‘Razor’s Edge’ a cut above in ‘Ninja Gaiden 3” series

By Robert Workman, GamerHub.TV (MCT)

It must be tough to be a ninja. To come flying off rooftops as if you had invisible wings, only to grab onto the neck of a nearby assailant, snap it within a nanosecond, then come landing perfectly down on your feet, sword drawn, ready to slice enemies to ribbons, even though they’re idiotic enough to keep coming at you.

Thus is the daily workload for Ryu Hayabusa, the main hero of the “Ninja Gaiden” series. The first two games (along with their “Sigma” spin-offs) have been a chore for him, as he’s battled everyone from demons to weird monstrous creatures to dangerous ninja types, using only his quick skills and his various weapons. But now he’s got his work cut out for him, as “Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge” pits him against his greatest foe yet — an alchemist who’s infected his arm with a strange demon-like power, one that’s sapping him of energy and causing him to go ballistic in places.

“Ninja Gaiden 3” originally released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 earlier this year, under the guise of a reformed “Team Ninja,” without its main mastermind Tomonobu Itagaki. It received mostly negative reviews, due to a lack of a coherent story and the traditional blood-spilling action the series was known for, even though it did have some great moments and decent multiplayer. But with the Wii U version, the team went back and corrected many of its mistakes, and now we get to see the game for the real monster that it is — and boy, is it fun.

This time around, Ryu does get to chop up enemies like sashimi, and he’ll need every bit of skill that he can muster to do so, as they’ll come at him from all sides, launching vicious attacks like suicide bombings and even up-close strikes. And if they weren’t a handful enough, there are also the end bosses, ranging from a nearly invincible attack helicopter to a cyborg T-Rex that rips through everything. And that’s just the early stages.

The gameplay aesthetic is improved in “Razor’s Edge,” with a much better balance in difficulty and controls. This time around, you don’t have to put up with awkward hesitations with slices, you simply just go at it with devastating combos, great block moves and suave evasions. They all tie together, though some amateur players may want to start on a lighter difficulty until they get the hang of things. Later settings will eat players alive, unless you’re skilled like a true ninja.

As for GamePad controls, they’re good. Being able to select weapons and activate Ninpo (a screen-clearing super attack) is outstanding, though more could’ve been done in terms of ninja abilities. Oh, well, there’s still very little to complain about when it comes to what’s here. You can play with a Pro Controller as well, and though the fancier features are missing, it still clicks. (A word of caution: climbing walls does take a little getting used to, as you always need to keep one dagger stuck into it to avoid falling.)

Along with a single player mode (which still has a similarly incoherent story, though mildly amusing in spots), the game features online multiplayer, where you and your buddies can cut each other up to your heart’s content. Though hardly the kind of multiplayer that stays addictive for too long, this is still fun for ninja wannabes, and it runs smoothly on the Nintendo Network.

As for improvements in the presentation, there aren’t too many. The graphics aren’t too bad, with plenty of beautiful environments to run through and enemies that look like they stand their ground, even if their ambushing opportunities happen way too often to count. Sometimes the game slows down a bit, or some details are lost, but overall, it’s still a killer-looking play — especially when the blood starts flowing like crazy and body parts flop around.

Just don’t expect too much from the audio. The music is good but hardly the kind of memorable stuff from the NES game, and the voicework is pretty good, though it hardly justifies the somewhat flimsy script. Just think of it as a cheesy karate/kung fu flick (Miami Connection, anyone?) and you’ll be fine.

I liked “Ninja Gaiden 3” when it came out earlier this year, and I like it even more now that “Razor’s Edge” has made some corrections that make it feel more like the lean, mean killing machine it could’ve been. While hardly perfect, it’ll sustain the needs of the hardcore Wii U crowd (c’mon, we know you’re out there) quite suitably. Now go and get your sword bloody.


Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 3
Genre: Action-adventure
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
ESRB Rating: M for Mature