Ryu Hayabusa, the last survivor of the Dragon Ninja clan, is also the ultimate weapon of the United States government. Working through CIA liaison Irene Lew, he has faithfully completed assignments too difficult and too sensitive for regular agents, anonymously saving the world several times already. Now, while on an undercover mission, Irene is brutally murdered, and witnesses identify Ryu as her killer. On the run, Ryu must retrace Irene's footsteps, find who has framed him, learn the secrets that she died for, extract his revenge, and clear his name.
Thus begins NINJA GAIDEN III: THE ANCIENT SHIP OF DOOM. Tecmo gained fame in the late '80s with their NINJA GAIDEN action games for the Nintendo system, and the Lynx card is an adaptation of the final title in that series. The player must run, jump, climb, and slash his way through a variety of traps and enemies, including bioengineered beasts and enemy ninjas. Though armed with his sword, Ryu can also invoke a variety of magic attacks if he has enough power, and orbs along the way provide further aid. Starting from a secret laboratory, the trail winds through diverse scrolling locales such as a tropical jungle and deep underground, before ending in a showdown with the ancient evil behind it all. The player has five continues and three lives, each capable of taking a number of hits, but there is no option to save or restore games.
(For purists, NINJA GAIDEN is also available for the Lynx, but it is an adaptation of the arcade game and not the first title in the Nintendo series. NINJA GAIDEN II is not available on the Lynx)
While previous Lynx adaptations of Tecmo titles -- RYGAR and NINJA GAIDEN -- were curtailed to varying degrees, NINJA GAIDEN III suffers none of those deficiencies. This card is a total adaptation of the Nintendo cartridge, from the layout of levels to the placement of enemies and obstacles, and players of the original will get a strong sense of deja vu.
As with many other action/platform titles, there is no randomness to the game, and patterns can be developed over time. What elevates this game from others in the genre is that it is demanding without being unreasonable. The layouts of the levels work with the large variety of enemy characters to keep the game fresh. Enemy attacks and a time limit keep the player moving yet punishes mindless thrashing; this means that speed, precision, and planning are needed in equal amounts, which makes for a satisfying challenge. Fortunately, the smooth, responsive controls are never a problem.
If there is one flaw with this title, it's the difficulty. The first stage is easy enough, but after that the curve turns sharply uphill, and the five continues can go by fairly quickly. There is no way to adjust the skill level, and the lack of a game save/continue simply makes it more grueling. To be fair, though, these same shortcomings were also present in the original Nintendo cartridge. In the end, while the game is difficult, it is not impossible, and never totally discourages the player.
A sincere attempt was made to directly translate the original NINJA GAIDEN III graphics, but the lower resolution of the Lynx screen hamper it somewhat. More subtle details are missing; at times Ryu and his adversaries look like blobs, and recognizing the different powered orbs will require some work. The scrolling is smooth, but some backgrounds are cluttered and hide objects too easily. The graphics are better in the cinematic interludes that tell the story before and during the game, though the dialogue has not improved any.
The sounds suffer more. Most of the game noises come from Ryu's attacks, but they are fairly simple and indistinct, and the music during the intermissions are innocuous at best. The various background tunes have been mangled to an extreme, with the higher-pitched notes drowning out the rest; what were exciting rhythms on the Nintendo come out shrill and painful on the Lynx. They can be turned off by pressing Option 2, but the resulting near- silence feels awkward.
NINJA GAIDEN III is both a commendable adaptation of the original Tecmo cartridge and a rousing challenge. Though the graphics and sound are not the best on the Lynx, the solid gameplay makes up for these deficiencies, making this an intense title that action gamers should seriously consider adding to their collections.
GAMEPLAY: 8.5 GRAPHICS: 7 SOUND: 5 OVERALL: 7.5