Ninja Gaiden 3: The Ancient Ship of Doom
Box Shot
Ninja Gaiden 3: The Ancient Ship of Doom
Platform: NES
Publisher: Tecmo
Designer: Tecmo
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1991
Reviewed by: Deuce

As one of the (if not the absolute) biggest Ninja Gaiden diehard freaks on the planet, I was anxiously awaiting this one. Part II was a grand step up from the first one. "How could part III break that stride?" I thought. Boy, did I think wrong. When I finally got this game, the very first thing that struck me was the cinema scene graphics. They had gotten worse, and looked less detailed. The reason for this was the lack of "blacklining," or the outliving of the graphics in black, to make detail stand out more. This was the first disappointment.

"Okay," I thought, "I'm sure the plot is going to be cool and the game graphics will be even better." Wrong. Where I was hoping for a direct continuation of the story, I was given a very strange story about someone framing Ryu for murdering Irene. In the very beginning, no less. Irene was dead?! I was not happy. Ninja Gaiden III had two strikes against it, and I hadn't even pressed START yet. Never one to give up so easily, I bravely went forward, and began playing the game. The music was nice enough, and occasionally quite good.

I couldn't help noticing, however, that the game somehow moved more slowly. The fast-and-frenetic pace of the first two games had taken a mild sedative. Ryu jumped slower and farther, and the enemies also attacked more slowly. However, this was to prove beneficial, as I soon discovered, much to my dismay, that enemies did twice as much damage to you as in the previous two games. And often, their attacks were utterly relentless.

The new powerups were kind of nice, but nothing spectacular. I was disappointed with the loss of the reddish-orange "phantom doubles" from the second game. A very nice element of skill had been removed there, I felt. And, in what was probably the biggest visual blow for me, the backgrounds lost the very nice pseudo-3D look which game them a sense of depth. Tecmo tried to make up for this by including lots of detail and extra animation and palette changes, but it wasn't as good as the old style, in my opinion.

Unlike the first two games, the cinema sequences between stages seemed rushed together, and did nothing to really advance the plot. There really were no dramatic scenes, and the drive to continue for the sake of seeing more story was not there. The personality which had been built up for Ryu in the first two games was missing, and the new characters seemed to have no real motivation for what they did.

But by far, the biggest downfall of this game was the obscene difficulty. Many people consider the first Ninja Gaiden to be hard. And it was, I don't dispute that... but I was once good enough to beat that game on one life. No small feat. I've never managed such a thing with part III. The difficulty of MANY of the stages is such that there will be as many as seven or eight enemies attacking at any given time, always placed just perfectly, so as to deny you passage. This game is an exercise in hair-yanking frustration, particularly due to the limited number of continues.

Now, it certainly sounds like I'm bashing the game. I'm not, I'm really not. I just think Tecmo made some major mistakes. The game engine isn't bad. The graphics aren't HORRIBLE (except for the cinema scenes), but they could stand improvement. But the storyline was dead in the water, and the difficulty was nothing short of infuriating. Not a bad game... but definitely a very poor sequel. I'm all for Tecmo giving it the Dracula X 32-bit treatment and really livening things up. If a new Ninja Gaiden game comes out for the anemic Nintendo 64, I'm going to see about launching a few ICBMs at Tecmo's main offices. This series should not be butchered by making it 3D, especially not on THAT system.

Worth checking out, at least.

Reviewed By: Kurt Kalata
Ninja Gaiden 3 is one of those games that people seem to hate before they even play it. After all, many people have played the first two...but have "heard" that the third one is awful. Although it is true that it doesn't meet the standards set up by this awesome series, Ninja Gaiden 3 is still a game worth checking out.

