In March of this year, Team Ninja and Tecmo released Ninja Gaiden 3. It was notable for the fact that it was the first game in the series to be released since former director Tomonobu Itagaki left Team Ninja 4 years ago. - and for a while, it seemed like he took all the talent with him. In short, Ninja Gaiden 3 was not a good game. Refreshingly, it looks like Team Ninja has managed to take the criticisms of the original title to heart and, in doing so, they’ve turned a poor game into one of the better titles in the Wii U’s launch catalogue.
The story follows series protagonist and legendary ninja badass Ryu Hayabusa as he is sent by a secret Japanese government agency to London to tackle the Lords of Alchemy, a mysterious terrorist group. During a fight with the leader, the Regent of the Mask, Ryu becomes cursed; his trusty Dragon Sword having been infused in his arm, and infected with the blood of the hundreds of lives he’s taken throughout the years. With his arm slowly killing him from the inside, Ryu needs to find a way to undo the curse, stop the LOA and save the world.
As with the original release, the biggest problem NG3 Razor’s Edge faces is that the plot takes itself way too seriously, essentially sapping the fun out of the whole thing. The game tries multiple times to humanize Ryu by having him forge a bond with a mute little girl, which just feels awkward. There’s also an attempt to keep players guessing with plenty of double crosses and secrets, but you can see all of them coming a mile away, and none of them are particularly interesting.
Gameplay-wise, if you’ve played any of the previous Ninja Gaiden games (or any similar hack and slash titles), you’ll know what to expect. You guide Ryu along a linear path, lots of enemies surround you, you eviscerate them all and then move on to the next area – rinse and repeat to fade out .
The biggest gripe about Ninja Gaiden 3 was how easy it was. Compared to the earlier games in the series, the difficulty in NG3 was downright laughable. Razor’s Edge fixes this by upping the aggression of the enemies rather than having them stand around begging for mercy. Players should be prepared to die several dozen times during to some really challenging boss fights, but thankfully, there’s also an much easier “Hero” difficulty for more casual players to ensure that they don’t feel left behind.
The combat has been upgraded from NG3, feeling much more fluid and adding plenty of depth to the gameplay. After killing a certain number of enemies, Ryu goes into the all new Bloody Rage mode; which doubles the amount of Karma points he gains, allowing you to buy new techniques, new magic “Ninpo” attacks and upgrade your weapons.
Speaking of weapons, Ryu also has whole lot more at his disposal this time around. Rather than simply use one sword through the game, you’ve got four more weapons at your disposal. From the super-fast ninja talons, to the massive Scythe; each weapon adds some variety and depth to the combat and offers plenty of combos to perfect.
Team Ninja has also gotten altered of some of the more questionable gameplay decisions. For example, during certain key moments in the game, the curse on Ryu’s arm would flare up causing Ryu to limp towards enemies and dispatch them with one-hit kills – instead, here, the game transports you to a netherworld of sorts where Ryu maintains his speed and fights through a constantly draining health bar. It’s a solid way to keep up the momentum and ensures the game no longer comes to a jarring, screeching halt.
Unfortunately, the excessively overused quick-time events from the last game remain, and are still as annoying as ever. One neat addition is the added help in the form of fellow Dead or Alive vet Ayane, who gets two brand missions of her own. Although they don’t add much to the story, they do offer a fun little distraction to the main game, while offering a little extra to Wii U owners.
Visually, Razor’s Edge fares quite well. The action runs at 60fps, and the Wii U does a fine job at keeping everything smooth and responsive for the most part. Occasionally there are moments where the controls feel a touch unresponsive, however, and the frame rate drops if too many things are going on at once, but it doesn’t happen often enough to make it a major issue.
The game makes minor use of the Wii U GamePad, using it to view possible combos, as well allowing you to quickly switch between your weapons, Ninpo and view your Ninja sense with a simple tap of the touch screen. It’s not much, but at least it adds something to the experience without feeling forced.
The online multiplayer consists of versus matches for up to 8 players. Unfortunately at the time of review, it was proving nearly impossible to find an active lobby. The only match we could get was a 1 on 1 battle that last about 3 minutes or so – not really enough for us to pass too much comment on. There’s also an unlockable co-op mode for Ninja Trials, which are essentially survival missions for those who want to eek every last drop out of the game.
With Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, Team Ninja has done the impossible and pulled a decent game from the wreckage of the original. The story still sucks, there are a few technical issues and the QTEs are still annoying as all hell, but most of the gameplay problems have been addressed. The added difficulty, new weapons and all-new character chapters provide the much-needed variety the original version sorely lacked. Although it doesn’t reach the heights of it’s predecessors, at least we’re now confident that Team Ninja can get Ryu back in full form for his next killing spree.