Retro Thunderdome – Ninja Gaiden vs Castlevania

Two games, one game enters in a battle of digital supremacy.

Two games, one game leaves in a battle of digital supremacy.


Many thanks to Let’sCastCuraga for this brilliant suggestion. My newly formed thumb blisters are dedicated to you!


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!

Box Art Combo

In The Blue CornerHailing 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 CornerReleased 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

Ninja_Gaiden_(NES)_gameplayBoth 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


Imagine if you could jump slash this sucka?

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


Screw this…

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!




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About BillTucker

Writer, gamer and beer geek, Bill Tucker writes words for a number of sites and publications. He currently blogs for the Entertainment Weekly Community and The Austinot as well as contributes film reviews to a number of literary sites. He’s also a published author of creepy short fiction and uncomfortable essays. Follow him on Twitter @BillTuckerTSP and check out all of his everything at


  1. Good read!

    I would agree with the verdict as far as Ninja Gaiden winning when compared to ‘vania 1, but I do think Castlevania III beats any Ninja Gaiden game.. it’s a NES masterpiece. . Also, I’d agree with the control winner, but I think it should be acknowledged that Castlevania’s control is sluggish by design. You need to pre-plan your moves due to the no-air-movement jumping controls and half-second delay of the whip crack, and it makes for a more thoughtful action game. but that’s debatable I guess, since wall cliimbing is the best.

  2. Thanks for reading!

    It’s been a hot minute since I’ve played Castlevania 3, so I’d love to give it another spin. As for the control being sluggish by design, I agree that a regular guy with a whip shouldn’t have the same dexterity as a ninja. My thought was both games require planning and timing, just Gaiden gave you a bigger toolbox to play with (if that makes sense). More isn’t necessarily better, but in this case, I thought it made Gaiden a bit more fun.

    Thanks again for giving the article a look!

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