Last Ninja 3 (System 3) Review | Amiga Power - Everygamegoing

Amiga Power

Last Ninja 3
By System 3
Amiga 500

Published in Amiga Power #7

When is a Last Ninja not a Last Ninja? When it spawns countless sequels, that's when. Here comes another one!

Last Ninja III

Okay, let's get something clear from the start so nobody whinges about it later on. None of us here have ever cared much for System 3's immensely successful Last Ninja series. While undeniably gorgeous-looking, we all found them largely unplayable due to the appallingly unwieldy control system and the nit-pickingly finicky positioning required for many important moves.

System 3 say they've taken such criticism on board for this final (?) game, making it far more user-friendly, while at the same time fiddling around with many of the basic parameters. The simple problem-solving and beat-'em-upping action of old has been superceded by a design which the company claims will appeal to console gamers and RPG fans as well as devotees of the earlier titles.

How do they intend to do this? Well, they've played fairly fast and loose with relative graphic sizes, and made the object manipulation much more complicated, which accounts for much of it. Where in the old games you'd have found a key and opened a door with it, in Last Ninja 3 you have to find a fire, collect some bellows to pump it up with, get a key mould, pick up some metal to actually make the key form, and finally use a flux substance to help with the melting process! (Then you have to find the door...!)

While this may be stretching the definition of RPG a little bit, it's certainly a bit more involved than the bonehead antics Ninja fans are used to.

So, anyway, after all this guff what do we have? Ninja 3 is played over six levels with an elemental link - each stage is themed on either earth, wind, water, fire or 'void', with an extra 'limbo' stage before the last of those. Great care has been taken with the plot and background in order to keep the atmosphere intact all the way through, and the game drips with attention to detail.

The movie-like intro sequence is a particularly impressive example of this, showing the ninja creeping up on a castle, stealthily scaling the wall and breaking the neck of the guard on the battlements, all accompanied by striking music and broken up by credits in a truly cinematic style. All this, in addition to the chunky manual and the general presentation, is a laudable attempt by System 3 to give the paying customer a complete package for their £26, something which many other software houses could learn from (we've seen some truly tragic packaging lately, with Ocean's Darkman and Domark's Thunderjaws being just a couple of the worst offenders), but it'll all count for nothing if the game isn't any good. So without further ado, let's find out if it isn't...

First impression: So what's new? Ninja 3's much-vaunted new user-friendly control system is, in operation, not significantly different from how it used to be. There's no escaping it, and no amount of protesting from System 3 will change that fact. Moving still seems to be a haphazard and inconsistent affair, with the same joystick move often appearing to have radically different effects. The number of times I sent my ninja plummetting off the edge of a narrow walkway to his death instead of charging heroically towards an enemy was... 56.

You're more or less okay as long as you keep moving, but the control is so un-instinctive that as soon as you stand still, you completely forget which stick movement corresponds to which direction. The ninja frequently refuses to face the direction you want him to, ending up back-pedalling furiously into a sword-wielding samurai and getting himself slashed to pieces while you scream obscenities at the hopeless cretin.

Second impression: What happened to the lovely graphics then? While Ninja III is undeniably extremely pretty, the superb atmosphere of the original games has been lost. The levels are largely featureless, characterless affairs, lacking the unique feel of, say, the New York streets of the second Last Ninja (if you see what I mean).

There's another problem with the graphics, too - the screens are often so packed with detail that parts of the playing area are totally obscured, which is a severe pain when you're wandering around in one of them and you get attacked by a baddy. Trying to fight someone using Ninja 3's control system when you can't even see which way you're facing (or indeed exactly where you are) is a dead loss and no mistake.

Third impression: Call yourself a ninja, you big girl's blouse? It's all very well saying the graphic scaling has been fiddled with to give the whole thing a butch console feel, but seeing your ninja fall a distance which looks like four feet and die from the impact is unavoidably silly.

Also silly is *not being able to walk across grass* - what is he, allergic or something? If the ninja's path is going to be restricted, there should at least be some kind of nominal fence or wall or something to mark the impasse - it just looks daft for your ruff 'n tuff superhero to have to walk round miles of pathway in order to avoid stepping on a daisy!

Fourth impression: Take the what and the what and do what with them? Now we come to the 'RPG' element. This is really pushing things a bit. Picking stuff up and making other stuff out of it, fine, but since most of the answers to problems are handed to you pretty much on a plate (they're mostly too obscure for you to expect players to work them out for themselves to any significant extent), calling Ninja 3 is a role-playing game is like calling R-Type II a wargame because there's shooting in it.

Fifth impression: Not two stools, but three. As previously mentioned, System 3 are hoping to appeal to three distinct types of game player with this release. I think, though, they're in serious danger of landing uncomfortably somewhere in the rocky middle ground. Console-type players will be put off by the awkward controls and the tedious mucking around with puzzles, RPG punters will laugh their heads off at the merest suggestion that this is one of 'their' games, and Last Ninja-lovers may feel that the concentrated focus of the previous titles has been lost.

Sounds like a bit of a disaster, doesn't it? Well, no, that isn't really the case. Last Ninja 3 is undoubtedly the best game in the series, and I'm quite certain that it will sell huge numbers of copies. What I'm not so sure about is that it'll sell as many as System 3 would like it to - it could just be that The Last Ninja's time has finally passed.

The game-buying public knows what it wants from its software these days, and a title which tries to be all things to all people may find itself ending up being nothing very much to anyone.

The Four Elements (Plus A Couple More)

The six levels of Ninja 3 represent the four traditional elements (earth, air, fire, water) with a couple of extra ones System 3 have thrown in quite gratuitously to pad it out. What nice boys.

  1. Level One
    Level one is the Earth level - in this pic you can see the end boss, who wields an enormous club as his subtle means of dissuading you from leaving.
  2. Level Two
    Level two is Wind - much of the action takes place on precarious platforms on the edge of cliffs. In the corner, you can see the Wind boss too, but don't try and tackle him from this position.
  3. Level Three
    Level tree is Water and it's, er, wet. This stage features all the stuff you'd expect - waterfalls, whirlpools, erm, streams (and the like).
  4. Level Four
    Level four is Fire, characterised by lots of bubbling lava, methane gas and so on (so add burning to the long list of ways in which to meet your maker).
  5. Level Five
    Level five, the Limbo level, is set on lots of platforms suspended in space on nothing very much at all - so watch your step near the edges!
  6. Level Six
    Level six, or Void, is the ultimate level of the game, and takes place in a void (so no surprises there). Mind you, the Sunday Sport might be interested in some of the things you'll come across...

The Bottom Line

Uppers: Very stylish graphics, excellent presentation, and less faffing around the earlier efforts (instant switching between screens, for one thing).

Downers: The control system is still crap, there are some careless design flaws, and the spark of originality which characterised its predecessors is gone.

It'll sell a lot of copies, and there's a lot to be said in its favour, but to be honest it doesn't do very much for the Amiga Power team at all. For everyone who isn't like us though, it's probably worth 80%.

Stuart Campbell

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