Review: Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (Wii U eShop / NES)

Nice videogame, shame about the plot

After dealing with that dark sword business Ryu Hayabusa might have hoped to put his feet up, but more evil schemes are in motion and so he must do his ninja thing once more. The powerup from the previous game that could provide duplicates to help in his quest has gone, but it turns out there is still another Ryu running around. Unfortunately he's something of a bad egg, and as Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom begins our blue-garbed hero has found himself framed for murder. As you would expect, finding out what's going on involves jumping between platforms and slashing a variety of nasties.

Like its predecessors this final instalment of the NES Ninja Gaiden trilogy is an action platformer, and although there are a few changes anyone who has played the previous games will know what to do. Controls are as responsive as before although Ryu's strikes must be well timed as the movement of some enemies, combined with the short range of the default sword attack, can make eliminating your attackers a little tricky. A powerup is available that increases the range considerably, even allowing you to simply slash away creatures you'd otherwise have to crouch to hit. Wall-jumping is just like in the second game, allowing you to climb up and down walls to get in to the optimum position for your acrobatic display. Ryu still hasn't figured out how to pull himself up on to a ledge, but tapping forwards and jump will see him spin and land on the platform, so you won't be jumping across to another wall and back quite so much in this game.

The graphics are similar to the previous titles, but with a bit more detail and colour. One small but good addition is the way your costume can be seen blowing in the wind, although strangely it also happens indoors (perhaps someone left a window open). The cutscenes are back too, providing story details and generally looking fancy. As good-looking Wii U ninja gaming experiences go, Ninja Gaiden III is no Ninja Gaiden 3 but it's certainly the most impressive of the NES trilogy, with good use of parallax and some nifty lighting effects. There's quite a bit of scenic variety and you will find yourself leaping around in buildings, a crystalline cavern and a cave – where at one point you work your way upwards trying to avoid being caught by rising lava. Sprites flicker when a lot is happening onscreen, but the action remains easy to follow.

Whilst the visuals have improved over the course of the three games, the plot has got steadily more bonkers. This time around Ryu must make his way to the Castle Rock fortress where the big bad is using life energy flowing from an open seam between dimensions to perform experiments on people to create "Bio-noids". He also hopes to create a special Bio-noid using your corpse and naturally wants to wipe out all human life on earth. We've come a long way from wondering who killed Ryu's father.

Just like the previous games, Part 3 of Ryu's NES tale is tough. Enemies no longer respawn when defeated, but there are a lot of them to contend with and defeating one will often see another run onscreen to attack. The difficulty curve in the game is steady, with the number of enemies slowly increasing and obstacles getting tougher, but it is tough quite early on. The opening act should not cause too much trouble, but as act 2 begins there are sections where you must contend with a few different enemy types at once. At one point an enemy runs at you whilst two others bounce at you; judging the best way to deal with these two different threats would be tough enough, but then the game adds a third enemy type and two helicopter-like foes float down from above to attack. Oh, and you have to fight off these attackers whilst sinking in quicksand. There's many different types of enemy in the game with human opposition alongside mutated creatures resembling the Alien Xenomorph, lizard men and large-headed foes as well as a number of mechanical enemies too. In addition you will also contend with small platforms, moving platforms, spitting fireballs, spikes and crumbling walkways.

Practice helps with the game, be it through learning the best way to handle the different enemy types or simply remembering to turn around after hitting that one with the blade because a flying creature is about to bob onscreen for a sneaky attack. You can also ease the difficulty by simply taking your time; with respawning no longer a worry, you can just concentrate on what's onscreen and not run carelessly into danger. As before powerups can be collected in game providing you with special attacks to get you out of a tough spot or to help with inflicting damage on one of the boss characters. Unlike the previous games you can see what powerup is in each orb before you slash it open to collect - this means if you are happy with your current special there's no need to grab a replacement. A new special attack for this game sends a blade above and below you; it may not sound like it would be much use but is often the best way with dealing with an enemy who has chosen to attack from an inconvenient angle.

A new ability (at least to the NES games) that doesn't require a powerup sees Ryu grab the underside of platforms. Recalling his arcade days Ryu can shimmy along underneath or pull himself up to eliminate someone or collect an item. Tapping down with jump will allow you to drop below. There can be a slight irritation when a powerup is positioned underneath a platform as you may find yourself grabbing the platform rather than slashing the powerup, but the addition of the ability is a good one, adding some variety to the way you negotiate levels.

Several sound effects accompany the onscreen action such as beeps as you collect an item and a bursting sound as an enemy is dispatched. A new addition is the "ha" Ryu lets out with each swipe of his sword. The sounds are basic but work well. Also working well is the music which, despite the occasional beep and whine, provides tracks containing a mix of excitement, action and sometimes intense sounds, fitting well with Ryu's determination to complete the task at hand.

The difficulty ensures there's a lot of longevity in the game, and with only five continues - until mastered - clearing it is not easy. It can frustrate but the running, wall jumping and swinging up onto platforms remains fun as you work out how best to use Ryu's abilities to clear the levels. Failing that you can use the Wii U's ability to create a restore point to ease the troubles caused in this conclusion to Ryu's NES adventures.

Conclusion

It's another NES Ninja Gaiden game and just like the two before it, it's tough but a lot of fun to play. The story is complete guff but impressive visuals and decent music compliment the excellent gameplay. Deciding to tweak, rather that fix what isn't broken, Tecmo provided a game quite similar to its predecessors but with the ability to swing up on to platforms and mix things up a little. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (and indeed the whole NES trilogy) is a challenging gaming experience worthy of your time.