As a series, Ninja Gaiden is known for two things. One is its maddening challenge, a fiendishness that demands near-perfection of its players, even on the lowest difficulty settings. The other is developer Team Ninja’s proclivity for tweaking each entry as it hops formats. Such is the case for Razor’s Edge, an overhaul of last year’s basic Ninja Gaiden 3 that sees the franchise determined to re-establish its hardcore credentials.
Perhaps fittingly for a title that was originally derided as too easy, the leap in difficulty in this iteration is steep. Now, even the beginning level will see you dying a few times while getting to grips with elite ninja Ryu’s abilities. Survival is dependent on timing, with combat demanding frequent parries and counter-attacks to endure basic enemies’ attacks. Building up Ki energy to unleash powerful ninpo skills now takes longer, removing any over-reliance on the superpowered get-out-of-death-free technique. Playing for just a short time will bring to light just how harsh a trial the game now is.
More impressive is the horde of new content. Popular supporting character Ayane enjoys a dedicated side story, as well as the ability to replay Ryu’s missions in a ‘Chapter Challenge’ mode. Ayane’s moveset proves different but no less brutally difficult to master. Additional characters, a series of ranked online features and customisation options help make this the definitive version of the game.
However, while a perfect reminder that Nintendo’s hardware is no longer just for kids – there are grindhouse levels of gore and violence to be found here – the console’s gamepad proves less than perfect for the game. Touch controls for activating special moves or Ryu’s radar-like Ninja Sense are available but mercifully optional, and after a few gimmicky tries you’ll find yourself defaulting to the more convenient button controls. The wide and hefty pad soon feels ill-suited for the speedy, trigger-reflex battles you’ll be faced with, leading to no small amount of frustration and physical discomfort.
In short, a huge improvement in content let down by iffy controls. Gaiden fans will enjoy immensely, if only in short bursts.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen