Review by Emptyeye
"After 2 years of experience, let's try this review again."
Ninja Gaiden III was released by Tecmo in 1991, the final game in the Ninja Gaiden trilogy. You might have heard from the movie Scream 3 that in the third of any trilogy...''All bets are off.'' Ninja Gaiden III adheres to this, or at least it tries to.
While the first two games had something of a similar plot right down to the cinema sequences (Start out doing something innocently enough, eventually wake up big bad demon and get Irene kidnapped, defeat demon and save Irene, the end), this game takes a unique turn from the start. It seems that Irene Lew, the girlfriend of main character and resident Ninja Ryu Hayabusa, has been murdered. Sounds pretty pedestrian so far, except you learn that Ryu is the killer! Wait, no he isn't! After we watch the murder of Irene, Ryu expresses his obvious confusion at the fact that his girlfriend is dead. ''Me, killed Irene? No! Someone or something impersonating me must have done it!'' And so Ryu takes up the Dragon Sword once again--apparently we're just supposed to forget the second game of the series even existed--to find out just who the real killer of his sweetheart is.
This had the potential to be the best story in the series, and indeed, it gets points for deviating from the other two games. However, the translators butchered this one good. It's not bad in the Zero Wing sense--all the spelling and most of the grammar is correct. Rather, they simply changed it so it becomes impossible to figure out what's going on at times. The game contradicts itself at numerous points (Especially towards the end), which kind of kills the whole experience.
Thankfully, what the game loses in Story it essentially makes up for in Gameplay. Ninja Gaiden is a hack-n-slash game in a classic sense, meaning you run left-to-right, right-to-left, and sometimes up-and-down too, slashing enemies and grabbing power-ups. The action is fast and furious, and rarely lets up, except when you fight a boss. Ninja Gaiden veterans may recognize the patterns of some of the bosses, but that doesn't make them any less intimidating.
Some of the power-ups you can obtain include the new Up & Down, which sends out two blades straight up and down from where you happen to be standing, and the returning Art of the Fire Wheel, which sends out Fire at various angles upward. But the most highly-anticipated power-up is the Super Sword, a new weapon that allows Ryu to almost double the range of his sword. This was the power-up that gamers had been clamoring for pretty much since the first Ninja Gaiden, as the range of Ryu's normal sword is really quite weak. However, this comes at a price; the Clones from Ninja Gaiden II are now gone. While gamers new to the series won't care, those who've played the second game will probably find themselves wanting their red-shaded dopplegangers. Additionally, you lose the Super Sword after every act, which is almost unforgivable.
With the play as fast as it is, Ryu needs to have responsive control, and Ninja Gaiden III delivers. Your ninja runs fast and attacks and jumps come off clean and crisp. Additionally, Ryu seems to have learned how to defy physics a bit more since the last game, as he hangs in the air just a little longer now. Despite this, however, you'll notice that the trick of jumping straight up and letting enemies run underneath you no longer works. Perhaps the enemies have learned to slow down and relax a bit more. But whatever the reason, this additional hang time is almost distracting, and it takes away from the pace of the game somewhat without serving any real purpose.
Ryu's newest move is the ability to hang onto various fixtures like pipes from below. This, combined with the Up & Down, allows you to clear out any platform you may need to jump on.
And indeed, liberal use of your power-ups is essential to survival in this game. What's interesting here is that difficulty-wise, this game is actually the easiest in the series, provided you use your ninja arts to their fullest extent. Apparently realizing this, Tecmo decided to place some obscene conditions on failure. Lose a life and you're going back to the beginning of a stage. Note that the stages are lettered into sections for no reason, seeing as a death sends you back to section A anyway. What if you have to continue, you ask? I hope you like the stages in the particular act you happen to be on, because you get to do them all over again! Oh, and it should be mentioned that you only get 5 continues to complete the game. Harsh, huh? Sadly, these conditions overcompensate for the relative lack of difficulty within the game itself, causing the game to get an undeserved reputation as Insanely Difficult Hell-Spawn, when in fact the game is actually easier than either of the two previous games in the series.
Graphically, the game is somewhat impressive, and likewise takes a turn from the series norm. Ryu travels to all sorts of locations, from a jungle, to some caverns, to some upside-down mountains (Check the background in level 4-1), to some strange bee-hive like place. However, none of these places really have a lot to do with each other, or with the story in general; Ryu travels almost arbitrarily from place to place.
Despite this, the backgrounds are impressive, with lots of detail, particularly in Level 2-2's caverns--check out the pipes coming out of the molten background. Great stuff. The foregrounds also have cool effects at times, like the rippling quicksand of the desert level.
The enemies have also taken a futuristic turn, as Ryu combats lots of mechanical enemies, from simple patrol spider to more advanced Boss Cyborgs capable of spitting fire along the ground. However, the sprite for Ryu is still largely unchanged, as is his three-frame run as he sprints through the levels.
Ninja Gaiden III's soundtrack has to be listened to multiple times to be fully appreciated. On my first few times through the game, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Upon beating the game a few more times, though, I came to realize the catchiness of some of the tunes, particularly that of the first level. However, one drawback is that after approximately Act 4, the themes begin to repeat themselves, and the Boss Theme is beginning to show its age with its third appearance in the series.
The sound effects are largely a mixed bag. I'm wondering what happened to the crisp swing of Ryu's sword; it's been replaced by an annoying sounding ''Ya!'' that only serves to get on your nerves. The rest of the effects are nondescript, with only the sound of sword-hitting-foe to redeem this department--and why isn't the sound different between organic and mechanical foes?
Ninja Gaiden III sports 7 Acts, and about 20 levels in all. This gives the game impressive replay value for a game released in 1991. However, some of the luster wears off once you realize that most of the replaying involves redoing levels you've done 100 times before because Tecmo decided that having you redo entire levels upon losing a life would be fun. In addition, once you've beaten the game, there isn't a whole lot left to do but try to get a higher score--except for the occasional replay, just to make sure you're in top playing condition.
Overall, Ninja Gaiden III is a nice stand-alone game. Yes, it's the worst game out of the series, but considering the classic status the first two games have attained, this doesn't mean the game is bad by any means. Action gamers especially will find this a worthy purchase, while those aching for nostalgia will likely want to check it out as well. However, this is not a game to be emulated--you need a NES controller, not a keyboard, to be able to pull off the moves that this game requires in order to truly get the most enjoyment out of it. That said, if you can the game, pick it up and get ready for some fast-paced, old-time ninja action.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/16/01, Updated 10/16/01
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