tiistai 28. helmikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom (1991)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: June 1991
AVAILABLE ON: Lynx, NES, Wii Virtual Console

The first Ninja Gaiden series came to a head with 1991's Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom. For the remainder of the 90's, Ryu Hayabusa went on to star in a few stand-alone Ninja Gaiden titles for Sega's systems, as well as a prominent playable character in Tecmo's popular fighting game franchise Dead or Alive - which, of course, is more famous for the measurements of its female characters. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom never made it to Europe, and the name Ninja Gaiden wasn't really known in Europe before the series was rebooted in 2004. Thus one of the most sought after games for the Nintendo Entertainment System around these parts is somewhat of a return to form after the disappointing Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos... but man. Dude. It will eat your balls for breakfast. It will eat your balls even if you don't own a pair.

Dead enough

Irene Lew gets killed in action, seemingly in Ryu's hands. With no recollection of the incident, Ryu investigates a secret laboratory that has something to do with the case Irene was working on. An encounter with an enigmatic scientist leads Ryu to the trail of an old acquaintance of his, who's building an army of bionoids - superhuman doppelgangers that gain their life energy from the interdimensional rift formed after Jaquio and the demon's defeat.

This is what we're going for. Good luck.
Tecmo gathered up another team of developers to work on Ninja Gaiden III, to draw a clear line between the game and its predecessors, but to retain - or reattain - the qualities that originally created the Ninja Gaiden magic: crazy plot twists, with dramatic visuals to go with it. Also, they kind of wanted to retain the basic plot outline revolving around ancient demons, but spice it up with a heavy dose of science fiction. I think that considering they had just a little over a year to work on a different but familiar Ninja Gaiden, the new team did a good job. In the plot's case, they just eventually made the mistake of blurting out that Ninja Gaiden III was a prequel to Ninja Gaiden II, in which Irene is very much alive. Like we'd ever get to the part in which the revelation is finally made, 'cause Ninja Gaiden III is one difficult game. Like Ghosts 'n Goblins difficult. That's difficult. Ah, hell: hard as fuck.

The larger colour palette comes with more pixels and thick outlines. The game still looks good - actually this is the best that actual gameplay graphics ever looked in the original series, but the cutscenes take another turn for the worse. I seriously think the cutscenes in the first Ninja Gaiden looked better. The level and character design kept getting better 'til the end. The music's altogether improved after the bunch of leftover tracks they stuffed into Ninja Gaiden II, but the sequencing's kind of icky. I honestly think they paid most attention to making the legendary Game Over theme sound the best it ever has. Which would make sense, 'cause Ninja Gaiden III is one difficult game. Like Battletoads difficult. That's diff... never mind.

Believe me, quicksand is the very least of your
troubles in this game.
The secondary weapons are altogether easier to use, and moreover easier to get to work on certain types of enemies, and the wall clinging ability works as perfectly as it possibly can in an 8-bit scheme. You can jump straight onto platforms that are either above you or straight forward, and it's effortless to get Ryu to jump off the wall. All the fancy knick-knacks that made no difference in Ninja Gaiden II - I'm speaking of the "shadow warriors" (no pun intended), of course - have been completely ousted. This is good, old-fashioned Ninja Gaiden, just the way it used to be and was meant to be, even back then. Or is it...?

Let's hack through Act 1. OK, there are enemies coming from everywhere. Not nearly from all eight directions as in Ninja Gaiden II, and not nearly at an equally rapid pace. I'm getting along just fine, here. The controls are great - I can even hang from the bottoms of certain types of platforms and climb forward, what a cool new trick! OK, that was part one of this act, and I'm still doing just fine. Uh oh, now I'm really getting it. I'm dead, that's quite all right, that's expected. I'm forced to start over from the beginning of the act, which causes my brain to freeze - the previous games had checkpoints at the start of each new block. In the next two seconds, while lost in my thoughts of how the hell could they just ravage out checkpoints like that, I'm mauled to death by a couple of robots. In two seconds. Let's try one more time. Nope, can't make it past those robots, what the hell am I doing wrong and why does it happen so fast? Oh, I see. I have 16 ticks of health... of which only 8 mean shit!!! This can't be happening. This is a Ninja Gaiden game. There have always been 16 ticks of health. 16 health points. 16 chances to get through one level, to the ultimate checkpoint. Sure, Ninja Gaiden III has those 16 health points on the screen there - but make no mistake about it, even the slightest bump will decrease your health by two whole points. It's still a Ninja Gaiden game. You know what's going to happen if you have half the chance of survival you had before. Did they make the levels any easier, then? Fuck no! Ninja Gaiden III has got to be one of the most difficult games I've ever played, throughout and back again.

This looks like some place on Planet Zebes.
The most important question there ever was about an installment in this particular franchise is: is it fun? Yes, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom is fun. Even more fun if you're into pain and torture. Not only are the checkpoints nearly gone - there will be a slight bit of forgiveness in that subject after you make it past the first act - but so are unlimited continues, as well as a password system. I know that you're thinking that Ninja Gaiden never had a password system, but it just so happens that the Japanese version of Ninja Gaiden III had one. The Jap version also had less enemies, unlimited continues and I'm guessing even the fast degradation of Ryu's life bar wasn't a problem. I never thought I'd witness an American localization going further in terms of difficulty than the original Japanese game.

What still it makes it fun and a slightly more interesting game to play than Ninja Gaiden II is the notably improved gameplay, and one focus being on delivering an elaborate and original story instead of just tinkering with some already used ideas, using the same basic outlines. Ninja Gaiden III is more of a real sequel, while Ninja Gaiden II felt like filler. Although I'm definitely not always in the mood of getting killed repeatedly like a regular Kenny before even reaching the third act and I'd rather go back to the first game any day to get my ass whooped, Ninja Gaiden III: Ancient Ship of Doom is a good secondary bringer of torture.

+ Has more original spirit in it than Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos, despite the different story
+ Notably improved controls and abilities
+ Good and smooth in-game graphics
+ Good music; lacking production, though 

- The cutscenes look good, but they looked better years back
- Whoever figured to reduce maximum health in Ninja Gaiden by a half was insane
- Limited continues, no checkpoints, no passwords; nothing to make you breathe easier

< 8.1 >

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