Many thanks to Let’sCastCuraga for this brilliant suggestion. My newly formed thumb blisters are dedicated to you!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
The Thunderdome is open and ready for battle!
At first glance, the participants in today’s struggle for digital dominance couldn’t be more different. In one corner, you have a gothic themed horror game and in other, a high flying ninja revenge quest. But a deep dive into these 8 bit classics reveals eerie similarities in design, control and difficulty.
And now, for our combatants!
In The Blue Corner – Hailing from the far off land of Transylvania, this NES platformer terrorized gamers with a spooky atmosphere and thumb numbing difficulty. As a parade of zombies, hunchbacks and Universal movie monsters accompany the whip snapping Simon Belmont to the arena, let’s welcome….CASTLEVANIA!!!
In The Red Corner – Released two years after its digital opponent, this side scroller delivered a sword swinging adventure the likes gaming had never seen. Bringing a strong story, addictive game play and innovative cut scenes into the stadium, please give a round of applause to….NINJA GAIDEN!!!
Round 1 – Art Design
Both Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden have beautifully realized worlds. The setting of Dracula’s castle is dark and brooding while character designs like zombies, axe tossing knights and evil Medusa heads are pulled straight from a monster movie. The only issue is repetition. By the time you reach the final level, things feel a bit stale.
Gaiden’s art style is more varied at the expense of making sense. Urban streets and jungles devolve into surrealist nightmares. Enemy types range from sensible (gun toting soldiers, and dive bombing birds) to pumpkin headed axe throwers and this guy. Backgrounds are also a bit of a mess, with objects and projectiles often getting lost in the fray.
While the consistent tone of Castlevania draws you deeper into the mood of traversing a castle of horrors, Gaiden’s decent into madness is visually striking and more varied. A battle of inches, the winner of this round is Ninja Gaiden!
Round 2 – Sound Design
Similar in tone and feel, the soundtracks of these two combatants are remarkably similar. Although there are both full of driving, action oriented themes, Castlevania features the best tune of the two games.
With the sound effects of both game being pretty much equal, Castlevania gets the nod in this category for being the most memorable. Although this is pretty awesome as well.
Round 3 – Gameplay and Control
Did you know Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania are pretty much the same game? No? Let me count the ways:
- Both feature the obnoxious “get hit, jump back” mechanic.
- Both have unlimited continues.
- Both have sub weapons you gain from slicing/whipping inanimate background objects.
- Both sub weapons are activated by pressing Up and B.
- Can’t attack while climbing in Ninja Gaiden, can’t attack while walking on stairs in
- Both taunt your ineptitude by showing the boss’ life meter throughout the stage.
- Both feature a useless points system.
And on, and on, and on.
The main difference lives in the character’s range of motion and attack range. Castlevania’s Simon Belmont moves like a slug, but his whip has a nice range when powered up. On the other hand, Ryu’s somersault and wall jumps make you feel like a kung fu master.
With the core gameplay pretty much even, Ninja Gaiden’s fluid control wins the day.
Round 4 – Challenge / Fairness Ratio
If you treat them like action games, both Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden are ruthlessly difficult. If you treat them like puzzle games, they’re more manageable. The trick isn’t so much reflexes as it is learning spawn points, when to slash and when to jump through constant, brutal failure.
But Castlevania’s difficulty is a bit more managable. Ninja Gaiden’s nonstop barrage of flying creatures, respawning enemies provided more rage quit moments than Castlevania. Both are surmountable with practice, but I’d trade level 6 in Ninja Gaiden for all the Medusa heads in the world.
Add to the mix three forms of Gaiden’s final boss (with no life recharge between forms) versus Castlevania’s two, and Simon Belmont wins the round. For a better mix of challenge and fairness, the point goes to Castlevania!
Round 5 – Overall Fun
Who would you rather be? The latest in a long line of vampire hunters braving the terrors of the night or a bad ass ninja slashing his way through a bloody tale of revenge? The answer is purely a matter of opinion.
But in this battle, Ninja Gaiden drives the final stake with one indefensible blow: a ground breaking story. Told through the incredible cut scenes, the teeth clenching challenge is balanced with your desire to see the tale’s conclusion. Add fluid controls to the mix, and Ninja Gaiden is the more enjoyable of the experiences.
A difficult battle won over a matter of inches, Ninja Gaiden reigns supreme! Have a suggestion for the next Retro Thunderdome? Comment below or Tweet to @BillTuckerTSP. HI-YAAAH!