It isn’t often that a developer is granted the opportunity to redeem themselves from a negatively received product. Ninja Gaiden 3 was met with much criticism early last year, regardless of its welcome new direction. Yet, in seeking to once again rejuvenate ties with their hardcore audience, Nintendo pursued Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge exclusively for Wii U seeing Team Ninja met with a chance at redemption.
The story begins with Japan’s Self-Defence Force requesting the aid of legendary ninja Ryu Hayabusa. London has been taken over by a terrorist cell that calls themselves the “Lords of Alchemy,” murdering civilians across the capital and have kidnapped the Prime Minister. They’ll only answer to Hayabusa himself, so he has no choice but to comply in globe-trotting to neutralise the threat.
Nearing completion of his opening mission Hayabusa encounters the cult’s leader, the Regent of the Mask. After a particularly even-sided battle, the Regent curses Hayabusa with the “Grip of Murder.” Such affliction visibly mutates his right arm, causing his body to become ravaged by the souls of the thousands that he has killed and which hungers for more.
He flees the mansion in panic, soon learning that the Lords of Alchemy plan to annihilate the world if each nation doesn’t submit to their control within seven days. Once recovered, Hayabusa sets out to stop them, as well hoping to discover a cure to rid him of the curse.
Such a quest takes you across the globe, with Team Ninja’s unending perseverance for quality in cinematics and game design shining throughout. Ayane, who some may recognise from Dead or Alive, also appears within two entirely new chapters exclusive to the Wii U version that extends a further perspective to the storyline.
If there’s one thing Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge isn’t short on, its blood. Combat proves fast, fluid and responsive, with the return of dismemberment greeting plenty a gruesome moment. You’ll employ the use of Quick Attacks (Y), Strong Attacks (X), Shuriken (A) and Ninpo (A+X) to defeat your opponents, with unlockable skills allowing you to alter the dynamic of your combat approach. Alternate weaponry is also welcome, with players sure to find a favourite.
Once you’ve sliced a number of enemies in combat, the Grip of Murder’s thirst for blood will be temporarily satisfied and your arm will visibly glow red. By holding X, the player can then unleash a devastating attack that will see Hayabusa speedily attack his foes.
What can easily become frustrating is just how much is going on at any given moment, for Ninja Gaiden is a world in which helicopters and infantry fire missiles into the midst of their allies without hesitation. You can use your Bow to pick those responsible off from afar, but this still grates on the experiences.
Such sentiment is heightened when battling the game’s bosses, which, even on Normal, provide an unbalanced challenge. Even the first boss fight took me at least an hour to best, which felt enormously gratifying when I eventually did so.
Some may welcome such diverse challenge, but this ultimately proves of detriment to the game. With enemies regularly joining the fray, when you’re mindlessly hacking a target to pieces you won’t be able to keep a watchful eye out for incoming projectiles. This occurs regularly, unnecessarily robbing you of valuable health.
It became so problematic for me, that I had to drop the game’s difficulty from Normal and play on the easiest setting, Hero. In your efforts to prevail on the higher difficulties, just be prepared to die repeatedly. I daren’t even see what playing on Hard must be like.
Character evolution returns in the form of the Karma system, players rewarded with expendable points to level up through killing enemies and completing objectives. These may be spent on upgrading the level of your weapons, Ninpo, raising Hayabusa’s health or purchasing additional skills.
Visually, the game can be incredibly stunning at times, Falcon Dives providing some truly thrilling moments throughout Hayabusa’s quest as he lunges at through the skies. Yet playing on the Wii U GamePad screen sees some noticeable graphical reduction, even though the frame rate remains consistent.
Beyond completion, Team Ninja have incorporated a range of bonus modes gathered under the overarching title ‘Shadows of the World.’ You assume the role of an unknown ninja, tasked with taking on trials and challenging other players online to earn Karma on your journey to become an ultimate ninja.
You’re able to customise the appearance of your ninja before heading into the two available modes. Ninja Trials sees you test your skills, either alone or with another play co-operatively, as you take on increasingly challenging waves of enemies that include bosses from the previous Ninja Gaiden games. Whereas Clan Battle sees you fight in versus matches with up to 8 players online, through use of the Nintendo Network. Karma gathered from each may then be spent on purchasing skills, in a similar fashion to that of the single-player story mode.
Players can also look forward to free downloadable content available at launch, which will see Momiji and Kasumi introduced as playable characters within the Chapter Challenges and Ninja Trials modes.
The use of the Wii U GamePad regrettably underwhelms, especially after having seen how creative Team Ninja were in using the Nintendo DS’ dual-screens for Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. It simply provides quick access buttons for changing weapons, casting Ninpo, unlocking Ninja Skills and pointing yourself in the right direction. A combo list is also present for reference, yet this remains static and unchanged as the player hammers out varying attacks.
Blood soaked, battle-hardened, and unashamedly gory, Ryu Hayabusa’s latest quest is well worth embarking upon, even if it doesn’t amount to be Team Ninja’s best.
Version Tested: Wii U
Review copy provided by Nintendo