Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#59 – Ninja Gaiden

“I will get my revenge!”

A very unassuming title screen.

To Beat: Reach the ending
My Goal: Beat the game without continuing
What I Did: Beat the game using three continues
Played: 9/24/17
Difficulty: 9/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Ninja Gaiden Longplay

Traditionally, ninjas were ancient Japanese fighters trained in martial arts who focused on stealth, espionage, and assassination. With the rise in popularity of the idea of ninjas, and many Japanese game development studios looking for game ideas, it makes sense that ninjas would be well represented in video games. One of the most well-known games on the NES, and perhaps one of the more well-known ninja games altogether, is Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden began as two separate games by two different teams from the developer Tecmo. The arcade game is a beat-em-up game in the vein of Double Dragon, while the NES game is a side-scrolling action platformer influenced by Castlevania. While the arcade game fared well, the NES Ninja Gaiden was a huge success, earning high praise and numerous honors. The Famicom version was released first in December 1988 under the name Ninja Ryukenden, meaning Legend of the Ninja Dragon Sword. The NES version was released in March 1989. The word gaiden in Japanese means side story, but Ninja Gaiden is not a side story in any way. The developers just like how the name sounded. Ninjas were considered taboo in Europe, and so their version of the game was named Shadow Warriors and was released in August 1991. It was also ported to the PC Engine in Japan in January 1992. Tecmo is both the developer and publisher for all versions.

He will, indeed!

Since the NES game, Ninja Gaiden has become a long running series. The NES got two more installments, and all three games appeared on the SNES compliation cart Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. Ninja Gaiden later had unique games on the Game Boy, Sega Master System, and Game Gear, as well as a cancelled version on the Mega Drive. The series went dormant until 2004 when the mobile game Ninja Gaiden X was released. That year also saw the beginning of the modern series with the 3D action game on Xbox simply titled Ninja Gaiden. That series would spawn two sequels in 2008 and 2012 respectively. There was also a Nintendo DS game called Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword.

Ninja Gaiden is a side-scrolling action platformer where you play the role of Ryu Hayabusa. The Hayabusa family has guarded the legendary Dragon sword for many generations. Ryu’s father, Ken Hayabusa, engaged in battle with another ninja and was defeated. After Ryu learned of his father’s demise, he finds a letter from his father. Ken writes that Ryu must go to America with the Dragon sword if he does not return. Respecting his father’s wishes, Ryu heads for America to take on the danger he surely knows is laid out ahead.

Ninja Gaiden is heavily laden with story and this is the main feature of the game. This was one of the first games to feature cinematic cutscenes to advance the story. The game plays out over six acts, and before each act there are these extended segments detailing Ryu’s adventure. Sometimes there are cutscenes in the middle of acts, but this doesn’t happen often. It was very novel to see this story play out as you go through the game, for the first time through at least. On subsequent playthroughs they might become more of an annoyance. Fortunately, they can all be skipped quickly so you can focus solely on just the action.

Ryu hangs off walls a lot.

You control Ryu with the D-Pad. You can walk with Left or Right and duck by holding Down. Press A to jump. You have full control of Ryu from side to side while airborne. You can cling to walls by jumping onto them and Ryu will hang on indefinitely. Press the directional button away from the wall and jump to kick off the wall. You can jump back and forth between two walls close together to climb. If the wall contains a ladder, you can freely climb up the wall with Up or Down, otherwise you must jump off. The B button slashes your sword. You can attack with the sword while ducking or while in the air. If you slash while standing on the ground, you can’t move until the animation finishes. Attacks go quicker than the whip in Castlevania but it’s a noticeable delay. Hold Up and press B to use special attacks if able. The Start button pauses the game.

The status bar at the top of the screen gives you all the information you need. The top left is your score indicator, and below that is the level timer. Underneath that is P which indicates how many lives you have remaining. The counter next to lives represents your spiritual strength, according to the game manual. This represents your subweapon ammo, and next to it on the status bar is an icon for which special weapon you currently hold. On the right side of the status bar, you see the stage number, your health meter, and the health meter of the boss.

These blue lanterns hold all kinds of stuff for you.

In yet another similarity to Castlevania, each level features a candle or some other stationary object that you can slash with your sword to earn powerups. Enemies don’t drop anything in Ninja Gaiden so this is the only way to power up, but you see them all the time. The most common of these is a square icon that increases your spiritual strength. The common blue item gives you five points of strength, and the red one gives you ten. There is an item that looks like a pot with feet that just gives you points. The blue one is worth 500 points and the red one awards you 1000 points. An hourglass freezes time briefly, causing all enemies and projectiles to stop moving and keeping new enemies from spawning. A potion will restore six points of health. The Ryu emblem gives you an extra life but only appears a few times in the whole game. The icon with the ring of fireballs is called the invincible fire-wheel. As its name suggests, it makes you invincible for a short time while destroying any enemy you touch.

The other item drops you get are your special weapons. You can only hold one at a time and can’t switch back if you collect a new one. These cost spiritual strength points which may vary for each weapon. The weakest weapon is the small blue throwing star. You throw a tiny straight projectile and it costs three points. The windmill throwing star is a large orange shuriken that costs five points. You throw it ahead and it comes back at you like a boomerang. If you jump over or dodge it, it will go behind you and come back. If you keep avoiding it, you can keep it on the screen circling you for a while for maximum effectiveness. The powerup with a single flame on it is the art of the fire wheel. This weapon costs five points and throws large rings of fire up and away from Ryu. Lastly, the blue swirl weapon gives you the jump and slash technique. This deploys by pressing B in the air with no need to hold Up on the D-Pad. It causes you to ball up while slashing constantly, ripping you right through enemies and bosses. It is incredibly powerful. The major downside to this technique is that it replaces your sword attack while jumping, so it burns through your spiritual strength very quickly. But here’s a tip: If you hold Down and press B while in the air, you will always swing your sword, saving you precious strength points.

Poor enemy soldier!

You will travel through many interesting locales and fight different types of enemies throughout the game. You visit the city streets, a mine, snowy mountains, a cliffside, and various temples just to name a few. Enemies often consist of other people who punch, swing swords, fire guns, throw knives, etc. There are also animals that are out to get you like tigers and bats. Anyone who has played this game know that the birds are the worst. They fly at you and turn around to make another pass if they miss, and you need good timing with your sword to defeat them. They often show up near pits and they can easily knock you down to your death, and they drain your health quickly to boot.

There is a boss battle at the end of each act. Each boss gets a full health bar and your sword does one point of damage, so you must keep at it to take them out. The game manual explains that most of the bosses are members of The Malice Four and were hired by the main villain. Defeating the boss awards you points for both time and spiritual strength remaining, and you get to watch the bad guys explode as score is added up for a pleasant bonus!

Ninja Gaiden is a challenging game, no doubt, but there are a few ways the game gives you breathing room. Each act is split up into several levels, and sometimes the levels have checkpoints within them at screen transitions. Ninja Gaiden only scrolls horizontally, but sometimes you need to go up or down a screen and that counts as a checkpoint. Losing a life within a level sets you back to the checkpoint. If you lose all your lives, you can continue from the start of the current level. You get infinite continues which is a great help in beating the game. Dying on the boss, however, sends you back to the start of the previous level. This is a more severe punishment than dying prior to the boss, but it’s bearable.

Action-packed boss fights are always a plus.

The reason why a game with infinite continues like this gets a 9/10 difficulty rating is what happens at the end of the game. I’ll say this is a spoiler, but if you’re reading this you probably already know what happens. The final act in Ninja Gaiden is quite challenging, featuring large sections of bottomless pits with plenty of enemies to knock you into them. The end of the act contains not one, but three final bosses. Contrary to the rest of the game, taking a death at any one of these bosses sends you back to the beginning of the act. This makes the first time through the game very difficult because you have to slog through all these tough levels per each attempt at this final set of bosses. The only solace is that once a boss is defeated, he stays dead and you don’t have to refight him. I know one of you readers has already turned your nose at my rating here, and to you I say that it’s easier for me too because I’ve beaten the game so many times. Undeniably, it’s a steep challenge the first time through!

Ninja Gaiden is one of the games from my childhood collection and I have beaten it countless times. I didn’t read many gaming magazines, but it was all over the ones I had and so I had to own this game. We bought it used somewhere, and that led me and my family to track down the other two games individually. Today it isn’t a hard game to find and it consistently costs around $10 for a copy. I’ve had several copies pass through my hands that I’ve sold, and I still have a few extra copies as of this writing.

I don’t remember the first time I beat Ninja Gaiden. I was probably 9 or 10 years old when I first beat it, and it has been one of those staple NES titles that I replay at least every couple of years. I beat the game this time with little trouble. I had in mind to beat the game without continuing but I wasn’t sure if I would. After all, that final level still trips me up after all these years, and I have only done it once before a few years ago. Lately, I have been playing these NES games through a couple of times just to have a decent enough run for YouTube. I don’t recall the last time I beat a game once and then moved on. The only deal breaker here was that I wouldn’t accept a run where I died on any of the final bosses. On this run, I needed three continues to clear the final area but I did beat the final bosses without dying. That’s good enough for me, and besides, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that have beaten the game without continues or without dying on YouTube. If you need to witness something closer to perfection, then you can watch someone else do it. I have so many more games to play!

Clearly, I have no chance here!

I have a few streamers on Twitch that I watch regularly. One of my favorites is Arcus87, the current world record holder for speedrunning Ninja Gaiden. He has beaten the game in 11:39.93 as of this writing. In the beginning of this year, I watched him put in hundreds of attempts just to improve upon his own record by a tiny margin. I missed watching him set the record live, but I saw a couple of near misses and some other incredible moments. I learned a lot about this game just by watching, but I can’t say it translated into making me a better player.

Ninja Gaiden is one of those classic, essential NES games that should be considered for any NES collection. It has nice graphics and music, good boss fights and enemies, good control with versatile weapons, and a story that ties it all together. It is also the very definition of Nintendo Hard, with constantly respawning enemies capable of knocking you into pits at any time, especially those birds. The endgame cruelty is quite extreme as well. The difficulty may be a turn off, but the game is relatively kind in the early going and the story might grip you enough to want to grind through it. Ninja Gaiden is fun to play, and if somehow you haven’t given it a chance, I give it my recommendation.

#59 – Ninja Gaiden

Ikari Warriors Box Cover

#24 – Ikari Warriors

This challenging top-down shooter is an early contender for most difficult NES game ever.

Not shown is the neat animation with the heroes wasting a lot of ammo on nothing.

Not shown is the neat animation with the heroes wasting a lot of ammo on nothing.

To Beat: Reach the ending after Level 4
My Goal: Beat the game without using the continue code
What I Did: Beat the game without continues
Played: 4/26/16 – 8/18/16
Difficulty: 10/10
My Difficulty: 10/10

I think that I have accomplished many impressive feats in a number of NES games over the years. Name a popular NES game that has any pedigree of difficulty and I have most likely beaten the game with ease many times over. There are many other NES games out there that are less talked about that also pose a stiff challenge. This is where Ikari Warriors fits in. I have come to find out that the NES version is known primarily for two reasons. One reason is that it is part of a series of three NES games, and the other is that it is generally mentioned in a short list of the most difficult NES games to clear among players with a broad understanding of the library. Now that I have experienced this game in full on my own, I can attest that it deserves its rank among the most challenging games on the console.

Ikari Warriors started out in the arcades in Japan in February 1986 titled simply as Ikari, meaning Fury. It was released worldwide a month later in March 1986. Ikari Warriors was developed by SNK and published by Tradewest in the United States and Europe. It is regarded as the first major arcade hit for SNK in the US. The NES game was developed by Micronics and published by SNK. It was released on the Famicom in Japan in November 1986 and it made its way to North America in June 1987. In addition to the NES version, it was also ported to the Atari 2600 and Atari 7800 as well as several home computers.

The arcade cabinet utilizes rotary joysticks, and though the game was not the first to use that type of joystick it is the first major hit to use one for the controls. A rotary joystick is a standard eight-way joystick that can also be twisted like a dial or knob providing additional input into the game. In Ikari Warriors, the player character can walk around by tilting the entire joystick and aim weapons in another direction by rotating the joystick handle in the desired direction.

The plane crash cutscene is surprisingly well done!

The plane crash cutscene is surprisingly well done!

Ikari Warriors is a vertically scrolling top-down shoot-em-up game. Paul and Vince are two soldiers who are tasked to invade an enemy nation as their plane crashes into enemy territory. The game begins with the crashed plane at the bottom and play constantly continues upward as they make their way deeper into enemy territory. In single player only Paul is used. Paul is equipped with a machine gun capable of firing three on-screen bullets at once. He is also armed with grenades that can be thrown in an arc and they deal more damage than the standard bullets. Press A to throw a grenade and press B to shoot the machine gun. Ammunition is limited to a max of 99 bullets and 99 grenades, and while that sounds sufficient it is easy enough to run out of weaponry in a critical spot unless more ammo is found.

There are a bunch of enemies to contend with along the way. Most of the enemies encountered are blue foot soldiers but they have several different attack patterns that they can use and you can only tell how they will behave by observing them. Some soldiers simply run forward and retreat, some shoot bullets and change walking direction every few steps, some chase you around, some toss grenades, some hide underwater and pop up occasionally to shoot, some snipe you from afar, some fire missiles, and some trigger a suicide explosion when you get too close.

There are also several types of larger enemies that require more than the standard bullet to dispatch. There are tanks that drive around a defined path and shoot missiles, including a big tank that can be difficult to take out. There is a large stationary tank that fires a spread shot as well as a large fortress with a gunner inside. There are other enemy types that are local to specific areas in the game and as a result they appear less frequently than the standard enemies described here.

If only the plane had crashed further ahead...

If only the plane had crashed further ahead…

In addition to the enemies there are three other recurring hazards that must be dealt with. The ground in Ikari Warriors is scattered with landmines that only reveal themselves when in close proximity. There is ample time to recognize and avoid them, but in the heat of battle a little bit of lost focus is all it takes to collide with a mine and lose a life. The next recurring annoyance are sensors that also show up when standing nearby just like the landmines. Get too close to a sensor and a guided missile shows up from offscreen and explodes right on top of the sensor. In some cases, it is possible to run right through a sensor and miss the eminent explosion entirely, although that is a risky strategy that does not always work. The third danger is what I like to call the “hurry up” missile. The game requires constant progress and so to enforce that if the screen does not scroll for awhile or even advances ahead too slowly, a series of missiles will fire down randomly from above until you make enough forward progress. It’s really important to take your time in this game while also being mindful of moving forward enough to avoid triggering these missiles.

Fortunately Paul and Vince have a number of upgrades and pickups that are essential to completion. The most important of these is the rideable tank. A flashing stationary tank indicates that it is ready for personal use. Press A while standing on the tank to get in. While in the tank you can only attack by pressing B to fire missiles that deal grenade damage at the cost of one grenade. When on foot grenades only deal damage when they hit the ground, but missiles fired while in the tank hurt enemies at any time along the flight path. The tank does not take damage from bullets, but being hit by a grenade, missile, or even a grenade explosion causes the tank to stop working and self destruct after a few seconds. In that case, you must exit the tank by holding the A button and pressing B and get out of the way quickly. The other benefit to the tank is that you can aim in one direction while moving in another direction. The NES does not have any sort of rotary joystick, and with the lack of buttons on the controller that means on foot you can only fire weapons in the direction you are walking. The tank gets around this by taking advantage of the unused A button while riding. Hold the A button and press the direction pad while not moving to rotate the turret in one of eight directions.

While tanks are incredibly useful, they do have some drawbacks. Typically a tank will start off with 100 units of fuel that tick down via an onscreen counter. When it reaches 10 it will set off an annoying low fuel chime, and when it hits 0 it stops working and starts the self destruct sequence. Just like when the tank is destroyed you can escape when out of fuel, but you must be quick! Tanks also cannot be driven in water. The game is very intentional about placing bodies of water where you are forced to ditch the tank to proceed forward.

