Game Review: Ninja Gaiden III
Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom

Ninja Gaiden III Title Screen

  • Publisher: Tecmo
  • Developer: Tecmo
  • Released: August 1991
  • Game Type: Action
  • Players: 1
  • Product Number: NES-3N-USA
  • Rarity: C+ (Borderline Uncommon)
    Game Ratings:
    OVERALL: 7

    Box Scan
    Ninja Gaiden III Screen 1 Ninja Gaiden III Screen 2

    This was the third and final game of the NES trilogy, and unfortunately, the least liked among NESers. With the first two games in the series both first-rate carts, Ninja Gaiden III gave Tecmo the chance to close out the series with a bang. However they seemingly got a little too ambitious and released a follow-up that looked and sound great, but also proves that the third time isn't always the charm.

    Once again you take control of ninja Ryu Hayabusa, but this time he's on a mission of vengeance. His close friend, CIA agent Irene Lew, was reportedly killed while on a secret mission, but even more shocking is that eyewitnesses have said that Ryu himself was the killer. Ryu knows someone is impersonating him, so he heads off on a new quest to avenge Irene's death and clear his name. However he finds that Irene's murder was but one part of an even bigger plot.

    This third game features the familiar Ninja Gaiden action, with a couple of new features. Once again Ryu must charge through 20 levels of ninja action divided into 7 Acts, each one crawling with all manner of enemies that Ryu must battle his way through. Ryu still has a his nifty wall-climbing ability, but in this game Ryu can now hang from below certain overhead ledges and climb hand-over-hand across them. As usual Ryu has his trusy Dragon Sword to defend himself with (even though he sacrificed it to save Irene at the end of NG2, and they never explain how he got it back) and can also obtain a helpful upgrade that doubles the sword's range and damange. Ryu also has his usual Ninja Arts at his disposal which he obtains from crystals in each level, including the Fire Wheel, Throwing Star, Dragon Balls and the Invincible Fire, as well as a new one, the Vaccum Wave, which sends waves of energy above and below you. The stages themselves are divided into several parts, including some new vertical areas as well, and the crystals also show what power-up or bonus item they're carrying, which helps you avoid weapons you don't want. As usual, Ryu faces off with a monster boss at the end, and if he can successfully slay him, he'll move on to the next stage while we're treated with a cutscene showing the next chapter in the story.

    Graphics & Sounds:
    The graphics are very good. Although the game doesn't have the "pseudo-3D" look anymore, the stages all look great and some of the backgrounds have nice animations, like the crystal stage. Many of the levels even make some good use of parallax scrolling for some impressive effects. Many of the sprites are good looking and some have some great animation, especially Ryu. The sounds are also done pretty well. The background themes sound great with some nice drums and beats, and they really set the tone for each level. However after stage 4 they start to get reused. The sound effects are also fine, such as the clanging of metal and Ryu's vocal 'hah' when he swings his sword.

    The controls work pretty well. Most of the moves and attacks are easy to pull off with very little problems. Plus this version finally addressed the problem with climbing walls that plagued the previous two entries. After climing a wall or column, Ryu can now flip up and over onto ledges, which is much easiter than the back and forth method in the first two titles.

    Challenge & Playability:
    Sadly the gameplay in Ninja Gaiden III is what keeps the game from being a grand finalie to the saga. You do still get the exciting action from the previous chapters, and there are a couple of improvements such as enemies no longer respawning when you scroll the screen back and forth. Unfortunately what proves to be this sequel's undoing is the extreme difficulty level. As tough and frustrating as the first Ninja Gaiden was, it was nothing compared to this game. First off, each hit you take does a surprising amount of damage, even from the simplelest enemies, meaning you can get exterminated quickly even in the early stages. Each time you die you have to start the whole stage over and many of the levels are pretty long, so it quickly gets annoying having to do everything over and over. Also the sword power-up, which you absolutely NEED to survive most of the enemies, doesn't carry over from stage to stage; you lose it when you begin the next level and have to get it all over again, sometimes not until late in the area. If that wasn't enough, you only have five continues to get through the game, and those will go pretty quickly. The worst part is the original Japanese version not only had better damage control and unlimited continues but even included passwords. Why Tecmo changed that is anyone's guess. Even the storyline, normally Ninja Gaiden's main strength, takes a hit in this cart; it starts out good but quickly gets watered down with disjointed cutscenes that don't flow very well and have too many plot twists. In fact, you don't even find out what the 'Ancient Ship' in the game's title is until just before the last level.

    Overall Ninja Gaiden III isn't a bad game. It's still a solid action title, and you get some enjoyment out of it with some great audio and visuals. But it just seemed Tecmo tried too hard for a memorable gaming experienece, and ultimately the excessive difficulty and choppy storyline make this title a poor sequel to a great series. Tecmo should have just ported the Japanese original; it would have been a more enjoyable experience. If you have enough patience NG3 can be a fun time, but fans of the series will definetely want to stick with the first two games.

    - Review posted on March 5, 2008