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Ninja Gaiden III – the Ancient Ship of Doom

Pure awesome ninja action.  Ninja Gaiden 3 was the last in the NES trilogy and the greatest by far.  Like Castlevania 3, Super Mario Brothers 3, etc. it improved upon its predecessor in every way to deliver the ultimate 8-bit installment possible.

Released in the fall of 1991, although the third game in the series chronologically it takes place 2nd.  The story finds Irene Lew being inadvertently killed by Ryu.  An obvious frame job, the real Ryu sets out to investigate, starting with the laboratory she was researching.  This setup eventually involves experiments to harness life energy to create Bio Roids and a trip to another dimension to save the world.  The story is far more sci-fi than the fantasy meets real world of the first two games and honestly is a bit too hokey.   This was intentional on the part of the developers to better distinguish it from being a rehash.  That extends all the way down to the enemies you face, with the majority comprising robots and mechs  rather than the demons and soldiers of the other games.  However the Chthulu inspired demons that fans loved still make appearances.

Although the gameplay is largely the same, there are a host of welcome improvements and refinements.  In addition to scaling walls like previous games, you now have the ability to hang from many surfaces and also attack while doing so, although this uses your secondary weapon.   You can drop down and automatically grab on; this is huge and largely helps save you from the problem in past games where flying enemies would appear and knock you off platforms.  Speaking of secondary weapons, a few new ones round out your arsenal.  The Vacuum Wave attacks above and below simultaneously, once again handy for surprise attacks.  The dragon sword increases your standard attack range and as a bonus does not count as a secondary weapon.

In what seemed to be a running theme, the shadow clones from Ninja Gaiden 2 are gone, just like the jump and slash from the first game was removed for part 2.   The item orbs now display what item they have inside, a change I think everyone has wanted from the beginning.  These moves will come in handy as you navigate the new levels that lay before you.

Beautiful but it will kick your ass repeatedly.

The level designs vary the gameplay to a far greater extent than ever before.  There are far more vertical scrolling levels, and some stages reverse direction and scroll right to left.  Many of the levels feature a mix of all 3, giving you something to look forward to at all times.  The graphics are phenomenal; this is definitely in the NES top 10.  There aren’t too many NES games that made as much use of parallax scrolling and even foreground objects as this.

Tecmo’s artists really went to town, and the years of experience with the hardware show.  The bosses are especially a cut above and eschew the game’s sci-fi theme for the demonic figures that made the prior installments famous.  Although the levels are varied and look amazing, the game is wildly inconsistent, owing much to the difficulty level.

In a strange move, the US version was made considerably harder than its Japanese cousin.  Enemies deal far more damage, you have limited continues (can you believe that shit?) and the password system was removed.  Why these changes were made I don’t know as the goal for the game was to make the series more accessible to begin with, and these changes fly in the face of that.  Enemies no longer spawn infinitely, but they swarm you in retardedly high numbers to make up.  Previous games were hard but at least fair, in the sense that if you slowed down and paid attention you could see how you were failing and correct that.  You don’t always have that luxury here.  The removal of passwords isn’t so bad; this isn’t any longer than the second game, but having limited continues is just stupid.

Taking all of that into consideration, this is still one of the top action games for the NES.  The changes made are obnoxious to be frank but don’t make the game unplayable.  They at most hold the game back from being as great as it could have been, much like Battletoads.

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