April 10, 2012
Ninja Gaiden 3 takes place where Ninja Gaiden 2 left off, tossing the ninja master Ryu Hayabusa into combat as fast as possible. An evil organization that coincidentally controls just about every major and minor good has decided to wage war on society, and it's up to our hero to save the day. Spurred on by a taunting villain in a mask and a curse that threatens to kill Ryu unless he finds the cure, you will be given a tour of various nonexistent places in the world at breakneck speed, just to eliminate any chance that you may have of potentially enjoying what little plot there is.
It's almost astonishing when looking at all of the features that have been removed from Ninja Gaiden 3, to the point that I found myself almost unwilling to believe that what I was playing was real. In fact the disappointment hits in a wave, each individual aspect of the game becomes revealed for what it truly is in a flood of tragedy.
The first thing fans will notice is that over the top violence has all but been removed in a way, leaving players with the same amount of ridiculous blood splatter while taking away the dismemberment system that became a fan favourite of the second title. Instead the player will find themselves rapidly slashing and impaling enemies, spraying blood and hearing screams while visually seeing no damage. Granted, it's a small complaint, but with the bar set so high before you can't help but wonder why there would be any change to such a notable system?
Combat immediately suffers the same problem, and after getting over the disappointment of the lack of visceral joy, it becomes apparent that Ninja Gaiden 3 is an amazingly shallow experience. A simple heavy slash and quick slash are all that players will really have at their disposal for the course of the game, and the combos quickly become repetitive with nothing to build from. Our consolation is the ability to do a short dash/slide, as well as counter enemy moves with a well timed block/attack, but the novelty wears short just as fast.
You will get access to two types of ranged attacks, but one is so useless that it's never really worth using and the other is so thoroughly encouraged throughout the game that you're actually tired of using the bow only a few minutes after getting access to it. So with melee combat becoming a predictable button mash and ranged combat a mandatory two button experience, we can at least look forward to some sweet ninja cutscenes right?
Wrong. Ninja Gaiden 3 again throws down the gauntlet by challenging what it means to get tired of Quick Time Events. In addition to select melee combos triggering a quick button mash, every single boss cinematic involves slamming the triangle button at some point or another. Climbing up walls (another amazing new gameplay experience) also involves players wasting time getting from one point in the level QTE's to a new level, an expanded horizon where ninja gameplay has never gone before.
If you manage to rack up the kills, you will gain access to two unique abilities. One simply kills everything on the screen and recovers life based upon the amount of enemies on screen, while the other just kills three enemies in what's meant to be a cool high speed slashing sequence. Naturally being the only two interesting abilities that players get (and by 'get' I of course mean start the game with) activating them should become something coveted, but being stuck with the same skills means sooner or later activating them becomes another predictable step in the dance.
What's disappointing about all of this isn't the fact that Ninja Gaiden 3 is such a bland game, but because these are all mistakes you would expect from the first entry into the series. There's no real reason for the combat to be so dry or for the general gameplay to be so streamlined that anyone can pick up the game and immediately understand what to do.
It's confusing to think about who this game is really targeted to, as any long term Ninja Gaiden fan could only reject what this game is attempting to sell from the very beginning. There are some endearing parts of the game, but these are generally related to how seriously it takes itself. Having to hear Ryu chastise his female government counterpart for using him to test high tech weaponry (which happens to be an exploding arrow), or listening to the phone in 'amazement' whenever he does something ninja-like isn't all that great. "I keep forgetting you're a ninja" says the government agent that has been spying on Hayabusa, who also happens to dress like a ninja 24/7. The bad dialogue is the only part of prior games that remains intact, which is as sad as it is confusing.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is a game that, unless you really happen to enjoy being disappointed, is difficult to recommend. Everything that made the second installment so enjoyable has been watered down to a level of simplicity that's far too dull and what's worse is that there are no replaced or re-purposed mechanics to justify the removal. Fans of the series can easily skip this disappointment, while newcomers should probably just focus on the prior iterations.
Ninja Gaiden 3 was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.