That sweet, sweet tank!

That sweet, sweet tank!

It’s worth mentioning that in a few spots you get the chance to pilot a helicopter for a very short time. You can fly over the water and most solid obstacles as well as fire both a triple shot and missiles if you so choose. The only problem is that it only starts with 28 units of fuel, but it is fun and helpful while it lasts.

Aside from the heavy equipment there are several other powerups. The basic ones are usually dropped when pink soldiers are defeated. The F powerup allows bullets to penetrate walls and other solid obstacles. The L powerup extends the range of shots and the S powerup makes shots travel faster. The B powerup strengthens the grenade by greatly extending the damage radius of the blast. All four of these powerups will also apply to the missiles fired while riding in the tank. Occasionally a green soldier will appear that leaves a K powerup behind that destroys all enemy soldiers on screen when grabbed. There are also ammo pickups typically found when destroying the larger stationary enemy types. Grenade ammo restores 50 grenades up to the 99 maximum and the bullet ammo fully restores the bullet count back to 99. The fuel pickups are the best. Not only do they restore fuel back to the maximum of 100 if you are riding in the tank, but they also act as both grenade ammo and bullet ammo even when not in the tank. Sometimes when destroying a small enemy tank a regular rideable tank is left behind that you can get in. These tanks can be a really useful surprise but they only give you 32 fuel to start with so their use is limited.

There is also a set of special powerups that do not appear from enemy drops except in some very rare cases. These powerups are hidden throughout the levels and are made visible by shooting their hiding places. Memorizing the location of these special powerups is essential to success in Ikari Warriors. The SS powerup doubles the walking speed from lethargic to at least an acceptable pace. The knife powerup allows Paul and Vince to defeat most enemy soldiers by simply bumping into them instead of taking a death when that occurs. It also makes them immune to a few types of enemy attacks making the knife more of a defensive upgrade than an offensive upgrade. There is a super fuel powerup that looks like a fuel can with the letter H written on it. It restores all ammo as well as setting the fuel to 200 when in a tank, though I found that only came into play one time in the entire game. There is a triple shot powerup which sounds great but ultimately it should be avoided at all costs. Upon collecting the triple shot all bullet powerups are stripped away. If you have the triple shot and grab a bullet powerup, then you lose the triple shot. Now only does it downgrade your machine gun but it also affects tank missiles so it is not worth it at all. Finally, the heart powerup is the most critical powerup in the entire game. Collecting a heart allows you to keep all of your weapon powerups including super speed and the knife if you die. It only works once so you will need to find another heart if you die while having one.

Gates aren't really checkpoints but they do provide a brief change to the main music loop.

Gates aren’t really checkpoints but they do provide a brief change to the main music loop.

There is also one more set of items that simply add to your score. An ammo box is worth 1000 points, the clock is worth 2000 points, and gold bars add 5000 points. There is also the bikini-clad Athena from another popular SNK arcade game that bestows a random number of points. You can earn 1500, 2500, 5000, or 10,000 points when you touch her. That is not nearly as creepy as it sounds!

You may have noticed I did not mention any extra life pickups. That would be because there are none in the game. The scoring items are useful because you can gain extra lives via point milestones. You get an extra life at 50,000 points, another at 100,000 points, and an additional life at every 100,000 points beyond that. You start the game with two lives and adding more through score is the allotment for the entire game. While there is a score counter, grenade counter, and an ammo/fuel counter, there is no way to see how many lives you have other than tracking it mentally yourself.

There are no continues in the game, so when the lives are through it is Game Over and back to the start. Now there is a continue code that is just about as well known as the game itself. There is a lengthy delay between losing the last life and Game Over, and if you input the buttons ABBA within that period you will respawn with two additional lives. It is a simple code, but unfortunately it is not published in the manual that came with Ikari Warriors. Therefore to me the usage of the continue code is strictly off limits. As it turns out there is a specific part of the game where the continue code is rendered useless anyway.

These club wielding hulks only show up in Stage 2.

These club wielding hulks only show up in Stage 2.

I think the picture is starting to paint itself for why Ikari Warriors is so challenging, but it gets far worse from here. While the arcade version and all the other Ikari Warriors ports to my knowledge contain only one long level, for some reason the developer Micronics decided to lengthen the NES game considerably by adding three more levels of equal length. I watched a full playthrough of the arcade version and the entire game consists of the first three-quarters of NES Ikari Warriors Level 1 with the other quarter of the game loosely resembling part the end of Level 3. This is the root of why Ikari Warriors is such an incredible gaming feat to finish. The four long levels add up to about an hour of play all the way through with a strictly limited allotment of lives. Even with the continue code there is still a portion of the game that needs to be memorized where the code fails, not to mention the effort it takes just to reach that point in the first place.

Truly the way to beat Ikari Warriors on NES is to flat out master the game all the way through by playing it over and over again. Many of the enemies and powerups are predetermined so the game is largely an exercise in anticipating the enemy threats and developing the muscle memory to fight through these threats in an appropriate manner. However some of the enemies and hazards have randomness to them that can easily throw a wrench into the best laid plans. One unexpected fatal attack with no heart to revive powerups can utterly cripple a playthrough at just about any time. The game also pulls a dirty trick by removing all powerups at the start of a new stage unless you happen to hold a heart all the way to the end of the previous level.

