Ninja Gaiden has, until now at least, always been a series that demanded dedication and commitment. It was tough, and only a very particular breed of gamer actively sought out the almost insane challenge posed by the franchise on higher difficulty levels.
For those accustomed to such a challenge, Ninja Gaiden 3 might well be a disappointment. Here, accessibility is the name of the game, and although that doesn’t necessarily mean the series has been dumbed down, it does mean there are more options for how you want to play. The game no longer wants to punish you; instead, it seems to want you to actually enjoy it.
This may be due largely to the departure of long-time producer Tomonbu Itagaki, who was replaced by Ninja Gaiden Sigma’s Yosuke Hayashi. The changes to Ninja Gaiden 3 mean that while this is still not an easy game, it is a title that most gamers should feel reasonably confident about approaching.
All of which will likely dampen the enthusiasm of series veterans, but the reality is that until this point, Ninja Gaiden has been too narrowly focused on a small sector of the market. Ryu Hayabusa is again the star, in a story that is complete and utter nonsense, though it is admittedly enjoyable nonsense. The game revolves around a major corporation planning world domination, with much overacting and significant plot holes.
Nevertheless, the game does an admirable job of filling in the backstory of the Ninja Gaiden universe, including quite a lot of information concerning Ryu and the Dragon Blade, while the cutscenes are always visually impressive. More generally, the game’s urban locations can grow a little repetitive, but that’s only a minor niggle.
More agitating is the camera, which has an annoying habit of showing the worst possible angle at the worst possible moment. Tapping R2 or RT allows you to snap the camera to look straight ahead, but this can still be a real pain in the middle of combat.
Combat has been completely overhauled here. Just as many shooters have dropped health packs, Ninja Gaiden 3 has ditched items entirely. Health replenishes after each fight and you earn Ninpo for each hit you land. Instead of being a clever tactical option, Ninpo now serves as nothing more than a means to defeat all of your enemies at once and regain your health.
In past titles, players needed to carefully weigh up their strategic options and approach each encounter with a certain hesitant defence. The alternative was death within seconds. Here, however, the game seems quite content to allow you to mash buttons in an all-out offensive, and as such, at times it almost feels like a standard hack-and-slash affair, which will almost certainly offend series stalwarts.
This might not be quite so big a problem if it wasn’t for the responsiveness issue that sometimes plagues the game. For Team Ninja to release a title with such a frustratingly large lag issue in 2012 is frankly quite strange, especially given the pedigree of the developer.
Similarly, the approach to level design is markedly old-fashioned. Essentially, each section is a series of arenas connected by quick-time events. Fight, perform the QTE, watch the cutscene, then rinse and repeat.
Overall, the boss fights are inventive and well thought-out, but they can also be infuriating. Even so, you’ll find that generally you don’t mind too much, and restarting them a few times isn’t too much of a chore.
However, the lack of any discernible payoff at the end makes you wonder whether it was worth it. The game attempts to humanise Ryu (you even get to see him unmasked), but it’s ludicrous that his path to atonement for all the deaths he has caused leads to him slaughtering thousands more.
With the game looking to become more mainstream, a new Team Deathmatch mode has been added in the form of Clan Battle, but it is a truly dreadful affair that is best avoided altogether. While the Ninja Trials co-op mode is more promising, it isn’t essential playing either.
This game may well insult many of the gamers who have stuck with the series over the years, but at the same time it simply doesn’t do enough to appeal to a wider audience. Ninja Gaiden 3 is not a complete disaster, but there are other games out there.
The review is based off a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 version of Ninja Gainden 3 by Team Ninja distributed by Techmo Koei.