A few weeks ago, our Wii died. I called Nintendo, spoke with a representative, and ended up taking advantage of their Repair service. All told, it would be out of commission for approximately ten days. Clearly, this is a sad thing. For my wife Sarah, however, this was TRAGIC, because it meant no Dr. Mario until the Wii returned.

Sarah’s economical solution to this unexpected drought was to buy a used Dr. Mario cartridge for the original Nintendo Entertainment System on eBay. Once it arrived, I was enlisted to dig the NES out of the basement and hook it up in the living room. For the next week or so, our regular Dr. Mario battles occurred in blocky 8-bit graphics at an incorrect aspect ratio.

Once the Wii arrived back safe and sound, we still had the NES hooked up, so I pulled out my copy of Ninja Gaiden – my favorite NES game as a wee Kempy, and one that I had never beaten. Because Ninja Gaiden allows unlimited continues but offers no saving mechanism, my plan was to power on the NES, start playing, and leave it paused and powered up overnight until I beat the last level. This began on Sunday, January 31st. By the time I paused it and walked away on that Sunday, I was in level 6-1.

I played for a bit after work on Monday, and made it to stage 6-2, where I got stuck for days. Four days, in fact. I spent bits of time on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday practicing the same stupid level, timing out crazy jumps, and cursing the eagles. By some fluke of luck, I (barely) beat 6-2 on Thursday, and I was naturally SUPER EXCITED. I think I freaked Sarah out by how excited I was. I DID IT.

Then I started thinking – that was IRRATIONALLY hard. How the fuck did little kids in the 90’s DO that? So I googled “Ninja Gaiden 6-2.” Here is some of what I found. Wikipedia says:

“Like all games in the series, it is noted for its difficulty,
particularly the infamous Stage 6-2.”

From a Gamespot thread titled “6-2 is impossible:”

“Don’t feel too bad. Took me over a year to first beat this game when
I was a kid. 6-2 is one of if not the hardest levels in the history of
video games. And, even if you get through it, if you die on one of the
final bosses (and you probably will) you have to go through it all
over again! That’s just evil.”

I also shared this particular victory with my band-mates, who had witnessed several failed attempts at 6-2 earlier in the week. Here’s a brief conversation with Zach which played out shortly after my 6-2 victory:

Z: congrats on the ninja gaiden
Z: my question is: how’s 6-3?
A: 6-3 is easier
A: but
A: if i get to the boss and die
A: I have to do 6-1 and 6-2 again
A: so
Z: oh man
Z: fuuuuuuuck
Z: fuck that
A: i’m practicing 6-3
A: and dying right before the door on purpose
A: Until I can get there with maximum firepower
A: Then
Z: hahahahah

So a few times over the next week, I would pick up my 6-3 game, playing through the level, figuring out exactly what to do for each bit of the stage. It felt like memorizing a dance, and it occurred to me that maybe this crazy, precise, focus that you had to develop to make it through the final challenges of the game were intentionally rote and Ninja-like. At first I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, but the more I think about how much sinister thought went into the final levels (6-2 features several places where you need to intentionally get hit to avoid falling, and the ideal weapon for 6-3 appears at the very beginning – the player has to resist accidentally picking up anything else for the entire stage), maybe there’s something to it.

Anyway, today, Sarah was out of town, and I had a bit of time to kill, so I decided today would be the day. I made it through 6-3, ran through the boss door… and was pretty much immediately destroyed. No big deal, right? I made sure to have two extra lives in reserve!

But actually, what I didn’t understand was: dying AT ALL during the final battle sends you back to 6-1, extra lives and all. So, I did what anyone in this situation would do: watched the final battle and ending on Youtube (Part one, Part two, Part three) and got back to my weekend. I was deliberately NOT previewing things on youtube before playing through them, and after seeing those boss fights, I would have had no idea what to do. Stupid Jaquio. I finally powered the NES off, two weeks later.