!

There’s something special, for me at least, about watching a live special wrestling event late in the evening (or early in the morning, depending on your view). These special shows don’t happen often and you can feel the excitement welling up as the show nears. But you’ve got some time to kill leading up to it. And I find a perfect time killer is finally playing a childhood curiosity that I have been wondering about for over 20 years. I have fond memories of playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure for the first time as I was waiting for WWE Beast in the East (emanating from Japan) to come on at 2:30 AM.

Nothing like live wrestling at 3 in the bloody morning!
The Beast in the East special took place on July 4, 2015
BEAST in the EAST, indeed
Nothing like watching wrasslin’ live at 3 in the morning
Fast forward over 3 years to October 6, 2018...
Fast forward over three years to October 6, 2018…


History has a funny way of repeating itself. This past Saturday morning, I found myself staying up late to catch the first hour of WWE Super Show-Down. Around 1 I decided to revisit First Samurai. Now I had played it briefly back in early 2006, but I never sat down with it thoroughly. With October now here, I wanted to review it as part of my Halloween lineup. It brought back fond memories of Beast in the East and playing Harley’s Humongous Adventure beforehand.


Just too bad Super Show-Down kind of... sucked :P
Just too bad Super Show-Down kind of… sucked :P

Oh well. You can’t win ‘em all, I suppose. Nonetheless, I still had a good time revisiting First Samurai. It is indeed like a mash-up of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. Now it’s not nearly as awesome as that sounds, but you can see traces of both classic games implemented throughout First Samurai. Not too shabby.


The exploration aspects of First Samurai help to differentiate it a bit from the packed crowd of action platformers on the SNES. The above shot is a good idea of what a typical level looks like. You’ll run around killing tons of demons and monsters while hunting down key artifacts and Mystic Runes. All under the veil of a quasi-Asian demonic underworld. Come on, how bad can that truly be, eh?

Not as bad as the European ad for First Samurai! Yikes
Not as bad as the European ad for First Samurai! Yikes
Samurai Shodown had a badass samurai, Haohmaru
Samurai Shodown had a badass samurai, Haohmaru
Whereas First Samurai went for a more rugged vet
Whereas First Samurai went for a more rugged look

In a way, you have to admire the interpretation Vivid Image went with. Sure, he’s not nearly as cool as Haohmaru. He’s not as flashy or aesthetically pleasing. Instead, he’s a grizzled vet full of scars. You can tell he’s been through some shit. And I mean homeboy HAS BEEN THROUGH SOME SHIT. Just look at that kisser and try to tell me that’s someone to mess with. He will FUCK YOUR SHIT UP.








Immediately, the young Samurai falls to the Demon’s magic.







Overwhelmed, the Demon King escapes to the future.







Hellbent on slaying the Demon King, the Samurai, with his Sensei’s magic sword, hunts the Demon King through all of time and space.







Difficulty-wise, First Samurai can be tricky and tough at times. There are only 5 stages but they fluctuate in difficulty. Passwords are nonexistent but thankfully there is a level select cheat code that allows you to skip previously beaten levels if you wish not to play through the whole thing again.

At the Options screen:

1-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press right
2-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press down
2-2: Hold L + R + X + A and press left
3-1: Hold L + R + X + A and press up







Witness the slowest stage title crawl in 16-bit history. I could almost make and eat a sandwich in the time it takes for the words “STAGE 1″ to appear.













Welcome to the ravaged battlefield. The year is 1730 and your hunt for the Demon King begins in a foul land that’s been corrupted by evil and disease. I like how each stage opens with the Wizard Mage floating eerily around the screen (which you can speed up with the press of a button). It’s accompanied fittingly so by a creepy sound effect that haunts my ears to this day. It really sets the somber mood proper, making this an ideal candidate to play during Halloween season. After the samurai finishes meditating, the Sensei’s magic sword comes flying to our hero. I love when games allow you to hop on trees. It’s the small stuff, y’kno?







