Ninja Gaiden Shadow is a prototypical Gameboy port of an NES action game. It’s superficially similar to the other games in the series, but plays much more slowly and methodically than they do. It’s a relatively short gauntlet of combat challenges with boss fights punctuating the difficulty curve.
Ninja Gaiden Shadow avoids the common Gameboy issue of too-large sprites. Instead, the character and enemies in the game scale well to the Gameboy screen, and the graphics are simple enough that terrain and hazards are easily identifiable. In particular, there is a type of platform which can be grabbed from below that has a distinct look that stands out quite well. Some stages hide this to a degree by putting these platforms far away from the main field of view, but once noticed they are quite obvious.
Ryu’s skill set has been considerably constrained in the game, under the justification that this is a prequel to the main Ninja Gaiden series and his techniques are limited. You can use just one ninja power, and rather than being fueled by a numeric meter, you can store up to five uses at any given time. There is one ability unique to this game, a grappling hook that can attach to the aforementioned grabbable platforms from considerably further than your vertical jump would allow.
This is very much a game of learning the patterns of enemies and obstacles and adapting to them. Continues are unlimited, but you only have three lives to get through the sections and boss fight in each stage. Like many other Gameboy action games, you will essentially need to master Ninja Gaiden Shadow to progress, though the game is not so complex that this requires a huge time investment. Patience and observation are key, especially against the game’s bosses.
Ninja Gaiden Shadow doesn’t feel much like a Ninja Gaiden game, but it does work well in a way similar to other Gameboy games like the Castlevania series or Operation C. It is analogous to those games’ takes on their original series. If you like this style of game play, you can do much worse than Ninja Gaiden Shadow.