Friday, February 26, 2016

Nintendo Power's Ninja Gaiden II Strategy Guide

It was, I'm assuming the Christmas season of 1990. My parents and I had just driven to one of my friend's house. I'm not exactly sure why we were there, but as it turns out, they had a couple of gifts for me. One was one of those little Flipsiders games, the kind shaped like a cassette tape. The other one was this lovely bit of reading material right here..

The Nintendo Power Strategy Guide for Ninja Gaiden II. Now, this isn't the same one from that day, at least I don't think it is. This is a copy I found on Amazon, and I'll be damned if it doesn't look exactly like the one I had many years ago. You tend to remember random things like the folds on a magazine's cover. I initially thought it was an odd choice for a gift. I had a decent selection of games for my NES, but I didn't have Ninja Gaiden II, at least not yet. Had my friend's parents accidentally spoiled one of my Christmas gifts for me? Well, as it turns out, they didn't. Ninja Gaiden II wasn't under the tree that year, and as far as I can remember, I never actually owned the game. I rented it a few times, but the difficulty of the game always frustrated me to the point of controller throwing anger. Yet, that still didn't keep me from reading through the guide at least 170 times. 

One of the things I loved about strategy guides, is that they were like book length instruction manuals. Some of the manuals that came with NES games were rather light, just giving you the basic controls, and maybe a few hints. Then there were games like Legend of Zelda, that came with a small novel, providing backstory, as well as detailed enemy descriptions. The Nintendo Power Strategy guides would go into even more detail, providing you with strategies, detailed enemy profiles, and maps for each level. Some of them, like the Ninja Gaiden II guide, were magazine size, while others were nearly encyclopedic in scale. Sadly, I doubt I would have been able to convince my mom that video game strategy guides were a better investment than Encyclopedia Brittanica. 

After giving us some quick backstory on the Dragon Ninja clan, the guide introduces us to the main characters of the story. I had just discovered anime around the same time I got this book, so I was super excited to see the characters drawn in a similar style. Surprisingly, for being such an epic game, the main cast of Ninja Gaiden II was pretty small. We have Ryu Hayabusa, rhe main ninja hero of the game with a name like a Japanese motorcycle. Next up is Irene Law, a highly skilled secret agent that Ryu met in the first game. At some point she is kidnapped by the forces of darkness, mainly as a ruse to draw Ryu out. Then we have who is probably my favorite character, Robert T. Sturgeon, a member of the U.S. Army Special Intelligence unit. I think Tecmo missed out by not making him a playable character. Ryu could use his Dragon Sword, and Robert could use his Beretta 92. I'm not sure why I liked this dude so much. Maybe it was the way he would just show up out of nowhere, usually to put a bullet in a bad guy. Or, maybe it was that cool leather vest with that awesome collar. I always wanted one of those..

And of course, the last character is the big bad himself, Ashtar, The Emperor of Darkness. He basically wants to open up the Gate of Darkness, which will make him the ruler of men, or some such nonsense. I never quite understood what Ashtar was supposed to be, whether he was a man, or some sort of monster. All I knew from this guide was that he was huge, and he had robot feet. 

Just like the game, there are little cut scenes between sections. I think these were the parts that fascinated me the most. The dialog wasn't the deepest, but it served to move the action from one area of the game to the other. The comics did have a weird perspective issue going on though. I mean, just look at the size of Dando up there. Comparing him to Ryu, he must be at least 30 feet tall. If that's the case, it's even more impressive that Hayabusa is able to take these guys out. Also, I just realized that Nintendo Power allowed undead viking ass in one of their books. 

The strategy guide also listed all of the minor enemies that Ryu will face along his journey. I'm actually rather thankful for this section, because I would have no clue what most of these were otherwise. Honestly, I still haven't the faintest clue what a Spider Wight is. It kinda looks like a squid wearing a bathrobe to me. The enemies in Ninja Gaiden II varied in their attacks, but they all had one thing in common; they were annoying as hell. This was one of those games where enemies would reappear if you happened to go backward, then forward again. Oh, and there was almost always something placed so that it could knock you into a pit when it hit you. Couple that with enemies that fly, jump or drop into the screen, and you realize, Ninja Gaiden II is no joke. 