Looming over the samurai is a huge dilapidated statue. You feel a chill in the air as you push forward toward the beastly growls. You’ll come across a Warp Lantern (these allow you to warp to different parts of the level provided that you’ve activated one of the magic pots) as well as your very first Mystic Rune. You must collect all 5 Mystic Runes on each stage before you can fight the boss.







Monsters of various sizes greet you at nearly every step of the way. Looks like someone’s a fan of the Alien films. Early on, the game provides you with helpful messages. But this goes away after the first stage and it all becomes intuition afterwards. Pretty cool.







Speaking of cool, it’s possible to strike down enemy projectiles with a well-timed swipe of your Sensei’s Katana.







Whenever you collect treasure or gobble up food, you’ll hear “HALLELUJAH!” Bizarre but so damn satisfying. This game has some crazy sound samples and it’s all part of the cheesy charm.







Summon the Wizard Mage to help clear the path by collecting Magic Bells. I marked out the first time I saw this. The crack of lightning in the background, along with the whipping rain and thunder sound effects, really makes this super atmospheric. I mean, it’s no Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past rain but gawd damn, seeing this in the dead of the night with all the lights turned off was pretty damn neat.







Samurai’s ability to scale and climb walls reminds me of Ninja Gaiden II a bit. Grab the Mystic Rune lying there as well as the axe sub-weapon. It lets you attack from a safe distance just like the Castlevania games. First Samurai has some neat tricks up its sleeve!







Whenever you lose your first life bar, the sword goes away and your force bar regenerates some of your life bar, but your force bar goes to zero. Kill enemies to collect force energy. After your force bar reaches 70%, the sword returns to you. So the only way to die is to lose BOTH your life and force bar. Enemies respawn too, so it gives you a chance at farming. That is, if the respawning enemies don’t outright kill ya!







Summoning the Wizard Mage reveals the path. But first you must have a Magic Bell. Sometimes they’re hidden in tricky places…







Nothing’s better than seeing a double whammy. In this case, a Warp Lantern and a Mystic Rune. But beware of the fire breathing dragon statues. First Samurai also features option helpers, similar to Gradius III, in the form of spinning shurikens.







Where’s the rain, you ask? See, here’s the quirky (and cool) thing about First Samurai. The effects in which the Wizard Mage clears your path is never the same. It’s always fun to see what tricks he will perform next!







Similar to Castlevania, food can sometimes be tucked away in obscure hidden places. Always experiment! A mutant frog blocks your path. No need to summon the Wizard Mage, it’s time to slice and dice. Hope you like frog legs!







Scattered throughout the stages are magic pots. They basically serve as save points but you’ll need to first activate them by way of meditation. And in First Samurai, meditating means kneeling for 2 seconds. Activating a magic pot does eat up some of your force bar, so keep that in mind. But should you die, being whisked to the closest point before a boss battle is a lifesaver. I wouldn’t activate every single magic pot on a stage, but definitely do so if you feel death knocking on your door. Trust me, you don’t want to start back at the beginning of a level.







Remember, you cannot fight the boss until you’ve procured the 5 Mystic Runes AND come to the appropriate boss area. Later stages switch it up where the boss battle isn’t always at the right of the level. This gives the game more of an exploratory feel than most other SNES action platformers.







Everyone needs a pet for companionship and in the case of the Demon King, assassin-related purposes. Meet Akai-Ryu and Aoyi-Ryu, AKA the Red Dragon and the Blue Dragon. The Demon King’s dragon twin pets voraciously defend the Mountain Realm in his absence.







Beware, the red one spits out 3 slower shots while the blue one emits multiple fireballs at a much faster clip.







Sometimes, namely whenever you’re out of force energy, you’re… er… forced to fight with just your bare fists and feet! It’s not ideal especially against the bosses but this samurai is one tough son of a bitch that refuses to go down without fighting to the very bitter end. When the dust settles, you’re oddly elongated as you teleport to the next stage.







