Combat is fast, challenging, and extremely satisfying; dismemberment is back; leveling up adds depth; Pro Controller feels great; Ayane missions add longevity to the story; multiple difficulty modes; new weapons means more ways to slice and dice enemies; giant T-Rex boss battle
Camera may be your most deadly enemy; difficulty can be crushing and demoralizing; Hyabusa occasionally controls wonky; long load times between missions; graphics aren't as good as the 360/PS3 versions (but does have improved frame rate)
What comes to mind when you hear the phrases “bloodiest game ever” and “infuriatingly difficult”? If anything other than Ninja Gaiden popped into your head then you need to re-evaluate yourself as a gamer, because this is a series known for those two qualities probably more so than any other franchise out there.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge hits Wii U only eight months after its initial launch on Xbox 360 and PS3, and tries to make a quantum leap away from the stigma attached to that first release. In other words, Razor’s Edge attempts to right the wrong that was the original Ninja Gaiden 3 by adding in a slew of new features and at the same time tweaking some of the mechanics that were already in place. In this regard, Razor’s Edge mostly succeeds because it offers a superior experience to that of the original title, and feels more like what Team Ninja wanted to release the first time around. That doesn’t mean it’s without issues, though, because it’s still a flawed game, but this time at least some of those flaws get swept under the rug thanks to the improvements made just for this version.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge stars everyone’s favorite Dragon Sword-wielding, intrepidly cloaked assassin, Ryu Hyabusa. The game doesn’t waste time in the beginning by setting you up with an elaborate back story– it simply provides you the essentials of your mission and thrusts you headlong into battle. This approach is warranted, expected, and much appreciated given that Ninja Gaiden has always been about the choppy-choppy, and not the talky-talky.
That said, there’s still plenty to like here if you dig the Gaiden lore, as the plot is one of the more interesting storylines of the bunch, even though it is noticeably disjointed at times. Mysterious assailants are plotting to destroy the world with a small army at their side whilst trying to thwart Ryu’s efforts in stopping said hostile takeover. It’s all just generally over-the-top, melodramatic, even bizarre at times, but it’s also a ton of fun if you’re happy to accept that everything is grade-A, top-of-the-line nonsense. The whole narrative is ripe with grand set pieces, too– I mean, at one point you fight a giant T-Rex and blow him up with your bow and arrow by shooting a missile that gets lodged inside his mouth. If that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.
Enough of the story, though– because that’s not why you want to play this game– let’s skip to the meat and potatoes of Razor’s Edge: the gameplay. Ninja Gaiden 3, like those before it, is about slicing and dicing every enemy within sight in the most stylish and gory way possible. With the game’s initial release back in March, we missed out on that gory part thanks to the developer’s decision to leave out the trademark dismemberment for which the series is renowned. This massively upset Ninja Gaiden loyalists, and rightfully so, but thankfully their cries did not fall on deaf ears because Razor’s Edge brings amputation back in full effect. Seriously, this is one of the bloodiest games ever, and it’s marvelous– and it’s made all the better by how much more fluid Ryu controls now.
Combos, combos, combos, that’s the name of the game here. You’ll spend most of the game’s six hour campaign duelling baddies, so it’s important that Ryu has an arsenal of moves to dispose of his opposition. That’s the case here as Hyabusa possesses an impressive number of totally flashy ways to eliminate his threats. Kills of spectacle are a regular thing, and it never gets tiresome to watch your sword tear into someone and rip them into two, but trust me when I say you’ll need every single move available to you in order to avoid definite death.
Fortunately, avoiding death can be accomplished thanks to a handy dodge maneuver that allows Ryu to coolly slide out of harm’s way, and then follow-up with a pulverizing blow. To supplement your dodging, you’ll have at your clearance light and heavy attacks, with room for a jump and tertiary command that consists of something like letting loose a hail of throwing stars. Combining buttons after building up your Ki gauge will also let you unleash a Ninpo attack, which is essentially a giant special move which can obliterate enemies. Mixing and matching is a great way to dish out the punishment, but you’ll spend most of your time executing the aforementioned combos with those heavy and light attacks. Each of these assaults looks a little different depending on the weapon you’ve equipped, though– meaning to say, you can wield several new and old weapons. Moreover, having this array of weaponry allows you to find something that complements your fighting style since each weapon has its own move list. Better yet, each weapon, as well as items and costumes, can be unlocked and upgraded through currency earned by being a maniac in battle and decapitating tons of bad guys.
Even with all of these great new features and touched up mechanics, Razor’s Edge has some snags along the way. For starters, Ryu himself controls in one of two ways: silky smooth or with the grace of a Sherman tank. In combat, where control matters most, you’ll have a decent enough time making him do what you want, and executing those desires with a certain degree of precision; but this is mostly due to the fact that you can hammer on the attack and/or dodge-slide button, and you’ll sort of auto-target each enemy. Thus, controlling Ryu’s body isn’t much of an issue. Where this becomes a glaring problem is during the boss battles where you’ll need to run around and dodge certain attacks. Ryu doesn’t take turns sharply at times, and he can get a little confused as to which direction to go, which is so angering when it repeatedly results in a swift death. His movement isn’t all to blame for this, however, as the camera is still markedly awful at times.
This was one of the game’s largest hang-ups in its first release: the camera can act as the most deadly enemy of all. It’ll get stuck behind giant bosses, and trust me there are plenty of those, it’ll swing to and fro at all the wrong times in battle, leaving you with severe blind spots, and centering it on Ryu with the right shoulder button doesn’t really help when the game’s nature is so fast and intense that a single move can send Ryu into a direction not predicted or captured by re-orienting the camera. This game is hard by design; there’s no need to make it harder by shoddy technical hiccups.
And yes, as mentioned, this game is hard– like morale-crushingly hard at times. The first release of Ninja Gaiden 3 was a bit of a let-down because it didn’t possess that I’m-so-mad-I’m-going-to-break-my-controller-in-half level of hardship, and we masochistic gamers wailed tears of disappointment because of it. I can only assume Team Ninja heard the fans’ outbursts, and said, “All right, they want hard? We’ll give them one of the hardest Ninja Gaiden experiences, like, ever.” And on that front, mission accomplished. The difficulty can be crushing at times, but fortunately it’s usually fair. In other words, if you die in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, it’s because you simply aren’t good enough to progress further, not because the game was cheap and cheated itself to victory. Just be prepared to die, and die a lot. Fortunately, there’s an easy mode (and a hard mode if you’re someone who likes to inflict pain upon themselves), for the more casual player to enjoy what the game has to offer.
If you’ve had enough of the AI whooping up on you, though, you can always take a break and engage in some multiplayer goodness. It’s the standard deathmatch/team-deathmatch stuff, but its inclusion is welcomed, and moreover, it’s great to see version parody with the 360 and PS3 iterations. Of course, the addition of Dead or Alive veteran Ayane is also great to see. You can now play through several missions with the duel-wielding ninjette, who actually plays pretty differently from Ryu, and has her own story. Interestingly enough, I sometimes enjoyed playing as Ayane more than Ryu. Nevertheless, this feels like such a great adjunct as well, and one that bolsters the game’s other new features. There are also extra challenge missions and collectibles to find in each stage to add even more longevity.
One area that Razor’s Edge isn’t so impressive is in the area of graphics. To put it plainly, they aren’t as sharp as those found in the 360 or PS3 versions; character models look great, but everything else lacks fine detail. Because of this, however, there’s been a trade-off; one of the reasons the original game was so unplayable was because of the miserable frame rate that was the epitome of erratic. Here, as a result of the slight drop in graphical prowess, the frame rate is pretty solid. It will still occasionally dip on you, mainly when there are a lot of particle effects on-screen at once, but it’s so infrequent that it’s hardly consequential. On the audio front, voice-overs range from good to not so much, and the soundtrack is balls-to-the-walls rocking, which is quite perfect given the nature of the game. The one most obvious complaint is with the use of the recycled phrases said by enemies while in battle. You’ll hear them spout out the same trash over and over… and then over again, which becomes obnoxious.
It should also be noted that Razor’s Edge is actually best played with the Pro Controller. The GamePad’s functionality is mostly relegated to displaying your combos and stats, but it generally doesn’t do a whole lot to enhance the experience. The Pro Controller feels right and like the way the game was meant to be played; so shelling out the cash for one would be wise to enjoy Ninja Gaiden 3 to the fullest extent.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a sound package that makes good on many of Team Ninja’s original promises of what to expect with Hyabusa’s third outing. In truth, this is the game the developers should have released the first time around. At its core, Razor’s Edge is a fast, flashy, and brutal brawler that does not pull any punches. Better yet, you can now dismember and decapitate your way to victory, which is sure to delight Gaiden enthusiasts. It has some inherent mechanical issues, but it also has a lot to offer. As it is, it’s not perfect, but it’s bloody fun when everything is working the way it should.