At least the guide gives us a reason why there are so many of one character on each stage. They're all clones. This might be the first game to actually give an explanation for having to kill the same guy over and over again. Oh, and if you're paying attention, you might happen to notice a cameo of everyone's favorite campsite killer on this page..

Just because he's a bad ass ninja doesn't mean Ryu won't need help on his mission. Scattered throughout the stages are various power ups that make life a lot easier for Hayabusa. There's everything from medicine bottles to phantom doubles that create an invincible copy of Ryu that will attack when you attack, effectively doubling your firepower. 

The guide also mentions the various ninja arts that Ryu can discover throughout the stages. My personal favorite is the windmill throwing star. It can use up your ninja points pretty fast but, it's still kind of fun to send the blade flying back and forth across the screen. Really, the only ninja art you really wanted to avoid was the throwing star. It seemed like I would always get them right before a boss fight, where they proved to be worse than useless. You may as well just reset the game at that point. 

Now, the stages in Ninja Gaiden II were pretty straight forward. It's not like there were branching paths or anything. It was your basic point A to point B, try not to die on the way there type of game. Oh, and you would die. A lot. In case you've forgotten, this game doesn't like you very much. Still, this guide would come in handy, letting you know where each ninja art is located in the stage, and which one works best for each situation. It also gives you warnings about enemies that try and sneak attack you, like those dark ninjas that like to jump up out of nowhere, or the spider wights that fall on your head. Enemy movements were probably the most important piece of information the guide could provide. Enemies would pop up out of nowhere, and since health power ups were scarce in this game, it helped to know how to avoid taking damage. Get to a boss with just a few bars of life, and you might as well hit reset and start again. A lot of times, it is a lot easier to just start this game from scratch, rather than trying to continue with no ninja points and the wrong ninja art. 

At the end of each level, you'd have to face a more powerful boss creature. You have to admire the boss variety in Ninja Gaiden II. You face everything from an undead viking and a guy with a spider fetish, to a cyborg that's part reptile. And that's not even the craziest boss you face in this game. That distinction has to go to the undead dinosaur trapped in the dark maze. It's been there so long, that the only parts he has left are his mouth and claws. Crazy, right?

I think my favorite out of all the bosses has to be the reptilian super cyborg, Funky Dynamite. That has to be one of my favorite names ever. I'm having trouble picturing Ashtar, the Emperor of Darkness looking at this aberration and saying, "I dub thee, Funky Dynamite!" There's just no way he's ever said the words "funky" and "dynamite", especially not in the same sentence. Maybe those words mean something completely different in Ashtar's dimension, because when I hear the words "funky dynamite", I'm expecting to see some disco dancing action. 

And, just as your journey is about to be complete, Nintendo Power bids you a fond farewell, and walks off in a different direction. That's right, you're on your own for the last stage. It's kind of a shitty way to end things, really. It's like teaching your kid to walk, then tossing them at the side of a mountain and telling them to climb a few weeks later. This was nothing unusual for Nintendo Power though. Many of their guides and walkthroughs took you to the last level, only to say "Okay, have fun! Bye now!" It seemed a little lazy on their part. I can understand not wanting to spoil the ending, but couldn't you at least give me a clue as to how I'm supposed to beat the boss? I mean, it's not like I'll ever see the boss for myself, but it would be nice to know how to fight him if luck ever managed to sit down next to me and wrap its arm around my shoulder.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to start the lengthy process of changing my name to Funky Dynamite. 


  1. Brings back memories for the 90's kids who used to love playing on the Nintendo. Sega and Nintendo were the only forms of entertainment during those times

  2. Wow!! This guide is amazing!! I never saw that.


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