Wizard Mage transports you onto the time travel express train. You stand awestruck at the wondrous train and its magical ability to travel through time. Suddenly a warning from the Wizard Mage pierces the samurai’s mind. “I’ve discovered that the Demon King built this device and one other to aid him in his time travels. Seize control of the time train from his minions to help lock the Demon King in his future domain!”







Chrome Dome has traveled through time apparently to make an unexpected cameo. Hmm, makes you wonder if Hamato Yoshi (Splinter) ever trained with the First Samurai.







Wizard Mage to the rescue once again. This time you get a gnarly purple effect.







Somewhere E. Honda is rolling over in his grave. I really like this level. The fast zooming space background lends itself well to the time traveling aspect. There are tons of roofs you can break open to jump down below or out of. Eventually you head to the front of the train but there’s nothing there. Hmm, where could that 5th and final Mystic Rune be? Expect there to be a bit of this when you play First Samurai.







Wizard Mage’s having way too much fun with his job.







Originally released in 1991, it seems like this second boss (Obakeh) was inspired, at least in part, by the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day — the legendary summer blockbuster of ’91.







Finally, after two levels, we officially arrive at Stage 2. There goes that creepy Wizard Mage bastard again. With the destruction of the time train, our hero finds himself in the decaying hulk of a monstrous city. In the year 1999 the Demon King’s hordes descended upon the metropolis, and without the Master Sensei to defend it, the city fell. Now lawless chaos reigns and you must fight again to restore order and free mankind from the Demon King’s evil grasp.







Welcome to Tokyo in the year 1999. Back in 1993, I’m sure ’99 felt like eons away. Now, as I write this review in the year 2018, 1999 was almost 20 years ago. Yikes. This is another pretty cool stage. I like the aesthetics here with the yellow buildings and breakable windows. Hell, you can even crack open the manholes to enter an underground passage full of deranged demons.







Question: why does every video game that features Tokyo always depicts Tokyo at night? Answer: no matter what, it always has a great atmosphere.







Wouldn’t have the same effect if this were held in the daytime instead. But at night? OOOOH, AHHHH.







Sometimes a demon will try to ambush you following your act of vandalism. Other times, you’ll find food hidden away. It’s fun to shatter the windows and see what you get.







ProTip: Blast Laura Branigan’s Self Control while playing this stage.







Heading underground doesn’t prove any less safe as hordes of creatures appear in full force. And, pray tell, why are there floating jellyfish out of water? Who knows, this game is an acid trip!







Seriously, First Samurai reminds me of one of those trippy horror action Hong Kong flicks that I watched during my childhood in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It’s just bizarre and nightmarish. Perfect for Halloween, indeed.







Wizard Mage, did you go on to become Zordon?







Walking around barefoot with all those shards of glass can’t be good. Love that Japanese Pagoda which lights up intermittently. Lovely stuff.







Summon the boss Gyakusatsu by offering up the 5 Mystic Runes. Ooze drips from this disgusting, octopus-tentacled creature of the Netherworld. Slightly reminiscent of Medusa from Castlevania, it’s unsettling how it heaves demon heads at you and crawls in and out of the walls. Creepy…







Remember how the time train was only one of the Demon King’s two devices that can span the eons? This next level, the time elevator, is the second. When your mystic blade disables the central guidance computer, the final battle will be at hand. I like climbing the chains and breaking the boxes open to find goodies.







Vengeance awaits. You now find yourself in the Demon Palace. The year is 2245. You can almost taste his blood on your blade.







Breakable nooks and crannies, containing invaluable goodies, are scattered throughout the Demon Palace. It’s really tough sledding here without your sword — his limbs are too damn short!







Zordon, I mean, Wizard Mage comes through again.







Twisted and demented, this is the perfect level to play on a cold dark October night.







Always nice seeing Magic Bells and Mystic Runes for the taking!







