I’m fairly sure you’ve scrolled down and had a peak at the rather average score sitting at the bottom of the page. It wasn’t a pleasant number to write down, as I love the original Ninja Gaiden, but the third in the series has a number of issues that outweigh the good stuff.
The game starts with some VIPs being held hostage in London. The demands are simple – the hostage takers want the game’s protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, to pay a little visit. He duly obliges, and from there the story branches off into alchemy and the end of the world, and in the process Ryu’s Dragon Sword gets cursed and proceeds to break apart and become absorbed into his right arm.[drop2]This is, understandably, a bit of an issue, as now the souls of thousands of vanquished enemies are swirling around inside Ryu’s arm. It looks bloody awful too, like the worst type of skin condition one could ever come across. It’s a weird story, although I guess that can be said about all Ninja Gaiden games, but it does mean that you get a see a wide variety of locales.
The big change, and one that Ninja Gaiden fans will spot right away, is with the combat system. The initial assault on London is a whirlwind of stabbing, slicing, and fire. There was a time where a single enemy would pose a serious threat to Ryu, and every move would need to be carefully considered, but sadly this is no longer the case.
Enemies are now mere fodder to be disposed of in a matter of seconds. Initially it’s all rather exhilarating, and by mashing the square and triangle button I carved my way past the first set of soldiers. Then a little quick time event pops up and completing that sees the camera zoom in for a “steel on bone” finisher. It looks stylish, and you will feel like a proper bad-ass.
Unfortunately this sense of empowerment fades when the same thing is repeated over and over again for the next eight hours. There’s little satisfaction in having Ryu take down six enemies in one go by simply pressing triangle, and no decent upgrades to keep up the player’s interest in terms of experimentation. Ninja Gaiden 3 makes up for the enemies’ lack of difficulty by simply chucking wave upon wave at you which, at best, is tedious, but the worst case scenarios will have you switching off for a while in annoyance.[drop]This isn’t helped by a camera that simply can’t keep up with the action. A lot of the time it insists of looking head-on at Ryu, rather than showing you the surrounding environment, so prepare to be hit by projectile throwing enemies you can’t actually see. Amazingly this is the exact same problem I pointed out in my review of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, which is based on a game that’s nearly a decade old. All that time and the camera is still exactly the same.
Attacking enemies can also be a bit hit and miss, as there isn’t really a target lock to speak of, and coupled with the frustrating camera angles it’s sometimes possible to miss an enemy entirely, or end up hitting an entirely different opponent by accident (my record is hitting three different enemies with one attack, without meaning to).
Other things that have been streamlined are the health and ninpo (magic) system. You can no longer top your health up manually during fights, and instead your bar will refill once all enemies have been defeated (or by using a ninpo attack). Ninpo use has also been restricted, with the game only allowing you to use an attack once a bar in the top left of the screen fills up. This bar’s progress doesn’t carry over between fights, so if you don’t use it the bar will empty once all enemies attacking you have been defeated.
Upgrading weapons has been removed completely. The only weapon you have access to is a Sword, although more will be coming via DLC (new games come with a scythe and some claw weapons). For me this is a massive pity. Saying that, the Sword is still a formidable weapon, with good range, speed and power. You’ll also get a bow to use for ranged combat, and that does get an upgrade, albeit one that you have no control over.[videoyoutube]Ryu’s cursed arm can also come in handy. Kill enough enemies and it’ll glow red, allowing you to unleash a powerful technique. The downside to this is that sometimes the game decides the curse is too much for Ryu to bear, and everything goes into slow motion as he limps his way across the screen. This isn’t fun in the slightest.
Throughout this there are glimmers of hope. Sometimes the game gets the pacing just right in terms of enemy number, and it’s here where an element of satisfaction creeps in. The boss fights are suitably varied, although unfortunately this gets somewhat negated by the game reusing a number of them. Expect to fight some bosses up to three times. Still, the first time you fight them is pretty cool.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is also a nice looking game. The main character models and cutscenes are of particular note, as well as the ninpo attack that lights the screen up like the 4th of July. The locations are varied, but a bit hit and miss in terms of aesthetics.
A feature touted for the PS3 version of the game is PlayStation Move functionality. First impressions of this are, sadly, not very good at all. Setting it up was extremely trial and error, with lots of tinkering needed, and for some reason the motion control option is set to off, even when Move is on. Our friends at iWaggle3D posted a very good video with regards to the problems with setting up Move, and I was very relieved to find out it wasn’t just me being stupid.
When you do get it up and running, there are yet more problems. Pulling off specific combos with precise Move movements sometimes feels nigh on impossible, and in the end it’s just easier to waggle the Move about as this is more than enough to dispatch most enemies.
With the single player campaign out of the way, there are a number of online modes to try, including a 4 vs. 4 clan battle, and some co-op Ninja Trials. Unfortunately access to this has proved somewhat problematic. Our online pass didn’t arrive until after the embargo deadline, and even after that further issues occurred. This isn’t Tecmo’s fault, rather the nature of receiving code on a debug machine that can’t download game updates.
- Looks good.
- Initially exciting.
- Decent boss fights (the first time, anyway).
- Combat soon becomes repetitive.
- Dreadful camera.
- The recycling of bosses isn’t necessary.
- There’s rarely an incentive to experiment with new moves.
- Move support is poor.
Please don’t take this review as the ranting of a moody Ninja Gaiden fan. Remove the franchise name and the score would still be the same. Despite promising much at the start, Ninja Gaiden 3 misfires at almost every turn, and whilst it’s not a bad game, it struggles to rise above average.