Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
There was much debate over which Ninja Gaiden game should make this list. Many people argued hard for the original to be a part of this project. It was pretty evenly divided between the original and this game, NGIII. The deciding factor ended up being continues. The original NG features endless continues, NGIII features limited continues. Both games are built around challenging level designs that shoot bad guys at you like they were fired in wholesale lots out of a t-shirt gun at a monster truck show. But the first Ninja Gaiden gives you as many opportunities as you want to climb that stupid mountain and fight that spider-throwing boss (who used to trip me up for years and years). Ninja Gaiden III, however, takes away that privilege and asks you to make that tricky trek across the desert again and again only to be defeated by those same absolutely ridiculous waves of enemies in the later levels.
It's levels like 5-1C that I am thinking of. There are so many enemies, with so many varied attack styles coming at your from so many directions it is almost stifling just to watch someone play that level. And if you survive that onslaught, you are then asked to navigate some truly treacherous platforming areas, dangling from moving platforms and making devious jumps, all the while being assailed with missiles. And if you survive that..well, you get the idea. Level 5-1C is a beast and there are plenty more where it came from.
We've seen these kinds of levels before a couple of days ago with Adventure Island and Level 8-2 (shudder), but the thing that separates a game like NGIII from Adventure Island is the continues factor. With AI, you can wear 8-2 down eventually and as long as your NES doesn't get jostled, you have the rest of your life to work on that. NGIII asks you not only to tackle tough levels on par with 8-2, but it asks you to do it again if you fail to beat the game on that run through. That adds an additional layer of difficulty and requires your game to be that much better if you are ever to one day be victorious.
On the up side, Ninja Gaiden III is a lot of fun to play. Somehow, in my mind, that lessens the difficulty for me just a little bit because it reduces the frustration factor (the games that increase the frustration factor are coming soon...) and make running back through the levels a little less tedious. That is not to say that I was never annoyed with NGIII. I was plenty annoyed, particularly with 5-1C, which proved to be better than me. But it does mean that it is very likely that I will return to the game for another run at seeing the ending.
Ninja Gaiden is a remarkable series on the NES. All three games blend challenge and fun in a formula that stands the test of time, even to this day. I have beaten the first and second NG games, but III still eludes me, and that is why it rings in here at #16 on the Top 30 Hardest NES Games Ever.