Security is pretty tight in Hell, I see. But nothing will stop me from hearing that glorious “HALLELUJAH!” voice sample.













Wizard Mage, you never cease to make me smile.






Graphically, for the most part First Samurai isn’t anything special. But once in a while, whether it’s a pleasant rain effect or this flashing scene, First Samurai surprises you.







Beware, the Tengu demon is on the loose and very lethal. Try keeping a safe distance and throwing knives at it.

Can you put an end to the vile Demon King?
Can you put an end to the vile Demon King?

With horror, the First Samurai remembers the Demon King’s hideous visage. Now, he must face the evil king alone…



As previously stated, First Samurai originated on the Amiga in 1991.

It earned some good reviews
It earned some good reviews
Including a whopping 91 from Amiga Poweer
Amiga Power rated it a whopping 91%



In 1994, a sequel was released called Second Samurai (naturally). It appeared on the Amiga and Sega Mega Drive (the name of the Sega Genesis in regions outside of North America). I find it interesting that it never came out in North America or on the SNES for that matter. Then again, I always thought it odd that the Genesis never received First Samurai. Perhaps Vivid Image was trying to make up for it with Second Samurai. Whatever the case may be, the sequel is even more obscure than its predecessor.


Second Samurai incorporates the same time travel theme. This time our hero travels back in time to the prehistoric era. Yup, he’s still on a quest to defeat the Demon King.


It features a 2 player co-op mode and writer Sebastian Sponsel rated it a solid 7 out of 10, calling it the best Amiga port he’s ever played on the Genesis.

Can you kill the Demon King once and for all?
Can you kill the Demon King once and for all?


Yo Quiero Taco Bell
Yo Quiero Taco Bell

If there is an obstacle you cannot seem to get past, try using a Magic Bell to summon the Wizard Mage. Perhaps he will help you. Keep in mind that you must be in the precise spot to call upon his spirit, or else nothing will happen. Also make sure you have a Magic Bell. If you don’t, better go find one!


Keep your force meter high at all times by defeating many smaller demons. They respawn so farm if you need to. Remember, you only die if both your life and force meters are fully depleted.


Sometimes walls, floors and ceilings are weak. Try to break them with fist, foot or steel to open a blocked passage or find a hidden item.

En garde!
En garde!

Once you have collected all 5 Mystic Runes, look for the boss’ lair to summon a Demon Overlord to battle. Their lair is not always located at the far end of a stage, so some exploring may be necessary. Never call to battle the Demon King or any of his Demon Overlords without the great Katana in hand. Whenever you lose your sword, the First Samurai screams out loud, “OH NO, MY SWORD!” It’s rather comical, but charming in its own unique way.

"OH NO, MY SWORD!" makes me think of "My word!" Thanks, Laxia, for demonstrating the usage
“OH NO, MY SWORD!” makes me think of “My word!”
Thanks, Laxia, for demonstrating the usage (Ys VIII)



Super Play, notorious for their harsh grading, was actually pretty impressed by First Samurai. Unfortunately, First Samurai didn’t receive much press in North America. Neither EGM or GameFan reviewed the game and as such, it was doomed to fly under the radar. Super Play rated it a solid 80%.

Pretty impressive for a port of a 1991 Amiga game, eh?
Pretty impressive for a port of a 1991 Amiga game, eh?



I’m not as high on this game as Super Play was. I do like it, and in some ways, I like it a lot. But that’s the sentimental me talking. Technically, it falls a little short. But more on that in a bit. Let’s cover the positives first. There’s no denying that First Samurai is a unique game in the massive SNES catalog. There really aren’t too many games like it. The atmosphere is refreshingly dreary and foreboding as opposed to the majority of SNES games that are “cute” and colorful. First Samurai is particularly fun to play around Halloween season. Its quasi-Asian motif and ghoulish enemies help to make it stand out in a packed crowd, despite the game not being as competent as one might hope.


