I didn't own a master system back in the day so it was a pleasant surprise to find a version of Ninja Gaiden (which is one of the coolest games ever) for this 8-bit machine. This was released during the period where Sega was still leery of 3rd party support, so apparently the title was licensed from Temco and the game was written in house. The results are a mixed bag.
First off you notice the graphics and animation are far above what you see in the NES versions. The sprites are of the same general size but move a lot more smoothly. The master system's larger color palette allows everything to stand out more. Sound is halfway decent too. You can tell a lot of work was put in this area to "wow" people in a side-by-side comparison. So far so good.
This is one of the few SMS games that actually has some decent controls. Like the other games you press Up & attack to throw a weapon, and can hang on to certain under hangings. Climbing a wall has been changed to a method similar to the Batman games, where you have to press in the direction of the wall and jump at the same time instead of just sticking on the wall ala Spiderman. The controls are pretty forgiving actually, for instance you're able to grab under a ledge by a few pixels or step onto "nothing" from a ledge without falling. Both of which you will be doing a lot.
Too bad the game doesn't play as well as it looks or controls. If you could solidify "frustrating" and condense it into game form this is what it would look like. From the minute the first level starts you're dealing with blind jumps, ninjas jumping from out of nowhere while you're in the air and knocking you into pits, cheap unavoidable hits, respawning enemies on small platforms over spikes, powerups you can't collect, little leaping annoying flea people, homing missile birds with a vendetta against you that attack from strange angles you can't hit them at, etc. Thing about this game is that it's not hard - it's annoying. And it doesn't help that they made it like this on purpose. Then when you finally get to the end level boss it's like, some Sumo wrestler that you can whip in five seconds flat. Just a tad unbalanced there.
Sadly besides the graphics there's not much else going for the game. There aren't any of the cool cinema scenes that defined the NES versions, here it's more like one static screen with lots of slowly generating text beneath it. The levels are an exercise in hair-pulling, nail-biting, kick-a-small-dog frustration, then you beat the end level bosses with your eyes closed. Only fans of the series will get anything close to satisfaction out of this oddity.
Graphics: Well defined, well animated sprites and backgrounds that use a wide variety of colors make the game look five times better than the NES entries in the series.
Sound: About the same as other 8-bit versions, nothing too special going on.
Gameplay: Cheap hits, respawning enemies, that stupid homing bird, enemies that knock you into pits out of mid air just when you think it's safe to jump, then bosses you can kill with one hand behind your back.
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