Well, one of the most important things about Ninja Gaiden is its plot. In the intro, Irene Lew (CIA agent who helped Ryu Hayabusa in the previous Ninja Gaiden games) is killed by a Ryu look-alike. It's up the real Ryu to investigate the scene of the crime. It is here that he discovers a lab with all sorts of horrible experiments. After some more adventures, Ryu meets up with some strange guy who tells him to check out the "Castle Rock Fortress". Ryu, being the gullible chap that he is, follows this guys advice through more mayhem and madness. Eventually, a whole plot is revealed about Foster (the FBI guy in Ninja Gaiden 1) has been experimenting with something called Life Energy, which he can use to create powerful creatures known as Bio-noids. He also happened to stumble upon another dimension with so much Life Energy that he could destroy the world! He plans to do this with an ancient battleship... yep, you guessed it, the Ancient Ship of Doom from the title.

It's not the worst plot in existence, but I expected a little more. Even though Ninja Gaiden 2 had the basic "save the girl" plot, this one seems to have little of the flavor, or drama, of the previous two games. Plus, it seems to have come out of nowhere. What happened after Ryu resurrected Irene at the end of Ninja Gaiden 2 by sacrificing his Dragon Sword? There is absolutely no mention of Ashtar or any of the events in Ninja Gaiden's like they ignored it. The dialogue is also very poorly written, like the translator had only taken a years worth of high school Japanese.

On to the game itself: first off, you'll notice that it plays a bit slower. Ryu doesn't walk as fast, his jumps are more "floaty" and enemies don't come at the speed or ferocity of the original. I prefer the speed of the other Ninja Gaiden games, although the slower pace does help you defeat many enemies at key points, and makes jumping a bit easier. On the plus side, you don't fly back as far when you get hit, and when you walk backwards off the screen, the enemies don't reappear. Additionally, you can now grapple onto certain surfaces and hang on from underneath them. Vertical areas have now been introduced as well. Unfortunately, the spirit doubles have been removed and replaced with a sword extension. Although very cool, I miss the shadows! The normal shuriken has also been replaced by the Vacuum Wave, which shoots two waves of energy up and down, like a limited boomerang.

Ninja Gaiden has been known for frustration, but not at the level in which this game takes it. Enemies give you much more damage now. Instead of respawning at the last screen change when you die, you must start at the beginning of the level. Many of the levels are very long, so this gets old quick. Continue, and you start at the beginning of the act. Worse yet....there are limited continues. The whole point of this series was to learn, through repetition, the patterns of the levels and enemies. It's gets incredibly annoying when you must restart the game from scratch before you get enough practice at a level. The real bitch about this is that the Japanese version, Ninja Ryukenden 3, is a much easier game that even included passwords. WHY?!?!?

Now, the graphics, at first glance, looks much better and more detailed. They are nowhere near as grainy as the other games in the series, and they even gave Ryu a little animated bandana. The backgrounds are even better, especially in Act 2-1, with the background and foreground scrolling of rocks. Unfortunately, the game looks very 2D now...they got rid of the isometric surfaces and all! The game looks great, but it doesn't look much like Ninja Gaiden anymore! The cutscenes aren't drawn very well, and very seldom is a background other than plain blue most everything looks rather sterile. Most fans of this series remember the music as being great, and this one is no different. Unfortunately, the music in the cutscenes is nowhere near as stirring as the other games, so that knocks it down a notch. Sound wise, one of the biggest inclusions is the voices that Ryu yells whenever he attacks or gets hit. Pretty cool. There is also a great variety of drums in the music.

I know, this entire review has been a comparison to the other games in the series. But it's hard not to compare when the game falls so short of expectations. It's a fun game, but the frustration factor, as detailed above, really kills it. Some of the levels, like in Act 7, can get incredibly hard. They could be tolerable if you were allowed to play them until you got sick of it...but only having five continues will probably just make you get more ticked off than necessary. The game gets pretty hard by Act 3-1, and skyrockets by Act 5. Ninja Gaiden 3 is still a very fun game, with plenty of the die hard action you'd expect, just don't expect to win.