The samurai’s ability to climb pillars and such is reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden II. And dueling with dastardly demons hearkens one back to Castlevania. Our hero can also jump very high and control is generally very good. I also like all the little tricks the game presents: Magic Bells to summon sorcery, Warp Lanterns that transport you to a certain section of the level, Mystic Runes that must be collected before fighting the boss, finding the boss lair itself, sub-weapons that allow you to attack from a safer distance and the unique usage of the life and force meter. First Samurai has a slight exploratory feel to it that not every SNES action platformer has. This definitely helps to increase the game’s appeal. Unfortunately, the gameplay has its share of flaws. While he can jump high, jumps are floaty. But the biggest flaw in my opinion is his pathetic sword swipe. It doesn’t nearly cut the swath you would hope or imagine, and this does lead to a lot of unnecessary damage. It’s a similar flaw to Lagoon, but at least in Lagoon there are tricks to work around this flaw. Not really the case in First Samurai. Besides, he’s supposed to be a badass samurai! But maybe because he’s the first of his kind, he’s still learning how to hone and perfect his craft.

Look like a light saber but it sucks

Whatever the case may be, his disappointing sword swiping almost single handedly removes First Samurai from “hidden gem” contention. His upward swipes are fine, and striking at a downward angle isn’t too shabby either. But my God, his normal sword swinging, the one which you’ll do most of, leaves a lot to be desired. Worse yet, it makes the game far more difficult than it should have been if this simple mechanic wasn’t botched in the first place. I will say this, though. I do enjoy how his sword looks more like a light saber. Now if only he swung it like how Luke Skywalker did…


But there’s enough to like and appreciate about this game. The graphics, while nothing spectacular, remind me fondly of an 8-bit NES game from 1990. Even though the character sprites are a bit squabby and somewhat aesthetically unpleasing, there’s an odd charm to the visuals of the game (even though they’re not great by any stretch of the imagination). Some of the color schemes used stick out in my mind for some reason, like the level that depicts Tokyo in the year 1999. The sound effects are muffled but you gotta love the “HALLELUJAH!” and “OH NO, MY SWORD!” speech samples. Music is pretty decent as well. Just too bad the rest of the sound effects are on the lower end of quality. The game presents a pretty tough challenge but like I said, that’s mainly due to the hero’s lack of attacking range. But First Samurai can be fun despite it all. And it really does personify the very meaning of “guilty pleasure.” So in the end, I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or play this, but it’s definitely got a place on my Halloween game list. And because of my history with it, First Samurai will always, oddly, occupy a space within my gaming heart.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 6
Longevity: 6

Overall: 6.0


Ninja Gaiden Trilogy (SNES)

Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Team Ninja | August 1995 | 12 MEGS
Pub: Tecmo | Dev: Team Ninja | August 1995 | 12 MEGS

Ninja Gaiden originated in the arcades in 1988. It was a beat ‘em up akin to Double Dragon and it wasn’t too well received. The NES version came out later that same year and did a complete 180. Not only was it now a side-scrolling action platformer, but it was heralded at the time for being one of the best games in the entire 8-bit NES catalog. Two sequels were released on the NES in 1990 and 1991. When word of a Super Nintendo system surfaced in the early ’90s, NES fans worldwide began dreaming of their favorite 8-bit titles receiving a glorious 16-bit makeover. Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, Metroid and so forth. Those games all received the SNES treatment while others were sadly left in the dust. The list of illustrious games snubbed includes Bionic Commando, Metal Gear, Rygar, and of course, Ninja Gaiden. But never fear, not all hope was lost. In the late summer of 1995, Tecmo gave SNES fans Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. Although not a proper 16-bit sequel, it gave us the three classic Ninja Gaiden NES hits on one cartridge, along with a brand new password feature. What could go wrong, right?



