Ninja Gaiden is practically a household name now thanks to the fantastic Xbox title and the very promising (not to mention gory) next-gen sequel. The NES original is still fairly well known and fondly remembered, but the two 8-bit sequels are more obscure. If you’re one of the many people that weren’t aware of this third NES instalment, then you’re forgiven – it passed under the radar of many a videogame enthusiast.
We quite liked the first two Ninja Gaiden games (both of which are available on the Virtual Console) but this entry in the series is less welcome. Although it looks and sounds fantastic and arguably represents the pinnacle of the series on the NES when it comes to presentation, it nevertheless suffers from lamentable flaws that make it the weakest of the trilogy.
Although the first two titles could hardly be described as exemplary in terms of storyline, Ninja Gaiden III is unforgivably goofy when it comes to plotting. It starts out well, with chief protagonist Ryu seemingly murdering his sweetheart in the opening scene (it turns out to be an impostor, so don’t fret). The majority of the game sees our favourite ninja assassin battling all manner of outlandish and quite frankly unlikely foes: robot spiders, jungle mutants, sand monsters, and even aliens all make an appearance and try to sap Ryu’s precious life force. It’s enough to make you long for the good old days of ninjas fighting other ninjas! The levels are also inconsistent and unconnected, giving the game an unfortunate ‘patchwork’ feel, as if Tecmo had too many ideas and just chucked them all in together.
In terms of gameplay, Tecmo has made a few changes here. You have some new weapons to play with and Ryu’s acrobatic ability is slightly improved (not bad, considering how sprightly he was in the first place). Also, the ability to preview which special weapon is contained in each orb before you open it is extremely welcome, reducing the frustration of picking up the wrong power up.
However, the improvements end there. Ninja Gaiden is famous for its difficulty level but this third title takes frustration to new levels. The limited number of continues piles even more pressure on the player and only the most diehard of fans is likely to get anywhere near the end of this game.
Ninja Gaiden III is undoubtedly one sequel too many. The first two NES games were excellent, but aside from graphical flourishes and some minor gameplay amendments this third game offers nothing but intense frustration to anyone who chooses to download it. If you like your videogames to offer a stern, almost sadistic challenge then you might be more willing to stick with this, but most gamers would be better off with the prequels. They may not look as good but they’re certainly better products in practically every other area.