The Ninja Gaiden series is known for its challenging difficulty levels and certainly for its notorious camera. Sitting down with Ninja Gaiden 3, I can't say I was expecting a whole lot, but thankfully I was pleasantly surprised with what Team Ninja had brought to the table. Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to fix plenty of the problems that plagued previous releases while maintaining appeal to both the hardcore fans and newcomers alike.
Combat is still the core of Ninja Gaiden 3. Ryu Hayabusa can mix between light and heavy attacks, as well as specials that deal massive amounts of damage. What's new in Ninja Gaiden 3 is Team Ninja's emphasis on cutting through things. Ryu's sword doesn't just cut through enemies like butter. Instead, flesh and bone will pose resistance. At this point, it's up to players to cut through all the way by mashing the X/A button. It's a surprisingly visceral experience as the camera angles automatically adjust themselves to give players the best possible view of the cutting process in action.
As Team Ninja's leader Fumihiko Yasuda was quick to point out, the button prompts that appear during these segments are not quicktime events, but tutorial prompts. The further I made it through the demo, the less I saw of these prompts and had to cut through flesh on my own initiative.
In any case, the combat system is solid and very responsive. Playing around to discover the various combos was certainly a fun endeavour. In addition to the emphasis on cutting, Ryu's arm is engulfed in what looks like blood vessels. According to Yasuda, it's a curse, but he wouldn't elaborate any further seeing as it's quite an important plot point. Regardless, it enables Ryu to unleash a powerful series of attacks on every enemy on screen after charging up. Build up combos and kills and his arm will start to glow, indicating that it can be used. It's not unlike his Ultimate Techniques in previous Ninja Gaiden games and it's especially useful for crowd control.
At several points in the demo, Ryu had to scale the side of a building. It sounds like an easy task but enemies aren't going to let it be that easy. Climbing is achieved by alternating between shoulder buttons and Ryu can throw kunais at enemies that impede the process. If players ever get lost in a stage, they can also hold down on the objective button which will then point the camera in the right direction.
Speaking of the camera, Ninja Gaiden 3's was surprisingly fluid. It no longer struggles with player input nor does it get stuck in corners. In fact, if Ryu ever gets cornered, the camera automatically shifts angles in order to give players a better view of the battleground. What was even more surprising was that I barely ever had to adjust it manually, it just flowed with the action, changing views and shifting to close-ups dynamically as Ryu cut down enemies that stood in his way.
Hardcore fans need not worry too much about the difficulty. While the demo level itself was relatively easy, the boss fight that followed indicated otherwise. There is still a key emphasis on blocking, dodging and fighting strategically as opposed to simply hacking and slashing away at enemies, which definitely eats away at Ryu's health.
Visually, the game looks great. The demo level was relatively open despite having to follow a linear path. There was never a dull moment as enemies seem to always come out for a beating. However, despite the emphasis on cutting and the gratuitous amounts of blood, don't expect any limbs or heads to start rolling. Yasuda explained to us that while Team Ninja wanted to create an extremely visceral sword fighting experience, they did not want to make it too realistic.
Story-wise, not too much was revealed to us. However, Yasuda explained that the story will focus a lot more on Ryu Hayabusa as a character. As mentioned earlier, his cursed right arm will play an important role in the story as well.
Ninja Gaiden 3 was certainly quite a surprising experience. With the camera fixed and the new gameplay mechanics, it appears that it's on track to be a great game. Long-time fans ought to look forward to this and newcomers shouldn't be afraid to try it out once it hits stores. It'll be available on both PS3 and Xbox 360, as well as Wii U in the form of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razer's Edge, early next year.