Although this game was co-produced and released in the same year with the other Ninja Gaiden on the NES, it's a completely different game that shares only a few similarities. In this game, you control a ninja hired by the US government to defeat an evil cult that wants to initiate The End of the World as We Know It.
It was ported to various systems of the time (a lot more than what the NES game got), most of them being computer models like IBM Personal Computer, Amiga, and Commodore 64, and a handheld console Atari Lynx. It's also in the Ninja Gaiden Black as a bonus game.
This arcade version of Ninja Gaiden didn't get a true sequel, but Tecmo published Tecmo Knight in 1989, another arcade beat 'em up that partially looks and plays like this game but much gorier.
This game provides examples of:
- Air Jousting: The hero takes out a draw (i.e., killed the mook) in the intro of the arcade Ninja Gaiden in this manner.
- BFS: Bladamus, the final boss in the unjustly-overlooked arcade original had a pair of these.
- Color-Coded Multiplayer: This game has Player 1 as a blue ninja and Player 2 as a red ninja. While neither character is actually identified in the game, Ryu Hayabusa (the main character in the NES version) wears a blue ninja outfit, while his father Ken wears a similar red outfit, matching the colors of the two player characters (leading some fans to speculate that the events depicted in the arcade version are a mission that Ryu and Ken Hayabusa went through before the events of the NES series).
- Difficulty by Region: The sixth and final stage is a lot harder in the US version (Ninja Gaiden), where enemies do at least twice damage than the other versions and the final boss' attacks become One-Hit Kill.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The sequels followed the footsteps of the NES game and not this game, so naturally, this game has a lot of things that are at odds with the rest of the series.
- Ryu is nowhere to be seen. If you believe that the player character really is Ryu, then it'll fall into Early Installment Character-Design Difference, as Ryu in this game looks nothing like himself in the other games.
- There are many enemy types who'd better fit The Apunkalypse than the Wutai that Ninja Gaiden is usually known for, including a Jason Voorhees look-alike.
- All stages are Auto-Scrolling Level where the screen always creeps forward with no way to speed up, and it only stops occasionally when the game won't progress until you get rid of all enemies. This is weird even for an arcade beat 'em up, as most other games of the time like Final Fight don't have auto-scrolling like this.
- Excuse Plot: Compared to the NES game, this game is thin on plot, only providing montages of the hero taking a break between stages. This extends to the ending, which has no generic "The world is saved thanks to our hero" message or even a simple "Congratulations!" screen, just showing the ninja going "back to Tokyo".
- Game-Over Man: The game is perhaps best known for the Continue screen, showing Ryu tied down as a rotary saw descends toward his chest, shaking his head in wide-eyed terror.
- No Name Given: The player ninjas have no names in this game. Later re-releases sometimes call them "Ryu" only because of the NES game that gave the hero a proper name.
- Playboy Bunny: Several appear in the casino Ryu played in.
- Sumo Wrestling: One sumo as the boss of the first stage, two in the fourth.