Ninja Gaiden 3 Review
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Granted the previous quote is the philosophy of fictional character Ferris Bueller, but it’s certainly relevant for Team Ninja’s latest game.
Tomonobu Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden reboot was released just eight years ago, and was arguably the best example of its genre at that time. Eight years is a long time in the world of videogames though, and the athletic, visceral combat of Team Ninja’s flagship title has long since been surpassed by Capcom’s Devil May Cry 3, Platinum Games’ Bayonetta and Team Ninja’s very own sequel.
Ninja Gaiden 3 simply pretends that the past eight years ever happened, making it a victim of its own ignorance.
With Itagaki no longer working at Team Ninja, ninja extraordinaire Ryu Hayabusa has been placed in the hands of new director Yosuke Hayashi. Sadly Tecmo Koei’s trust has been misplaced, because Ninja Gaiden 3, in an attempt to forge a brand new identity, ignores everything that made the franchise so great in the first place.
This is most notable in Ninja Gaiden 3’s combat, which constantly feels wooly and unsatisfying. The first two games had elegantly designed combat mechanics that really made you feel like a powerful ninja.
The new Ninja Gaiden has misplaced waggle support courtesy of PlayStation Move. Enemies were just as powerful as Ryu, so that even two or three foes could be a suitable challenge for the hardened sword master.
There’s no such intelligence on display in Gaiden 3, with Ryu’s foes simply attacking en masse and continually respawning until you can push forward to the next encounter.
As with past games in the series, the camera often fails to catch up with the fast-paced action.
Interestingly, there are no items to pick up, or ways to refill your energy bar. Instead you’re simply given an energy bar of a specific length, which changes in size as you start each new encounter.
It’s an intriguing mechanic, as it effectively creates a standalone combat sandbox for you to play in, but as you’re not actually rated like in past games, there’s never any sense of satisfaction when you complete an encounter.
The hollow victory of battle is further compounded by the complete lack of skill required to defeat most enemies, the lack of new combat moves and the workman-like way in which the vast majority of enemies can be bested.
Gruesome attacks fill Ryu’s magic bar, which enables him to unleash a powerful flaming Ninpo magic attack. This is normally strong enough to decimate all current enemies onscreen, instantly refilling your health bar. You can then simply spam attacks until you can repeat the whole process all over again.
It makes combat an exercise in attrition rather than skill, which is a real shame, as the bloody combat is nice and frenetic, even if it lacks the trademark dismemberments and flair of past games.
Additional combat mechanics revolve around Ryu’s cursed arm – a key part of Ninja Gaiden 3’s ludicrous plot – which gives him incredible strength and the ability to fly around the screen killing enemies instantly when powered up.
At other stages your arm massively weakens you; distorting the screen, slowing down your actions, but still allowing you to dispatch enemies with a single slice of your sword.
The bosses of Ninja Gaiden 3 are surprisingly generic, with most of them putting up very little resistance.
Yes, it looks cool, but it’s again at the expense of skill. There’s never any actual sense of satisfaction from playing Ninja Gaiden 3; it’s the gaming equivalent of the trophies children now get from simply participating in a sports event at school, rather than actually winning them.
The decision to remove Ryu’s weapon arsenal (aside from a powerful auto-locking bow) is also an odd one. The steady introduction of new weapons in past games brought with it brand new combat patterns to master and learn, often forcing you tackle enemy assaults in brand new ways.
There is no such learning curve here, no joy in discovering new moves, or combo patterns; just a monotonous, endless supply of respawning enemies that lessens your will to live and makes you realise just how integral Itagaki was to the franchise.
This dull, soulless approach spills over to other aspects of Ninja Gaiden 3. Every wall run, every back flip, every Kunai Climb – Ryu can now grip onto or climb certain surfaces – is met with a helpful prompt.
Turn these off, and you also turn the quick-time prompts off which sounds ludicrous until you realise that the window of opportunity between pressing buttons is so vast that you can simply randomly press buttons until you get the required effect.
Yes, you read that right; there are quick-time events, and they are for the most part awful, because the set-pieces and close-up kills they are attached to simply aren’t exciting to watch.
And this is Ninja Gaiden 3’s biggest flaw; it just isn’t entertaining to play. It certainly tries hard, with a variety of exotic locations, one-off battles and numerous boss fights, but they always lack the zany charm of the original games.
One new addition to Ryu’s fighting repertoire is stealth kills.
You always got the impression that beneath all the bloody shenanigans of previous games that Itagaki knew his games were just harmless silly fun, but Hayashi’s reboot doesn’t get this, creating a melodramatic plot involving a young girl, an unmasked Ryu, moral dilemmas and dragon blood DNA that feels just as at odds with past Ninja Gaiden games as Hayashi’s ropey new combat mechanics do.