Naturally with the amount of time I spent trying to beat Ikari Warriors I think it is clear that this was my first time beating the game. There is no special story to how I got the game because it is pretty common to find and cheap to boot. I think it’s easy to find because it is both an early NES game and one that not many people want.

This is both the hardest screen in the game as well as the strangest one.

This is both the hardest screen in the game as well as the strangest one.

Here are some statistics of my time spent with Ikari Warriors that should indicate just how deep this rabbit hole went. I started playing the game on April 26th and my winning run was on August 18th which is a span of 115 days. There were 14 days where I was not able to make an attempt so I played the game for 101 days. It took me a whopping 328 attempts from the start to beat Ikari Warriors and my total game time was 103 hours and 50 minutes. (My timekeeping was rough at best but it’s reasonably close.) Including off days I played slightly fewer than three attempts per day with an average play time of 19 minutes per run. The most impressive stat of all is that I did not break a single controller while playing this game. Talk about willpower!

I also documented some milestones because why not?

  • 05/08/16 – Attempt #91 – Finished Level 1
  • 05/13/16 – Attempt #106 – Cleared Level 1 deathless
  • 06/15/16 – Attempt #210 – Finished Level 2
  • 06/28/16 – Attempt #237 – Cleared Levels 1 and 2 deathless
  • 07/13/16 – Attempt #269 – Finished Level 3
  • 08/04/16 – Attempt #303 – Reached the Final Boss

My last day of playing Ikari Warriors was somewhat interesting due to some external circumstances. I have had times where I really struggle to get gaming time in my personal life and I had to go to some lengths to try and get attempts once each good run started reaching 45 minutes and beyond. I typically stay up really late to play but sometimes I sleep for a couple of hours and then wake up to do some chores and sneak in some video games while everyone else is asleep. My winning run happened during the early morning but this time it was way later than normal. I got up at 3:00 a.m. to do dishes and then against my better judgment I decided to start a run after 4:00 a.m. My penultimate run was a pure throwaway run when I lost all my lives at the very beginning of the game, and then I started a new game and made it to the end. I finished at 5:20 a.m. and my hands were shaking as I took as many pictures as I could while trying to cherish the moment. I was beyond pumped but I had to keep it down not to wake up anyone. I tried to go back to bed for a little while but I think I got barely a few minutes of sleep after all of that!

Behold this rare screenshot of the final level!

Behold this rare screenshot of the final level!

My winning run was really solid from a game play perspective. I cleared the first two levels without dying which had been a problem on many late attempts. I died once at the end of the helicopter section in Level 3 and I took an intentional death at the end of the stage to clear it. I never could figure out how to finish that section without dying so sacrificing a life there to ensure forward progress is the next best thing. Level 4 was the best I have done on that stage. I can’t remember if I died once randomly there but if I did it was only once and in a good spot. The final segment of the last stage is very difficult but manageable with all powerups intact and I got there with maybe five lives remaining. I died a few times to the last couple sets of enemies and I lost all of my powerups right before the final boss. I died once or twice to the final boss but I managed to get into what I think was a safe spot and I beat the game from there. I think I may have had one life remaining but I could very well have been on my last life. The ending screen is just horrible but oh so sweet to lay eyes on!

I think most people would agree that the legitimate way of beating Ikari Warriors is to avoid using the continue code, even though the premise of trying to beat the game on a single credit is ridiculous enough to begin with. The question I have is if the developers intended for players to use the continue code to work through the game normally. The ABBA code is both short and easy to remember and there is a long enough window before the Game Over screen to input the code successfully. On the other hand, there is a stage select code that is a whopping 32 key presses long, so why would the continue code be so much shorter if it were really meant to be hidden? The thing is that I can’t find any evidence of how the continue code was first revealed. It’s not included in the manual, so perhaps it was spread by word of mouth, published in a gaming magazine, or revealed publicly by the creators somewhere. The truth may never be known. That said, there’s a documentary video of SNK on YouTube that contains a segment about the decision to add the continue code to the NES version of Ikari Warriors. I will leave it up to you to decide what that true intention was.

I really can’t recommend anyone to try and play through Ikari Warriors like I did. I was dedicated to beating this game as much as anyone and it took every ounce of effort and time I could pour into it. The game itself is competent for 1987 but not particularly notable outside of its crushing difficulty. The player character is way too slow for this kind of game and the NES port is hurt by not allowing walking in one direction and aiming in another. The graphics are okay and the music is okay as well even though there are only two songs in the entire game that loop constantly. The game is average at best and the difficulty for sure drags it down to below average overall. If you are dead set on trying it out, please consider using the continue code. If you want to try beating it the same way I did, then you have my deepest sympathy.

I don’t know if Ikari Warriors is the hardest NES game, but of all the games I’ve played on the console I know this is easily the most difficult game I’ve finished and I consider my victory one of my top achievements in all of gaming. In spite of all the flaws and difficulty, I had fun with it. If I ever have the opportunity to show off my NES gaming skills this will be the game I pick now that I know I can handle it, and now I won’t be embarrassed to use the continue code!

#24 - Ikari Warriors

#24 – Ikari Warriors

Final Score - 577,600

Final Score – 577,600


Ikari Warriors Update 6: Down with the Sickness

I was hoping I would be sharing my victory today, but instead I will have to settle for another update post!