The 1980s was the decade of excess. Ronald Reagan, Boy George, Milli Vanilli, and oh yeah, Ninjas R Us. Be it Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Shinobi, ninjas dominated the scene. Cartoons, movies, toys and video games were inundated with ninjas galore. I remember my gaming group raving about Ninja Gaiden in the late ’80s. It was definitely a cut above your average NES game. We rented it a handful of times and could never beat it. The Ninja Gaiden games are notorious for their insane difficulty. While Ninja Gaiden wasn’t my absolute favorite, I always wanted to see a souped up 16-bit sequel — a Super Ninja Gaiden, if you will. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. But hey, at least Tecmo gave us Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. But it wasn’t without some controversy…


Diehard fans of the NES trilogy have picked apart Ninja Gaiden Trilogy over the years, claiming that the NES originals are superior. But for me, the greatest tragedy is that by the time Tecmo released this game, I was starting to lose interest in SNES and gaming itself. Back in August of 1995, I was worried as hell about the first day of junior high, and it became harder and harder to enjoy video games with the same kind of zest as when you were a little kid. It was a time of change in my life, and the SNES and gaming in general began taking more of a backseat. If only Ninja Gaiden Trilogy came out in 1992 or 1993, and then we got Super Ninja Gaiden in 1994. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.


Fast forward to early 2006. I experienced an epic SNES renaissance. It was a golden time as most people had yet to hop on the SNES bandwagon of nostalgia. I beat the crowd by a good couple years. Life is all about timing, right? It wasn’t long before I snatched up Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. More than a decade later, I was finally going to play it. Speaking of decade, fun fact: these screenshots you see in this review were taken just over 10 years ago in May of 2008. I’ve been meaning to write a review of this game for ages…


Ninja Gaiden opens with this stellar cinematic intro
Ninja Gaiden opens with this stellar cinematic intro










There’s something special about the first level in great games. Who could forget this classic first stage from Ninja Gaiden? Strike down bat wielding goons and use your deft ninja abilities to navigate your way through.







Graphics were advertised as being improved to the NES versions. While this may be true technically, the difference is disappointingly minimal. Don’t expect the kind of visual improvement as seen in Super Mario All-Stars. Tecmo could have beefed up the visuals but sadly they took the bare minimum route.













Remember hopping back and forth here in order to clear the top wall? Ah, that brings back the nostalgia…







Beware of those pesky boxers. Ah, who could forget the classic first boss fight in the bar? Good stuff.













Revered (in part) for its revolutionary cutscenes, Ninja Gaiden advanced its plot in a dramatic and memorable fashion.













Shooting someone (even if it’s an anesthetic) and then asking said victim to do you a favor? Whoever this lady is, she’s got BALLS. And a strange creepy looking statue that she wants you to have for whatever reason… that I’m sure is completely wholesome…







Similar to Castlevania, you can use various secondary attacks as long as you’ve collected enough ammunition. Long ranged attacks, such as the Shuriken, is a Godsend in such hairy situations.







Relaxing retreat on a timeshare this ain’t!







Secondary attacks range in effectiveness. It’s too bad you can’t collect them, switching off to the one you want as necessary. One of my favorites is the attack that allows you to jump and slash simultaneously, providing a sphere of precious protection around Ryu. It makes those unsettling platform jumps (i.e. the ones with a bad guy loitering at the edge) much more manageable.







Pumpkinhead rejects and various fiends greet you with foul intent.







Flying enemies — they’re the bane of many. Especially when your hero jumps back whenever hit. Machine gun toting mad men make your life a living hell. I hope you have an appropriate sub weapon!







Nintendo players back in the day were legit if they could beat Ninja Gaiden fair and square. It left its mark on many, and has certainly terrorized many a childhood in the best of ways.








Thunder and lightning erupts over the land. Who’s the creepy guy in red?







Ashtar’s his name, and he’s looking to finish the job Jaquio could not from the first game.







