Tale of Two Halves.
Platform: Wii-U / Price: £47.99 / Time Played: About 9 Hours
It’s last chance saloon for the game which last year saw me label it a wasted effort.
To say Tomonobu Itagaki’s absence was felt in Ninja Gaiden 3 would be an understatement; the game suffered tremendously for trying to stray from its otherwise successful formula; the change of note in the narrative was keenly felt throughout and ended up leaving no more than a bitter taste with some of the “choices” we got to make, and the difficulty was toned way down. It was a pale imitation of the franchise only recently usurped by Dark Souls as one of the most punishing and rewarding games out there. And the lack of dismemberment and decapitations certainly didn’t help, a staple of the grossly overtly ultra-violent franchise that was conspicuous by its absence, trying desperately to be taken seriously and yet it had dulled its own blade – if not put a rubber tube over it, meaning rather than a clean cut, it was just messy bludgeoning.
It’s also true that if there is one thing the Nintendo Wii-U is crying out for right now is games. Any games. As much as I am sure many of us love Zombi-U, we’re waiting for the next surprise to come along. Whilst Nintendo Direct definitely gave us cautious optimism with their release schedule, it doesn’t help them right now, in there here and now. Where everything that is happening now is happening now now (I said I could get Spaceballs references into my stuff!). Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a second attempt to get it right, and on a brand new system to boot. It’s a risky endeavour but to give Team Ninja some credit in their new form, what they have come up with for Razor’s Edge is surprisingly a lot better than it could and perhaps should have been.
It’s true, Razor’s Edge is a significant update and improvement over the previous release in many ways and most significantly of all is that the challenge, the reason people loved the series, is back and as demanding and brutal as ever. The U-Pad is surprisingly okay with this – certainly not as good as the X-Box 360 controller, but certainly a lot closer to it than the now ill-fated PlayStation controller. A swipe here, a tap there, it’s all designed to be as tactile and as responsive and possible and for the most part, it really is quite a surprisingly put-together system. The game is sometimes a little eager to throw too much at you in the name of difficulty and it can come off as cheap, but these moments don’t detract from the fundamental changes to the system at large – with weapon choices and more graceful, fluid and intelligent control mechanics allowing those who practice with the ferocity of previous incarnations of the series to look graceful and deadly all at the same time. There is a certain satisfaction now at clearing things, as limbs divorce from their attached joints in a manner that would send most lawyers into an orgasmic trance, as the deadly ballet of the series returns and feels much more in keeping with how the series was, rather than what the original Ninja Gaiden 3 did.
Gone is the frankly heinous murder of unarmed opponents, something that left a distinctly dishonourable and bitter taste in the mouth originally. Gone too are the quick-time scenes that took their cues from Devil May Cry 4, asking you to hit some buttons in order to make something cool happen (and it’s rarely as cool as Ninja Blade was anyway!). The self-loathing and soul-searching narrative is stripped down to the barest of essentials, leaving you with more time to just get on with the slice and dice, and to be left wallowing in the inherently madcap encounters which includes a robot dinosaur in there. Because Japan LOVES their Godzilla-style stuff, right?
These were my biggest criticisms with Ninja Gaiden 3, and it would appear that for the most part, it’s been redesigned for those of us who were super-critical. But of course, perfection is hard and forgiveness doesn’t come easy.
The game in itself hasn’t changed that much in terms of content, which means that this is very much a selective niche remake of a game for an audience that may not exist on a new games console right now. Whilst the combat is much improved, there is still a lack of variety and it can become tiring and repetitive at times. The camera isn’t terribly great and with much less narrative intrusion, your hands are always on the go, this is hardly a terrible thing but it’s certainly something to be mindful of.
And the increase in difficulty might make the combat more entertaining but it makes the set-piece bosses actually rather frustrating. They now are less aggressive and more tactical, which means ducking in, getting a hit or two in and getting out to avoid taking too much in the way of damage. I cannot see this working at any point in context and it’s much the same problem as most ‘boss battles’ have in the Brawler genre; you want to give people something to remember but you can’t always balance the challenge with the spectacle. Bayonetta is one of the very few to get this balance right, and again, it’s a presence that looms over Razor’s Edge with a suitably bespectacled eye. When the genre already HAS a valid example of a game balancing style, content and challenge, you have to up your game. And Razor’s Edge, whilst so much improved, was starting from a terribly dark place anyway.
So much of the story and parts feel disjointed – as if the rotting parts had been carefully sliced off by Ryu Hayabusa himself. And yet, there’s no attempt to disguise this either. What we end up with is a surgically enhanced body but no limbs, nothing that can slap you or kick you as part of the deal. The bloodied stumps are more noticeable than ever before, and the missing parts only serve to add more confusion to the pot, rather than less. Even the inclusion of Dead or Alive friend and favourite Ayane cannot really lift (or lower) the tone. Whilst she is still a great character, she still feels superficial to it all, fanservice rather than meaningful content. And she feels no different to Ryu in terms of handling – all you end up doing is switching a PVC-clad ninja to a massively buxom ninja instead. More could have been done. She’s great fanservice, no doubt… but it still comes across as a little cheap and tawdry.
If anything, I’d say the problem that Razor’s Edge has is that it has tried too hard to make a pile of trash more palatable for its long-standing fans, and it’s gone some way towards that. But you get the feeling that with so much effort involved and with such expense, it could and probably would have been a much better idea to just start from scratch with a whole new story, a whole new game and build something more tolerable with stronger foundations than Ninja Gaiden 3 could ever have hoped to have. What is left is a compromise – a game caught between two worlds, a game of two halves. And whilst it’s clearly better in a lot of ways, it was never really going to be anything more than an average compromise between two distinctly different markets crying out for different things.
It’s a significant improvement, but this ugly duckling was never going to be a swan. For a game with such deep-set flaws, it’s amazing that they managed to do what they did. Razor’s Edge proves that there is still a competent and significantly intelligent force lurking at Team Ninja, it’s a pity then that they were shackled to the shambling corpse of Ninja Gaiden 3. Had they been given a chance to do something new, no doubt with this improvement that they would have come up with something really rather special.
Instead, it seems Tecmo and Team Ninja bosses were more interested in saving face, than moving on. It really is time to bury Ninja Gaiden 3. Razor’s Edge gives us hope for the future; it’s a shame for this leg, that they were so chained to the past…
- Surprisingly nice controls.
- Much improved combat.
- Limbs and heads fly in style.
- A lot of the bad story was removed.
- Camera, camera, camera.
- Boss fights are just not well balanced.
- The story left is a little… shallow.
- £47.99 for this is way, way, WAAAAAAAY too much money. Sorry. It just is.
- The game is still Ninja Gaiden 3.
- Ayane. She’s awesome. Just not as awesome here.
- A little too crazy at times.
- Why didn’t they just do a brand new game, than improve on such a bad one?
OVERALL CONCLUSION – Ey?
What has been done with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is significant and impressive, but ultimately it only goes to show how wrong the original game was in its entirety. Whilst the game is certainly tighter and more difficult, it’s also missing a heart and soul to go with it. Not even big-boobs Ayane can save this game. With such talent wasted on improving such a shoddy game to this level, you have to wonder why the people funding this didn’t just let it die and let the team make a new – and more awesome – Ninja Gaiden game instead? This is okay. But it’s never really more than “okay” either…