This was the first time since I’ve started playing Ikari Warriors where real life got in the way of making progress. I was in a wedding two weekends ago and with all the activities going on I didn’t get to play any NES for four days. This was easily my longest stretch without playing in quite some time. Then last week I got sick which led to both playing less and playing badly whenever I got around to it. I’m feeling better now so hopefully this will be the week I beat Ikari Warriors. I’m looking forward to moving on to something new for sure!

I did reach a new personal best last week. I made it all the way to the final boss with a couple of lives but I could not finish off the game. The final stretch introduces a couple of new elements to the game that were quite a surprise to see so late in this long game. Honestly I’m surprised I got as far as I did. It was one of those lucky runs that I have written about before. The next run like that will probably be the winning run, but with Ikari Warriors you never really know for sure!

One common thread of my relatively poor playing lately has been a resurgences of deaths in Level 2. I have beaten this stage without dying many times. However I have not had a clean Level 2 since my personal best run almost a week ago. There is really no explanation for it either. I had a run where I lost a tank in Level 2 at a really awful spot and yet I somehow managed to clear a large chunk of the level on foot without dying. I still have these moments of awesome playing that get lost in the mistakes I am making that cause decent runs to fizzle out.

With any luck this will really be the last Ikari Warriors update. I am still targeting a Monday update either next week or in two weeks, but that might change depending on when I finish the game. I’m excited to share my final thoughts with you on this grueling NES game!

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Ikari Warriors Update 5: Looking for Lady Luck

It was about time to start numbering these updates!

I have made some good progress since my last update. A few days after my previous update post, I beat Level 3 for the first time and then made it probably halfway through the final level on that same run. My best run so far happened a couple of nights ago where I got about two-thirds of the way through Level 4. It seems like all the stages are the same length or very close, so that is my best guess for where I’m at in the game. I haven’t been keeping track but I have made it to Level 4 probably 8-10 times so far over the past two weeks. Like I’ve mentioned several times before it is all a matter of repeating the game in order to build my knowledge so that I can better cope with the enemy attack.

I feel at this point that all it takes for me to beat Ikari Warriors is to have that one lucky attempt where the randomness works in my favor and my playing ability is up to par enough to make significant progress with a fully powered character. It could be any day now when that happens, so I need to keep putting the time in and at least get more exposure to the late game on unsuccessful runs. I’m really close to putting this one to bed for good!

So far I have been able to complete both Level 1 and Level 2 without dying numerous times, including clearing both together deathless in the same run on a few occasions. I have not been able to clear Level 3 deathless and that is because the end of level gauntlet I mentioned last time has no clear solution that I have found to be able to survive it unscathed. At best, I can take a single death and use the invincibility period to finish the remaining enemies. I haven’t seen anything approaching that level of difficulty so far in Level 4, so that says to me that a deathless run of Ikari Warriors is dependent on figuring out the last part of Stage 3. Of course, I don’t need to do a deathless run! If I am able to reach the beginning of Level 4 with only one death, then that sets me up with a pretty good chance of lucking into beating the game.

As an aside, it’s funny how I am mastering this game and yet I can still make some awful errors that completely kill a good run. Lately I have been dying way too many times within the first 30 seconds of the game. I had a run recently where I accidentally self-destructed my tank in a bad spot where I couldn’t recover. I had another run with a string of simply unacceptable deaths that were spread out enough that I somehow managed to reach the final level anyway. I still have the occasional attempt that bombs out in Level 1. I seem to be able to string together a series of good runs followed by a string of mostly unsuccessful runs that frankly are a waste of time at this point. It has been downright frustrating at times to play Ikari Warriors, but in spite of that I keep coming back for more.

This week is shaping up to be a busy one for me, so chances are I will skip next week’s update in favor of real life activities. I am feeling pretty good about beating Ikari Warriors in the next two weeks. I hope that my next update will be the full length blog post on Ikari Warriors that everyone has been waiting for. Stay tuned!

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Within Shooting Distance

The last couple of weeks have been mostly kind to me by Ikari Warriors standards! At my last progress report I was starting to learn Level 3. I would not say that I have really learned the level yet in the last two weeks, but I can consistently make it far into the level in spite of my incomplete knowledge. In fact, I have reached the end of Stage 3 several times and I have gotten really close to clearing the level. I anticipate that I am going to start the final level by the end of the week. Maybe I can have that magical run and beat the game by the end of the month!

I think it is fair to say that I have the first two levels completely memorized as well as several sections of Level 3. The best way for me to play Ikari Warriors is to learn both the level layout and enemy spawns so that I can position myself to clear enemies quickly before they can become a real threat. However, when fully powered up I can get through many situations by playing in a reactionary and cautious manner. I am getting through Level 3 with a combination of both of these approaches. I don’t know what Level 4 has in store for me, but I suspect that I am going to rely more on playing by reaction.

Just a heads up that this is a bit of a spoiler. My attempt just last night was my best run to date. I reached the end of Level 3 with only two deaths, both of which were in Level 3. The very end of the stage is easily the most brutal section of the game I have encountered so far. It is just swarming with enemies that actively aim at me. I have developed somewhat of a strategy for that part, but I am not sure if I will come up with a method for getting through it without dying. This time I was able to clear out all of the enemies, but after that there is no apparent exit to the level. I lost all my remaining lives to the “hurry up” missiles while trying to figure out what to do. I was a bit stunned to say the least! Of course, once it was all said and done I think I realize where I went wrong. I can’t wait to get back to that part with a clear head and see about moving on toward the end of the game.

