Ninja Gaiden games are renowned for being tough. It’s always been the case, and there’s a special breed of gamer out there who actively seeks out the challenges presented by the series on the higher difficulty levels. For that reason, Ninja Gaiden 3 might prove to be something of a disappointment to series stalwarts, but regardless of what you may have read elsewhere it’s still a pretty decent title.
The main points of contention here for long time fans are undoubtedly going to be the somewhat sweeping changes that have been made to the game, perhaps reflecting the fact that long time series director Tomonobu Itagaki has departed his role and been replaced by the man behind the Ninja Gaiden Sigma titles, Yosuke Hayashi, in addition to the slight easing of the difficulty curve. It’s not an easy game, but it’s certainly one that mere mortals will feel relatively confident of approaching on the harder difficulty setting.
Series stalwart Ryu Hayabusa returns once again, this time to take on a shadowy multi-national corporation that has decided to hold the entire world hostage in a bid for complete control. As Ninja Gaiden games go, the storyline here is infinitely more detailed than any of the previous titles. Fans have long been crying out for some more information about Ryu, the Dragon Blade and the mythology of the universe, and this time around they’re finally getting it.
There’s plenty of character development to be found here and even if it’s not on the level of some of the more story-driven titles available these days, it certainly adds quite a bit to the experience. The cut scenes that intertwine the game’s missions are well written and particularly pleasing on the eye, while the in-game visuals are enjoyable, if a little repetitive in the more urban settings.
Where Ninja Gaiden 3 does fall down, however, is in its combat. In previous games, players needed to approach large groups of enemies with a certain amount of tactical nous, lest they find themselves dispatched within a matter of seconds. That’s not the case here, and it’s something that’s going to really piss off a lot of fans. Instead of carefully weighing up your opponents before jumping into the fray, the game has very few qualms with letting you run in swinging your blade indiscriminately, hacking away at whatever moves. It’s completely at odds with the titles that have come before, and it pushes the game increasingly towards generic hack and slash territory.
With the Dragon Blade as your main weapon, and only two attack buttons, this frantic approach means that you’re going to find yourself doing quite a bit of button mashing, whether you want to or not. There are also some issues with responsiveness that will cause headaches. In this day and age it’s really not acceptable to be faced with considerable delays between pressing a button and your character attacking in the heat of battle, and it’s quite baffling as to why it’s happened here, given the fact that Team Ninja are hardly slouches when it comes to this development gig.
The camera proves to be quite problematic in places too, given its penchant to doing exactly what you didn’t want it to at the worst possible moment. Tapping the top right shoulder button will let you focus directly ahead, but when you’re busy taking on wave after wave of enemy, it can be a serious pain in the ass.
If you can look past those issues however, even though that’s going to be quite difficult for long time fans, there’s a decent game sitting underneath - one that’s certainly worth putting the time into playing through. Once you’ve adapted to the more simplistic and frantic style of combat, you’ll find yourself extracting quite a bit of enjoyment from the whole experience. Unlike previous games in the series though, it’s perhaps better played in shorter bursts of an hour or two, rather than trying to get through it all in one sitting.
The need to unlock skills as you play has been removed, which results in a much more open approach to things. If you’ve played the other games, you’ll have no problem adapting to the new feel, while newcomers are guided through the various techniques as necessary. New weapons are sporadically added to your armoury for different levels, so you’ll have a bit of variety on that front to keep you entertained too.
There’s quite a bit on offer for those who want to take the game online (assuming of course your online pass works… there have been reports of codes failing for quite a few gamers out there over the past 48 hours or so), with both cooperative plan and two player Ninja Trials on offer. Unfortunately the game’s take on Team Deathmatch, Clan Battle, doesn’t work quite as well as the other modes, and seems more of an arduous slog than exciting addition to the game which is a shame.
For those of you who have been looking for the definitive instalment in the Ninja Gaiden franchise, you’re not going to find it here. There are too many problems preventing it from reaching the same heights of its predecessors, as well as more than a handful of shoddy design elements. However if you’re looking for an above average hack and slasher with a decent storyline, nice visuals and a good online component, Ninja Gaiden 3 should satisfy you.