Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom Review

Developer: Tecmo
Original Release: Famicom/NES 1991
Also Available On: Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console

Maybe the title should say Ninja Ryukenden III. That's the Famicom version of Ninja Gaiden III. The game I played the most for this review. The NES version of Ninja Gaiden III is kind of a mess. Apparently, the US branch of Tecmo wanted NGIII to be harder so that it couldn’t be easily beaten in a rental, so the developers did as they were told. They took away unlimited continues and capped them at 5 (there’s a 99 continues code, though), increased damage taken, put in extra enemies, took out many health refills, and made it so you still took damage during knockbacks. They turned the easiest Ninja Gaiden into the hardest Ninja Gaiden. The Famicom version of NGIII isn’t a bad game, though. It’s just not on the same level as Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2.

Series like Zelda, Castlevania, and Mario had their weird sequel with number 2, but number 3 is the weird one of the bunch for Ninja Gaiden. The first thing I noticed is that this game is much slower than the first two. Ryu runs slower, his jumps are floaty, and even the enemies move slower. This makes the game a lot easier than the first two. Easier than some of the hardest NES games, but it isn’t exactly Kirby. The difficulty in the Famicom version of NGIII feels pretty average for an NES action platformer. The biggest thing that makes the game easier is how generous the checkpoints are. You never go back to the beginning of the level, even after continuing. You just go back to the previous checkpoint. Also, the last boss’ forms actually stay dead after you die or continue. He doesn’t send you back to the beginning of the level either. You just go to the previous checkpoint. He’s much nicer than Jaquio.

The game still plays like Ninja Gaiden, but it also feels like Tecmo trying to make the game like other NES games. I see a lot of Strider and Shadow of the Ninja in Ninja Gaiden III. Ryu gets a monkey bar climb, just like the one in Shadow of the Ninja, and there’s also a new power up that gives Ryu a much larger sword slash that looks a lot like Strider Hiryu’s. I find it so weird that Ninja Gaiden would be looking at the games that it influenced for inspiration. Oh, and Ryu finally learned how to climb onto ledges after a wall climb in this game.

The level design also has a bunch of obstacles that are new to Ninja Gaiden, but will feel very familiar to fans of NES action games. There’s moving platforms, spike traps, quicksand, jumping piranhas, rising lava, falling platforms, and a bunch of vertical areas. I was reminded of Mega Man, Mario 3, and Zelda II among other NES games. The level design is totally different from Ninja Gaiden I and II’s super challenging platforming sequences. It makes the game feel more like 20 other NES action platformers than a sequel to NGII.

The game also looks a lot like other NES games. It reminds me of games like Sunsoft’s Batman and Shadow of the Ninja. There’s a lot of metal walls, steel beam platforms, bricks, pipes, and random machinery in the backgrounds. They also got rid of the slightly 3D camera angle from the first 2 games in favor of a straight on 2D shot of the action, just like every other NES action game. I do like the graphics in the jungle and the desert, though. The framerate is good too. I didn’t notice any slowdown. Technically, the graphics do look a little better than NGII, but stylistically, it doesn’t really look like Ninja Gaiden.

The cutscenes in NGIII are also a big step down from NGII. I don’t know what happened to Ryu, but he looks weird. You can see the outline of his nose and mouth through his mask, and his mouth covering goes up the bridge of his nose, so the only part of his face exposed is his eyes. He looks like some kind of anime parody of regular Ryu. Everything in the cutscenes has this weird kind of look to it, and some of the color choices for key scenes are very puzzling.

The music is actually not bad. It uses the same template as the previous games; lots of fast-paced, heroic anime music during gameplay, and slower, more dramatic, movie score-like music during cutscenes. The music during the levels does sound a bit more like dance music than in the previous games, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There really isn’t anything special about Ninja Gaiden III. It’s kind of fun while it lasts, but you’re better off playing Vice: Project Doom, Shadow of the Ninja, Sunsoft’s Batman, Shatterhand, or Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2. Ninja Gaiden III is just sort of generic and forgettable. It’s kind of sad that the NES trilogy ended with this. I would have much rather had another Ninja Gaiden like NGII. Just more of the same.