In other news, you may have noticed that I posted this up on a Monday instead of my normal Friday schedule. I get the feeling my posts are more easily ignored when posted on Friday afternoon. I know this sounds crazy, but people have better things to do over the weekend than read this blog! I chose Friday as my posting day because it is the most convenient day for me to put these posts and articles together. If I can get more attention with a post earlier in the week then it is worth working around my schedule to accommodate it. I do this blog for myself but at the same time I want this project to become more popular and generate fun discussions over obscure and overlooked NES games. I will stick to the Monday posting schedule for awhile to see how it pans out.

I am planning to do something different once again for my next post. It was something I potentially teased in a past article, so if you are a very attentive reader with a good memory then you may already know what I will be writing up!

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Halfway Home

Ikari Warriors is still beating me down, but I am getting much better at fighting back! In the last two weeks I have seen some steady progress in my grueling quest. Last time I predicted that I would see the end of Level 2 and start learning Level 3 over repeated attempts, and that prediction turned out to be accurate! It did take me a few more days to get the hang of Level 2 enough to complete it, but then my first attempt at Stage 3 was a really solid run. Looking back, that day in particular was a significant turning point. For whatever reason, Stage 2 was a real hurtle and after clearing it just once I can now get through it about half of the time. I still don’t know the exact enemy spawn points but I know them well enough that I can slow play the level just a bit and get through it without losing too many lives.

While the first two levels are similar in structure, the third level introduces some new wrinkles that ramp up the challenge even further. The general strategy of learning where things are in the level is still the same, but the new elements take some getting used to. It’s no different than what it was like starting from the beginning. Hopefully progress can continue to remain steady, but in case it does not this can be part of the reason why.

I am starting to get far enough into the game now where I am only able to get one or two attempts in per day. I play roughly one hour a day on average and it takes me 30 to 40 minutes to reach part way into Level 3. Time management has always been an issue for me and my project and that is going to be amplified in the coming weeks as runs start taking up to an hour each. There are days when I am pretty sharp and I wish I could spend more time playing on those days as I am more likely to break new ground when I’m playing better. Some days are a step forward and other days are a step back. I have to take the hand that I have been dealt, so to speak.

I have mentioned before that my policy for beating games more or less boils down to treating the game as if I bought it brand new on launch day. I try to adhere to this as much as possible on games I have no experience with. For Ikari Warriors, I want to admit here that I bent my rule just a little bit. I did a little research online in order to find the location of a Super Speed powerup in the first stage, and I was able to find one that I wasn’t able to locate on my own. Ikari Warriors has a selection of special powerups that only appear by shooting at specific locations. Walking in this game is slow and the Super Speed doubles my walking speed into a much more manageable pace. I have beaten the first level numerous times without having the speed boost but I wanted to have it if possible to clear the first stage faster. If I can shave even thirty seconds off of my Level 1 time, that will add up to significant time savings over possibly hundreds of future attempts. It is really only helpful for Level 1 because there is another Super Speed right at the beginning of Level 2, and it certainly does not increase my chances of making it through the stage unharmed as I seem to die just as often with Super Speed as I do without!

With the way things are going, I am guessing I will be playing Ikari Warriors for another couple of months. I am afraid of running out of secondary material to write about in the long term. I just don’t have a lot of experience with many other NES and Game Boy games that I want to cover, and I insist on putting in the time to beat the game before writing it up. I estimate that I will have fewer additional games in total than licensed NES games for this project. I have to consider that there will be large gaps just like this with other difficult or lengthy games and I want to have the right amount of new content no matter what the circumstances. I am thinking about either going back to posting every other week or spreading out the secondary content even further apart. I know that I want to keep this site active no matter what, but exactly what I will post about next is very much up in the air at this time. Let’s say that next week’s update will be a surprise for now! In the meantime I will keep chugging away at the game so we can move on to better and brighter things!

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Baby Steps

Progress on Ikari Warriors is creeping forward. There are no huge milestones to report but there are some tiny pebbles of progress at least! I reached my personal best just last night which is some point deep into Level 2. My hunch is that I got to the final segment of that stage, but until I actually clear the stage I can’t say for sure if I am really close or not. I had two other attempts yesterday that were just about as far as my best. Hopefully that means I am better handling the more random aspects of the game. That should turn into advancing my progress more quickly as I will have more opportunities to memorize the fixed enemy positions. However, Ikari Warriors has a tendency to beat me down so the next attempts may very well be worse!

I am continuing to evolve my strategy on the first level and I am at the point now where I can clear it just about every time. I am finishing it without deaths a whole lot more often too. There are still some attempts where I make horrible mistakes that contain me to the first level, and there are a few points in the stage toward the end where I am not yet consistent. Some of that is on me and some of that is on the game being mean.

Progress in a given run is tied very closely to keeping a tank. The tank gives better firepower, absorbs small bullets, and gives you an extra hit against stronger attacks. Lose the tank and the difficulty leaps up considerably. Some spots are mandatory on foot and those are the exact portions that give me problems. What’s worse is that a good chunk of the beginning of Level 2 must be done without the tank, and whenever I do reach the first tank in the level there is a decent probability of losing it right away. This initial segment currently demands the most practice.

Before my next progress report, my goal is to start learning Level 3. I think I am a few days away from beating Stage 2 for the first time. With enough repetition I should be able to begin clearing the entire first half of the game with some consistency. We shall see if my prediction comes true!

In other news, I did have a bit of distraction last week that limited my time with Ikari Warriors. Last week’s game in the NintendoAge weekly contest was Battletoads and I spent a significant amount of time playing it. Even though it is highly regarded as one of the most difficult NES games, I know the game inside and out and I can beat the game pretty easily. The contest was scored on furthest progression without warping with the tiebreaker of lowest score wins. Battletoads is difficult enough to play normally, but beating the game while keeping the score low provides a very interesting challenge. I won the exact same contest a year ago and I successfully defended my title this time around! My final score was 673,150 and as far as I know that is the lowest final score ever recorded in a warpless run of Battletoads. I’ll confidently lay claim to this unofficial world record!

Next week I will be reviewing another game! I know which one I would like to cover but I will need to set aside some time to play it. In case that falls through I have a backup already in mind. Until then, happy gaming!

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Loads of Site Updates

One advantage of having the blog format is that it is very easy to make updates to both correct information and add new content where appropriate. I have been focusing so much on writing up my recent game finishes as well as actually playing the games that I have been neglecting several updates to correct and clarify some things. I will always be picking up new and interesting information on NES games and some of that will make its way back to the blog. Now is a good time to post all the updates that I finally got around to writing!

These are the changes I made:

  • Dates played have been added to all completed NES games.
  • Difficulty rankings have been added to all completed NES games. I added them to the posts for Super Mario Bros, Contra, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! In addition, I added a small paragraph to the end of each of those posts explaining my difficulty assessment a bit. Definitely go back and check them out!
  • The Tetris post has a new paragraph about the documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters. I also included a new paragraph about my decision for the difficulty rating.
  • The Castlevania post has a new paragraph about the difficulty loops.
  • The Lemmings post has a new paragraph about the developer.

I am still working every day on Ikari Warriors. I have been getting much better at repeating Level 1 and I am starting to make headway in Level 2. If Level 2 is roughly the same length as Level 1, then I estimate that I have reached the midpoint of the second stage on my best attempt. It’s a little bit sad that I have been playing for a little over a month and I haven’t even beaten the first half of the game yet, but it just goes to show how difficult and unrelenting this NES port really is. Since I started playing I have only skipped one day of making attempts and I am going to try my best to keep at it every day until I beat it.

Next week I will have an all new full length blog post about a new topic. I have decided what the next post will be written about and I think it will be a nice diversion while I keep working on my main goal. In two weeks I will have another progress report on Ikari Warriors with hopefully some good news!


A True Challenge

I don’t normally like to give away the games I’m playing for this blog while in progress, but I’ve finally reached a game that is going to take me so long to finish that I think it’s worth mentioning and discussing.

The next game for Take On The NES Library is Ikari Warriors. I believe this is the hardest NES game I have ever attempted to beat, and it’s looking like a solid contender for the hardest NES game period. The game is pretty lengthy and challenging, but the real bottleneck here is there are no continues outside of using a cheat code. When all lives are lost, it’s Game Over and all the way back to the beginning of the game. My personal policy is to beat NES games on console without any cheat devices or codes that aren’t specifically called out in the game manual. I don’t want to do practice runs on an emulator either. I’m sticking with just the base amount of information as if the game was purchased on launch day. Some will call me crazy trying to beat Ikari Warriors this way, and that’s fine, but I believe it’s the purest way to consider a game beaten and that is what I am planning to stick with at all costs.

I have been playing Ikari Warriors for over three weeks and the furthest point I have reached is probably a quarter of the way through the second level. There are four levels in this game and the stages seem to go on for quite a long time. I am still trying to hone in my technique for consistently clearing level one since it keeps giving me trouble on many of my attempts. Success at this game boils down to memorizing the stage layouts and the only real way to do that is to repeat them over and over again. It is a very slow grind, but I am confident that I will beat this game even if it takes me many more weeks or even months to do it.

At this time I am not going to skip ahead to the next game while working concurrently on Ikari Warriors. I feel if I decide to skip ahead then I won’t be keeping up on my skills and that makes it more likely for me to just skip the game altogether. Passing on a difficult, long game even temporarily sets a bad precedent. If I am really attempting to beat every NES game then I am going to eventually need to cross paths with a tough game so I might as well take it in stride. Plus, I really enjoy having each new game revealed to me as I complete games and I’m not about to give that up just because I ran into a real nasty game to finish. I’ve beaten games in this manner before by just grinding out attempt after attempt, and I’m still motivated to put in the time on Ikari Warriors.

Now having said all of that, I don’t want to leave the blog dormant while I continue to whittle away at Ikari Warriors. I think it’s best for both myself and the project to keep it active in some capacity. Therefore, I am planning on posting some secondary content to bridge the gap. Most of these posts will be progress updates such as this one, but I also have some ideas for other features that will be more substantial. Mixing up the post types will give me more time to put together new content while also allowing me time needed to work on my main game. I have also decided to post an update every Friday from now on. That has worked pretty well for me in my main posts and I think some consistency is healthy. Hopefully you will agree and enjoy some more regular content on the site!

Here’s a small look at what’s ahead. Next week I will have another progress update. I have been long overdue for making some miscellaneous updates in past posts, so I will be working on that and I will have a summary of changes in the next post. Two weeks from now I will have a new feature to read! I have a few ideas to pick from and I’m not sure what I’ll do yet.

I created a thread on NintendoAge about my experience with Ikari Warriors if you are craving more detail than what I have provided here. If you want to play along with me and suffer through it, then by all means have at it!

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