Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Developer: Team Ninja
Ninja Gaiden 3 is one of those games where the experience is a little better if you’ve never had any exposure to the series before. The developers, Team Ninja, have certainly tried their hardest to make this entry as accessible as possible to newcomers. But that comes at the expense of what’s been so appealing about the franchise for years now. The combat feels dumbed down, less fluid, and with more emphasis on cinematic wow moments than actually pulling off stunning moves due to skill. There’s still some of what makes Ninja Gaiden such a hardcore action fan’s dream, but not enough to satiate long-time fans.
Ryu Hayabusa still takes on the main role here, and you’ll still be cutting through numerous enemies, fellow Ninja, monsters, mutants, and lots of soldiers. The whole morality tale that intertwines the plot is throw away nonsense, trying to prove that Ryu is a good man and not a cold-blooded killer doesn’t exactly jive with all the on-screen slaughtering you’ll do throughout the game’s eight chapters. It certainly doesn’t mesh with the new Steel on Bone close-up kills or the constant cutting down of screaming soldiers begging for their lives after they’ve already been incapacitated.
The combat has certainly seen some changes, as you’ll start off only being able to perform a handful of very basic combos, which feels pretty restrictive from the start. The multi-weapon system of the previous game is gone as well, focusing strictly on sword use here, but your sword will see a small number of upgrades throughout. As your sword becomes upgraded you’ll gain access to new combos and more traditional move sets, like the Flying Swallow and Izuna Drop, so it’s not until past the halfway point that the game even begins to feel like a more traditional Ninja Gaiden experience. Even then the combat feels off, with annoying recovery frames now present after the most simplest of combos are executed, making you far more vulnerable, and causing you to slide away after almost every move you execute.
There are also some oddities in the auto-lock system, which causes you to tear away from the opponent you want to fight to focus on another nearby opponent, even when you’re pressing in the direction of the guy you’re trying to kill. It’s like the Arkham City fist-fighting system gone wrong, and it makes it annoyingly difficult to do what you want. On the flip side of that, the game becomes easier due to the auto-pilot feel of the controls and targeting system, so much so that this is the first game in the series that’s almost been a breeze to complete on the normal default difficulty. I guess that’s mission accomplished when it comes to making it accessible, but if previous players weren’t willing to devote the time to fantastic combat before, why bother learning this dumbed down version of the game now?
The stage design goes even further down the linear path introduced with Ninja Gaiden 2, leaving no room for exploration. Also, items have been completely excised from the game; you’ll automatically recover health after you clear a particular area with enemies, only to advance into another section to take on a few waves again and again. What little there is of each stage isn’t particularly exciting either, filled with generic looking jungles, deserts, and snow covered arctic bases. The only interesting stages are the last two levels, but even those pale in comparison to the original Ninja Gaiden, and much of Ninja Gaiden 2.
The multiple Ninpo system is gone too, replaced by a single Ninpo spell that summons a fiery dragon, which acts as a screen clearing attack that also boosts your health. Ninpo fills after every kill, and it’s clear that the game is designed to focus on you killing a handful of enemies, clearing everyone using Ninpo, and doing the same thing over again. There’s even a secondary move involving Ryu’s cursed arm, where it will start to glow, meaning you can trigger an attack that will auto-kill three to five enemies as well. When I said that the game has become a whole lot easier, I definitely wasn’t kidding.
Besides the short and uninspiring single player campaign, the series introduces some online play for the first time. One section involves Ninja Trails, which involves clearing waves of enemies across various stages and difficulties, allowing you to co-op with another player if you want. There’s an experience system in place to level up both your Ninja and chosen weapon, and honestly, it’s the best part of the game, because it cuts out all of the fluff from the campaign. There’s also an online vs. mode which I couldn’t play, because there was never any open lobbies online, and apparently no-one around to join the multiple lobbies I attempted to create.
Even though Ninja Gaiden 3 is definitely a watered down experience in comparison to the previous two games, it still sits well above other mediocre action games available on current-gen hardware. And while I can’t help but feel massively disappointed with the final product, I’ll allow that the game is going to be far more accessible than it’s ever been, and there’s little in the way of a difficulty hurdle if you play through the default setting. But again, it was the experience of learning the diverse combat system of the previous games that really sold people on the series in the past, and taking away some of those elements feels out of place. You might draw in a number of new fans, but I think Ninja Gaiden 3 will turn away more people than it manages to bring in.