Episode II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. Makes it feel epic like it’s from the Star Wars universe. One major improvement right off the bat is the ability to now climb walls. You had to hop back and forth in the first game but now you can scale various structures like a true ninja badass.







Visually, the game looks a lot better than its predecessor. Although I’m not a fan of the red button eyesores that serve as your sub weapon containers. The first game was a lot more creative, housing them in everything from flickering lights to even hummingbirds. But that’s just a minor gripe. The first boss is a generic mutant that loves to deliver shoulder tackles.













Innovative cutscenes helped made the original game so memorable, and Ninja Gaiden II kicks that up a notch.













Swerve City, USA! I had deja vu for a second there. Looked like poor ol’ Ryu Hayabusa was once again going to be subdued by some anesthetic but instead he’s saved by the bell bullet. I guess you owe Robert TS the favor after all.







Battling atop a boxcar train, you’ll have to fend off Jason Voorhees and friends. Watch the snow — the wind changes direction in three different ways. Jumping against the wind is a surefire ticket to an early demise.







Duplicate yourself and even up the odds a bit with your clone helper. Up to two clones can be used. Nice!







Arachnophobia? You won’t like this boss.













Another cool cutscene advances the plot and builds up the anticipation for the next level.







Disappointment (or relief, depending on one’s perspective) strikes in Stage 3-1. The original NES version had lightning flashes that made it more difficult and atmospheric, but for some strange reason, it was not duplicated in the SNES port. Many diehard fans have pointed out this omission over the years, citing it as the telltale sign of a lazy port job. Hey, at least we still get the ninja clones.







Hayabusa continues his quest, this time in some rather murky waters.







Things get a bit slippery here.







Hayabusa or Ashtar — who will prevail? Only you can decide that!














Things open up blazing hot as Irene is seen being chased by… Ryu Hayabusa?! Wait, whaaaat?













Falling to her demise, can it truly be the same Ryu we all know and love? Surely not…













Framed — I knew it! [Sure ya did -Ed.].







Players have complained that the jumps in the third game are too floaty. It does take a while to get used to, especially if you’re hot off the heels of playing the first two games. Generally speaking, Ninja Gaiden III is considered to be the weakest entry in the trilogy. Not that it’s a bad game; it’s just the first two were so damn good.







There’s something about Ninja Gaiden III that I really like, though. The weird cybernetic atmosphere, for one. That and Ryu is a better climber here than he was in previous outings. I also like the extra long slash power up you can get. Able to hit enemies both high and low, it gives you excellent coverage for a short ranged attack.













Clancy tells you to head over to Castle Rock. You’re a little skeptical but you press on in the name of avenging Irene…







Quicksand has claimed many lives — move fast or you could be next! Better move fast too during the auto scrolling section. Death waits for no one!







Destroy enemy bullets with a well-timed strike. I love when games let you do that. The boss fits in perfectly with the game’s cybernetic theme.













Condescending? Check. Smug? Check. Good to see you again, Foster.







Acquiring the right power up at the right time is key. One of my favorites is the energy blast that goes up and down. It can prove to be quite useful.







Thankfully, the “jump back” when hit isn’t too bad in this game. Another reason why I like Ninja Gaiden III so much and don’t see it as the “black sheep” of the trilogy as some others do. The previous two games had some serious recoil action.













Hayabusa be like, “So… you’re Great Value Ryu, eh?”







Perhaps it’s just me but doesn’t Ninja Gaiden III have a slight Mega Man-esque look to it? Part of me almost expects to see some Mets flying in and out!







Nothing’s better than beating a boss with one measly life bar remaining. What a rush!



















Overlooking Castle Rock, Ryu runs into Clancy once again. He tells you about a terrible monster named BIO-NOID. Coincidentally, the Biohazard plan Clancy has been working on is the same name as the Resident Evil franchise over in Japan. Clancy goes on to explain that there was an open seam between dimensions when the Demon died. Foster had rebuilt the fortress and was using it to conduct all sorts of transformation experiments with life energy. Bio-noids are super humans that have been transformed with life energy. He tells you that it was a Bio-noid that killed Irene and that you’re the only one strong enough to stop it.







