I’ve been a staunch follower of Tomonobu Itagaki and Team Ninja for a long time, but it was during the days of the original Xbox that I became a self-professed fanboy of both the personality and his talented team. I love the Dead or Alive series in particular, but I also greatly appreciate the slick and wonderfully challenging Ninja Gaiden. The game was a reboot of the classic NES franchise and has become the identity of the franchise ever since. For the modern gamer, they talk about Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox the same way old timers praise the original NES series. The reimagined Ninja Gaiden was followed by sequels, while also receiving almost as many expanded/enhanced re-releases as Street Fighter II. The series may have lost a lot of spark over the years but make no mistake: Itagaki’s original vision for the Xbox version still holds up perfectly well and is still the best release in the entire series. Team Ninja may have done the Dead or Alive series justice in the absence of Itagaki, but Ninja Gaiden? Not so much.
When Itagaki parted ways with Team Ninja in 2008, it saddened me. Seeing key developers leave their original team and studio can be heartbreaking, but it’s also exciting because it can lead to fresh and new ideas. Yuji Naka, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and Keiji Inafune are examples of people who left their respective employers behind to form their own studio. All for the sake of artistic and creative freedom that they otherwise would not have had. Itagaki would go on to form his studio Valhalla in 2009 with their first project being Devil’s Third.
Devil’s Third was originally announced for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 back in 2010, and the idea of an all new action game born from the experience and creative vision of Itagaki was exciting for sure. THQ picked up the publishing rights and early reports sounded promising. The game was finally revealed and looked intriguing. Aesthetically, it seemed like typical Itagaki/Team Ninja game, but as an action game it had little to no gameplay resemblance with Ninja Gaiden or anything else they had done, instead introducing a distinct style showcasing interesting mechanics. Valhalla were on their way for an awesome debut with Devil’s Third and THQ were solemnly behind them… that is until the publisher declared bankruptcy and soon closed doors, leaving several IPs and franchises in limbo.
Of course, Valhalla reclaimed the rights to Devil’s Third, but the future of the game was now uncertain in the absence of a publisher. Time went on and by the time the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hit the market there was still no word on Devil’s Third or a publisher. It became clear that the game would perhaps not appear on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as intended. Since its announcement in 2010 I would mention Devil’s Third as one of my most wanted games in 2011, 2012, and 2013. By the start of 2014 I was sure that the game would probably be stuck in development hell before getting canned. But then E3 2014 happened, and of all the bombshells Nintendo dropped during their impressive showing ,it was the announcement of Devil’s Third as a Wii U exclusive that made my day.
This isn’t the first time that Nintendo came to the rescue of a promising IP and saved it from the cruel fate of becoming dormant. They’ve saved the day once more, and not only is the project back on track, but it’s got an all new look and direction which looks more impressive than the original Xbox 360/PS3 build. For one thing the aesthetics, art style and character designs have a lot more personality, flair and uniqueness. The original build now looks very bland and generic by comparison. The redesign of the main characters is much appreciated, giving the game the look and feel of a Suda 51/Grasshopper Manufacture title and that’s a flattering comparison to make. The gameplay style retains the vision of the original version but looks zanier and more elaborate than ever, with a much stronger visual presentation. Devil’s Third on Wii U is like a reboot and re-imagining of the original vision, making it appear as a brand new game. In fact, why not compare and see for yourself?
The trailer below is for the original Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version of the game, which at the time was being promoted by THQ. You can see that despite the gameplay similarities, the visuals, story, and presentation is vastly different from the Wii U version.
Here is an interesting promotion video which has Japanese professional wrestler Hard Gay (yes that’s his actual ring name) visiting the development team to get a behind-the-scenes look. Clearly, THQ were really behind the game, bringing in local celebrities to help promote the title.
Finally, as a reminder you can check out the bad ass E3 2014 reveal for the new and improved Wii U version of Devil’s Third.
It may have been a slow climb for the Wii U since its the launch, but with games like Mario Kart 8 out, a wealth of first party exclusives that continue to evolve substantially (open-world Zelda anyone?), and strong third party support with titles like Bayonetta 2 and now Devil’s Third, it feels mighty good to be a Wii U owner right now.