|System: Wii U|
|Dev: Team Ninja|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
I did not like Ninja Gaiden 3, as a Ninja Gaiden game. It was a serviceable action game, yes, but too much of what it did served as a betrayal of the ideals that informed the first two entries in the rebooted series. There was its bent toward the "cinematic," replacing what had previously been pure and unadulterated action with a wealth of quick time events and semi-automated events supposedly born of a desire for "variety." It's ironic that variety was the cause of any decision in Ninja Gaiden 3's production, given that the elements that had lent the previous entries in the series senses of both progression and evolution had been violently excised.
It's heartening to see, then, that Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge for the Wii U has brought so much of that back.
Since release, Ninja Gaiden 3 has been updated with a pair of new melee weapons, raising the total to three. According to the Nintendo representative at hand, though, the Wii U version of the game will contain six at launch. Only one of the new weapons was on display—the dual swords—but even that provided enough of a breath of fresh air, and seemed strongly enough implemented, that its addition had me excited to play the game again. It was not the only change on display, though: Ninpo had also been completely revamped, now allowing Ryu to access two of his more famous abilities, the Art of the Inferno and the Art of the Wind Blades (the latter has a shorter charge meter than the Inferno, balancing its weaker nature against the fact that it can be used more frequently than the other).
Gone was the enemy-chomping dragon that served as Ryu's sole magic attack in the game, though the representative informed me that there will be a third Ninpo in the final game. Given how this title seems to be refocused, though, it seems more likely that the third ability will strive to find balance with the other two rather than supersede them as the clearly superior choice.
And the game is truly an exercise in refocusing the series. The combat feels faster and more fluid (though it still seemed difficult to cancel a basic light attack combo into a slide), with enemies acting aggressively offensive where before they were somewhat dull. The demo didn't rely on absurd numbers to spur difficulty, but instead set up situations that demanded player awareness and speedy reactions.
Further, dismemberment has returned. It may be a purely aesthetic feature, but it's one that provides a sense of visceral satisfaction and gives a far better indication of how much damage one has done to an enemy. Even the camera's cuts, shifting in close during Steel on Bone maneuvers or Ultimate Techniques, seemed more natural, less disorienting. There is, in fact, a tremendous list of balance changes, both obvious and purely intuitive, that could be rattled off, but suffice to say that the combat is blessedly more fluid, and actually feels like a Ninja Gaiden game again.
This being the Wii U, though, it brings its unique GamePad to bear on the title. While nothing mind-blowing is on display, the pad's screen does serve as the avenue for weapon and Ninpo selection, which can be done on the fly. Changing over introduces a short loading period, but this is actually a positive, as it gives one time to refocus on the television after looking down at the GamePad. There are also controls on the screen for gameplay elements like the Ninja Sense, which tells one where to go next in the world, or points out remaining enemies in a mostly clear area. None of this is strictly necessary, though, as the controls from the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 versions of the game map directly to the Wii U's physical buttons.
That said, the game is also compatible with the Pro Controller, which may be preferable simply because the tablet-sized Wii U GamePad is a bit unwieldy to manipulate with the kind of speed and accuracy a game like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge demands. Two minutes of play and the GamePad felt serviceable, but it never really became natural, and I would mix up button inputs occasionally due to the cramped nature of the face button layout and the placement of the "shoulder" triggers, which makes it unclear which is R or ZR.
The changes made to Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge are extremely promising, and easily earn the game its subtitle. It's great to have the option of using either the Wii U's hallmark controller or a more traditional setup, as suits any individual player, and the GamePad-specific content that is in place may not be groundbreaking, but it doesn't arbitrarily get in the way, either.
Last of all, during the demo, I happened across a golden scarab and, upon picking it up, was rewarded with a wealth of points. This is most likely an extension of this edition's announced upgrade system, which will allow players to cash in points for upgrades to Ryu's health and abilities.
Now, the big question: Will there be a DLC update or re-release of Ninja Gaiden 3 on the other consoles, to bring them to parity with the Wii U version? Inquiring minds want to know.
Date: June 13, 2012