OK Duke, here's the question before us today : what is the problem with Ninja Gaiden 3?
I'm Bill, dude.
Oh yeah. Sorry.
Anyway, there are multiple answers to your question. Anybody who is into NES games at all knows that conventional wisdom is that the first two Ninja Gaiden games are considered classics, while the third one ... not so much. But why is that? It's not radically different, and it actually makes some nice gameplay improvements to the previous games engine.
Let's try to break this down bit by bit, in scientific style.
OK, first you have the basic plot, and the cinematics. In the intro we see that Irene has been killed off by some Ryu impostor. The graphics seem to be less sharp and defined than those of the previous game, and Ryu's character portrait art is arguably the worst in the series (as is Irene's). However, it's a fairly surprising and gripping intro, if a little out-of-nowhere and vague.
The game quickly loses steam though, as each level just sees Ryu going further and further into this place called Castle Rock. I won't ruin the rest of the plot for you but it's just packed with deus ex machina bullshit and smacks of incredibly lazy or rushed writing. Not that the previous Ninja Gaiden games were storytelling masterpieces, but the mood and atmosphere of the previous game is just completely and totally gone. It feels much more generic.
Simplistic as the older games plots were, Jaquio and Ashtar actually came off as pretty menacing villains. They're not in this one, the main villain is some minor goof resurrected from a previous game that no one ever cared about, and the Ancient Ship of Doom is like one of the most inane plot devices I've ever seen used - evil vikings from another dimension? What the fuck?
The gameplay is basically the same, except that Ryu jumps just a bit more floatily than he did before. There's also some new things introduced, but they come at the expense of the shadow clones from Ninja Gaiden 2.
Yeah, everyone's favorite part of Ninja Gaiden 2 and they cut it out. This time around however, you get a plasma sword that is reminiscent of Strider's, and can grab the underside of certain ledges and climb hand-over-hand.
Both reasonable things for a ninja to have, and they would have been fine as additions rather than trades for the shadow clones. As it stands I feel we were shortchanged.
Oh yeah, and Ryu yells "Hah!" now every time he swings his sword.
Oh yeah, that leads me into the next point - the music. It's not too bad in some parts, but feels like it's missing a step compared to Ninja Gaiden 2's intensity.
Yeah, one thing that's immediately noticeable is that the percussion is terrible and tinny in this one.
Excellent point and I have a theory about why that is. In other NES games that use digital sound samples, they always seem to use the percussion track for them - like, it'll drop out temporarily while the voice is speaking. I think Ryu's new "Hah!" is what we have to blame for the drums sounding so fucking weak in this game. Apparently Tecmo thought that and the occasional orchestra hit in the songs was worth sacrificing the normal drum track for.
Just one in a long list of bad decisions in designing this game. I wonder if it was actually Team Ninja's fault, though. This game reeks of being rushed to market without having a really good core design in place, and I wonder if corporate leadership at Tecmo didn't order them to crank out a shoddy sequel (and gave them a laundry list of features to rip off from Strider to boot).
What else ... it's also silly hard. I mean, the first two games are hard, but with a few exceptions when you die you see what you did wrong and can correct it next time. In this one, you're more likely to toss the controller and yell "What the fuck was *that* bullshit?"
Strangely, the levels are tougher than the previous games but most of the boss encounters seem to have been seriously gimped for some reason.
So, that's the trouble with Ninja Gaiden 3. If you're still really curious to check it out, I would actually wait and see if Tecmo releases the SNES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy as the version found there is actually slightly better than this one.