8-Bit Rage – Book Edition – Ninja Gaiden

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the Nintendo Entertainment System was on top of the world.  Nintendo’s first party offerings like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, and a slew of excellent third-party allowed the system to remain the most dominant system of its time.

But it wasn’t enough to simply dominate the video game market.  Like any successful franchise, the original format was only the beginning.  There were multiple television shows (Captain N: The Game Master being the… erm, strongest offering from Nintendo), a breakfast cereal, and even a feature film titled The Wizard that was essentially a 90 minute commercial for the NES and its awful accessory, The Power Glove.

And then there were the books.  Mario-themed Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Styled novels (including the one pictured below that I owned), various comic books, and my personal favorites, The Worlds of Power books.

 Now, to refer to the Worlds of Power novels as Nintendo products as they aren’t officially published, or endorsed by Nintendo, but they’re all based on NES titles that were popular at the time, including Blaster Master, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and (my personal favorite) Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden
A.L. Singer (pen name of Peter Lerangis)
120 Pages
Scholastic Publishing
July 1, 1990

Growing up, I was a huge Nintendo fanatic.  I still am, from time to time, but back then… I had everything.  A Mario washcloth and Nintendo branded eye-glasses are still somewhere in my room back at home (or were…), but my favorite Nintendo items were two novelizations, Blaster Master and Ninja Gaiden.

I remember stumbling upon them at a small used bookstore in a neighboring town and loving them.  Only recently did the internet tell me that there’s a whopping eight other books in the series that I desperately feel I must own.

The most important question you’ll probably have is… Why NES games?  Well… as I said above, the NES was incredibly popular and the brain behind the series of novels F.X.Nine (a pen name for marketer\author Seth Godin) wanted to encourage children (especially boys) to read more.  Thus, Worlds of Power was born.

The Ninja Gaiden game tells a fairly simple story.  Ryu Hayabusa is a ninja searching for revenge after his father is killed in a duel.  There’s more to it, but given the 8-bit limitations, all you really need to know is that Ryu constantly says, “What the ….” and we’ll leave it at that.

The game presents the story in very brief, slightly animated cutscenes, with text subtitles.  The novel, if it can be believed, makes more sense than that game, especially with the lack of the questionable translations.

In the book, as the game, our hero is Ryu Hayabusa.  At the start, Ryu is being given his final test to become a ninja.  Blindfolded, he uses his other senses to defeat his enemies.  After all, sight is only one sense, “one of six.”

What the ....

So yeah… right at the very start of the book, we have a major, major factual inaccuracy.  Is it accidental?  Could it perhaps be referring to the very basic introduction we get to chi about fifty pages hence?  I don’t know, but I can tell you… it took me right out of the book when I finally re-read it a few weeks ago.

But I digress… of course Ryu passes his test and his mother congratulates him… and cries because now he that he is a man, Ryu must go to South America to find the man who killed his father… and get revenge!

The next few chapters introduce us to characters who don’t really matter, show Ryu to be a bit of a hothead for a ninja, and also introduce us to our sub-villains… the CIA, who are interested in Ryu’s trip to the South American jungle because they believe a man named The Jaquio is attempting to end the world.  He will end the world by summoning a demon using two statues that were stolen from his years ago, by Ryu’s father.  He has reclaimed one statue and the other… is held by the CIA.

The CIA gives Ryu a copy of one of the statues (uhh… why?) and sends him in, all the while Ryu rages and tells them he won’t be going for them… he’s going… for his father.

When Ryu lands, he treks through the jungle, reaches the temple, and proceeds to battle several bosses with names like Bomberhead and Bloody Malth.  Corny for video games… really bad in a novelization of a video game.  He engages them and defeats them rather quickly and even uses items from the game to do so (in this case, an hourglass which freezes time and a ninja technique known as The Art Of The Fire Wheel… get used to The Art of The Fire Wheel… Ryu uses it approximately half-a-dozen times, even though it exhausts him each time).

After defeating the bosses, Ryu confronts The Jaquio (and yes, Jaquio is always preceded by the definite article “the”) who reveals that Ken Hayabusa was never actually killed, but has been enslaved by The Jaquio to do his bidding.  Enter the next boss fight, where father and son are finally reunited (in battle!) as The Jaquio laughs like the most annoying motherfucker in the world.

Seriously, the way he’s described in the book makes him sound like the most annoying douche to ever live.  I hated him as a kid for being such a jerk to Ryu and his dad… I hate him more now for just being plain annoying.  Gah!

To tie it all up quickly… Ryu saves his dad, kills The Jaquio, defeats the Demon (because the fake statue the CIA gave him wasn’t  a fake allowing The Jaquio to complete the summoning… what the ….), and escapes… losing his father in the process.

As he stands on the hill near the temple, watching it fall… Ryu is joined by the sexy CIA agent who drugged him earlier (and who refuses to kill him, disobeying a direct order) and they sniffle a bit after Ryu reveals that he’s lost his father all over again…  except that Daddy lives!  Hurrah!

Yeah so… I’m being overly critical because the book really isn’t terrible.  For a children’s novel, the book tells a good story, and it keeps the action flowing.  It also gives decent lessons on how to stand up for yourself, the importance of family, and why one should persevere through difficult trials.

At the same time, it is often bogged down in keeping too closely to the plot\levels of the game that it is based on… but it also diverges from the game’s plot to give us a supremely sappy ending where father and son are finally reunited after the final defeat of The Jaquio…

Still, if you come across any of the books in the World of Power series… you could do much worse.  The books I’ve read are exciting, fun, and based on video game properties that… well, mostly have continued into the current generation of video game consoles.  But that doesn’t matter.  They’re fun, brainless, and quick enough to read in a couple sittings.  Dig ’em!

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