The game's plot sees the protagonist, ninja fighter Ryu Hayabusa, travel to America to avenge the death of his father. As a result of his search for the murderer, Ryu encounters a bandit group whose leader intends to free an ancient demon and take over the world. Ninja Gaiden's gameplay is reminiscent of Castlevania and Batman.
Ninja Gaiden consists of twenty levels, divided into six acts. The set of weapons is standard for a ninja - a katana inherited from his father, and shuriken. At the end of each act, a boss battle awaits.
The game's main character's special ability is his dexterity, which allows him to cling to and climb walls. Not only does the character have a health bar but he also has a spirit level that lets him use assistive techniques.