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Innovation is hard to come by when you’re a reasonably heavy-hitting game by a well known developer. But when Yosuke Hayashi took to the helm of Team Ninja and produced an altogether deeper and intriguing Ninja Gaiden 3, he took the original series mould and innovated to give the violence reason. Naturally, those who called for innovation actually disliked having it, and would much rather have everything back to the way it was before. Because of this Ninja Gaiden 3 hit a stumbling block when it came to market, it disappointed everyone. Now though, Team Ninja have a rare opportunity to have a second stab at success by releasing Ninja Gaiden 3 on Wii U. Thankfully they’ve gone and turned the unfortunate mess into something rather spectacular – if not something somewhat unoriginal.
Arriving in the same year of the series 25th anniversary, the Nintendo published Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a complete reworking of last years Xbox 360 and PS3 title. Think of it almost as Ninja Gaiden 3‘s Sigma release. Gone are the compelling, yet ultimately repetitive, cutting QTEs for finishers – now they all happen automatically, letting you revel in the gory action. Gone are the infuriating mission comms sections – instead replaced by radio chatter that carries on as you disembowel and butcher various foes. And, in an intriguing twist for a Nintendo published title, there is absolutely buckets of blood and foul language spouting from practically every orifice.
Not that that should be a selling point, but it pretty much is for any Ninja Gaiden fan. The dismemberment mechanic that was axed from Ninja Gaiden 3 is now back in pride of place, meaning that on top of the frenetic action you now have to deal with suicide attacks from desperate and vengeful armless and legless foes.
Quite honestly, it’s rather amazing to see just how different Team Ninja have managed to make Razor’s Edge. And that’s despite it sharing the same poorly voiced, poorly told, convoluted story of Ryu Hayabusa’s journey of atonement. Although, Ninja Gaiden games have never managed to hit storytelling on the head.
Usually when reviewing an updated port I’d point you on over to the original review and just detail the slight differences on offer, but this is essentially a completely different game. Aside from the overhauls I’ve already mentioned, Razor’s Edge is also incredibly beautiful – certainly benefiting from being released on Nintendo’ new hardware. Textures seem sharper and lighting has been improved, so environments and enemies look great even when you’re lopping off arms. Cutscenes still quite feel empty mind, but they only feature now and again so it’s not really an issue. It is also disappointing that there’s absolutely no option to switch to Japanese audio with English subtitles, especially as the American accents grate quickly and the faux British ones used to identify the bad guys are equally infuriating. You’ll regularly be wondering why an entire remote Japanese village speaks perfect English with an overt American accent?
That point aside, Razor’s Edge is bigger and harder than what was seen before, thus proving that Nintendo are very serious about winning back the ‘core’ market that they managed to lose with the Wii. AI has seen some improvements too, so now they know exactly how to put up a fight. The purple haired Ayane also features again and, although she only has two of her own levels, you can play through any level with her – and free downloadable characters Momiji and Katsumi – in a new Chapter Challenge mode. On top of that, the Karma upgrade system returns once more in so you can learn new moves, upgrade health and Ninpo, change your outfit, and improve your weapons.
Yes, that’s right, you can now use and switch between six different weapons just like you could in Ninja Gaiden 2.Although you can’t change them on the fly, so that curtails the opportunity for creating mind-bending combos, but it’s better than just using your bog-standard katana for the entire game and provides you with enough reason to play back through bosses and levels again.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, which is largely similar to that of Ninja Gaiden 3′s thanks to a Clan Battle mode. As this is essentially a Director’s Cut version though, Wii U owners are treated to a new Shadows of the World mode known as Ninja Trails. This is an online co-op mode that includes a single-player or two player survival challenge that pits you against a wave of enemies – including previous Ninja Gaiden bosses. Essentially it’s a mode similar to the Test of Valor skirmishes that can be found in the story mode via hidden crystal skulls.
GamePad support is also strong, allowing you to not only play the entire game using the GamePad screen instead of a TV, but also to access menus quickly, see move combo lists, switch weapons and use ninpo. It’s very handy to have, although personally I think a Pro Controller would be a better fit for most ‘core’ players due to the chunky GamePad causing the onset of cramp during prolonged play.
Another slight issue with Razor’s Edge is the truly peculiar fact that no QTE prompts ever show up if you switch off the tutorial prompts. Usually, these disappear after the first level, or indeed after the first instance you come up against a new feature. Here though they stay throughout unless you turn them off. They’ll continually appear to tell you things you already know, with annoying diagrams that choke your view of the screen. Without them, though, you have no idea how to deal with many of the rather engrossing QTE events. Most of the attacking ones allow you to bash either the ‘X’ or ‘Y’ button, but some require you to dodge, guard or jump – yet you’re reduced to mashing everything until the desired effect happens. And that’s all because you don’t want to have to deal with being held by the hand with tutorials. It’s just poor design really.
There’s another elephant in the room too, and that’s the games absurdity. While it doesn’t really mar the enjoyment you gain from it, this is no longer the nuanced and thoughtful experience of before. As mentioned earlier, the close up QTE bone-slicing mechanic of the original has gone. No longer do you hear your victims cries for help and their lives as you slice through them – giving your violence pause for thought. Now they’re just another foul mouthed obstacle to carve through. This is rather jarring when the entire story revolves around Ryu becoming cursed for spilling the blood of countless victims – yet clearly it’s not enough of an issue to stop him tearing absolutely everything he comes across in two.
Ultimately though, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is what every Ninja Gaiden fan had been waiting for since Ninja Gaiden 2 (or Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 if you played it on PlayStation 3). It’s certainly lost some of the innovation and genre bending appeal that used to be there, but at the same time it’s recaptured the essence of the series, upped the challenge and – as Nintendo are surely hoping – thrust the Wii U right into the mature market. If you were disappointed by Ninja Gaiden 3 and are still thirsty for some more traditional Ninja action, then Razor’s Edge is exactly what you’re looking for.
Audio/Visual – 4/5: Strong soundtrack but an irritating English dub mars how brilliantly gorgeous – and gory – it all looks.
Gameplay – 4/5: Back to how it used to be, slightly repetitive, incredibly frenetic fun and absolutely, masochistically, hard.
Innovation – 3/5: Having torn back Ninja Gaiden 3‘s model back to the series core it’s lost some innovation, but GamePad support helps innovate slightly.
Value – 4/5: Pricey compared to the previous game, but it’s essentially a brand new title so you get a fair whack for your money.
Final Score: 3.5/5