Game Overview by Mike Finkelstein
Well, we had some winners in this series, but this title, the first (and only) Ninja Gaiden game released on the Sega Game Gear, is an absolute loser. Developed not by Tecmo but licensed out by Sega and "crafted" by Japan System House, this game is barely recognizable as a Ninja Gaiden game. In fact, where you to change the name on the box, I bet most people wouldn't even think it was part of the series. It feels like a copy-of-a-copy, a barely there game that hardly understands what it's trying for.
Like in previous iterations, the game features series hero Ryu as he responds to yet another threat to his village (and the world). He, of course, comes to the aid of his village the only way he knows how: with his sword. Swinging his blade, and using his ninpo and elite ninja skills, Ryu runs, jumps, and slashes his way through all the bad guys all to secure the safety and prosperity of his people. It's a rote and bog standard concept for the series that this game doesn't change in the slightest.
While the basic meat of the title does appear like a Ninja Gaiden game, its in the details that this title falls very, very short. For starters it looks nothing like the NES titles. Where those games featured detailed, dark, and moody graphics, Ninja Gaiden on Game Gear is sparse on details and overly bright and pastel in color. I have a feeling this was due not only to the limited resolution of the Game Gear (160 x 144 pixels) but also the fact that the portable could be used out in the sun, so the colors had to be bright and punchy (the Gameboy Advance had similar issues). it is understandable, but it looses the aesthetic we expect from the series.
Then there's the stages, which are sparsely populated with idiotic characters. There are, seriously, only about four enemy types in the whole game -- gunners, harpoon divers, kung fu kickers, and birds -- and none of them react in any way dangerously for Ryu. They all have one maneuver each, so if you know what they're going to do you can easily dodge them. Or, hell, just soak the damage because Ryu lacks any meaningful knock-back and has more health than he could ever possible need for the length of these stages.
The bosses aren't any better, mind you. All of them as slow, idiotic, and barely do anything. The first stage features a big guy with a club who slowly lumbers forward and swings his club. Then there's a dude who literally hangs out on a ship and pops out of portholes, throwing grenades for a stupid game of whack-a-mole. Things do not look up from here with a business suit guy, and some demons, all of which are laughably easy to get past. If this had been developed in house I would say Tecmo had phoned it in, but since this was done by a third party I simply thing they didn't know, or care, to do any better.
All of this, mind you was on top of the fact that the game is a pathetic four stages long (and one of them is a short vertical auto-scroller). It all amounts to a crappy, half-assed game that barely sells the joy of the original series (let alone sells the hardware properly). And yet, weirdly, this title is held up as one of the better platformers on the Game Gear. That... just makes me sad, honestly.
Similarities to Castlevania Games
As we move further into the Ninja Gaiden series, we frankly lose more and more connection to Castlevania in the process. Here we have a game that barely borrows anything at all. It's night and day with where the Castlevania series was moving, a very different, and far inferior, title in comparison to both Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden.
Tangentially, I guess, we do have one connection: both series featured terrible first titles for their trip to hand-held properties. Although I think The Castlevania Adventure is a far better game that Ninja Gaiden on Game Gear, both of them are short titles that barely resemble the main series. And both are reviled by many fans in the communities. So, that's one connection at least, although not one I think either parent company really hoped for.
Oh, and the guys with harpoons in the second stage leap out of the water and shoot at people, which kind of reminded me of mermen. So there's that, too.