Infuriatingly difficult platforming abounds. Thank God for the password feature.













Hayabusa confronts Foster but wait a minute — IRENE?!













Somehow, Irene survived after all. Screw you, Foster!













Remember the guy who framed Ryu? He turns into a super mutant only to be blasted by Irene. Show ‘im who’s boss!







Eventually you step in and tell Irene you got this. Now it’s you vs. the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers.













Spoiler… Clancy was the mastermind behind it all.







Explore more strange locales as you seek out to hunt down Clancy.







Hayabusa’s clone isn’t quite dead yet…







Shame this port wasn’t enhanced more visually. The SNES could do so much more with this background.













Unfortunately, you’re a bit too late. Clancy has already made the life energy his and rambles on about the dimensional warship’s power.







Thought the previous levels were hard enough? You ain’t seen nothing yet.







Precise and skilled platforming is the order of the day.



















Genocide? Ryu ain’t down with that, Clancy. The time for talk is over.







Defending the fate of the universe, it’s up to you to put an end to this monster’s wicked plans.







Clancy’s true form is soon revealed…







Konami would be proud. Slash that sucker!













BLOODY HELL. You knew it couldn’t be that easy. Get ready for the final ultimate battle.













There’s screen-filling bosses and then there’s this guy. Holy shit. It doesn’t get any crazier than both life bars going down to the wire… with you barely winning out. On the final boss no less. Best feeling in a video game!







Sayonara, bitch!



















Hayabusa dropping some knowledge there!



















Regardless of how bad things may seem, never forget the darkest hour is just before the dawn.



I certainly was not alone. Many kids can fondly recall seeing Ninja Gaiden at Toys R Us back in 1989. We loved it even if it kicked our asses. Then when the SNES came out in 1991, we just assumed the inevitability of a souped up 16-bit version. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

Good-bye, dear old friend
Good-bye, dear old friend

Yes, I remember the days of scrolling down the game aisles at Toys R Us once upon a moon. The iconic toy store is currently closing for good in 2018. Kind of sad to think my future kids will never know what it’s like to walk up and down those magical aisles. Rest In Peace, TRU.



Ninja Gaiden Trilogy was met with mixed reviews. Some liked it for having all three classic NES platformers on one cartridge and the brand new password feature, but others did not like the cuts or mostly lazy effort. Even to this day, it remains quite the polarizing SNES title. EGM gave it scores of 8.5, 6.5, 6.5 and 6.0. Nowadays it fetches for a fair penny, so it’s hard to recommend it at the going rate unless you absolutely have to play a Ninja Gaiden game on your SNES.




I liked Ninja Gaiden Trilogy when I first played it back in 2006. I still like it even though the project could have been handled better. Whereas Super Mario All-Stars knocked it out of the park, Ninja Gaiden Trilogy is not the poster boy for how to properly present a compilation. But the three NES games included in this package are still playable and at their core, they’re still quality games. I love the password feature as it allows me to beat the game at my pace, and also encourages random revisiting throughout the years. The critics can hate on this game all they like — I still enjoy it very much and come back to it every so often.


Although sadly not the Ninja Gaiden sequel we wanted or even the A+++ port we deserved, the games are still good enough to make this a redeeming package. Should it have been more? For sure. A Ninja Gaiden game on the SNES should be in the pantheon of Super Nintendo greats. This is far from that but in the end, I’m grateful to have it in my collection. And I’m not talking from a monetary stance. I still like playing these three games and always will. Sometimes we can get hung up on what isn’t rather than simply enjoying what is. In the case of Ninja Gaiden Trilogy — despite being slightly butchered — better to have it on the SNES than not at all.

Graphics: 5.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 7.5
Longevity: 6.5

AwardOverall: 7.5
Bronze Award