Ninja Gaiden 3|
Ninja Gaiden has always been one of those bittersweet franchises for me quite simply for the fact that I suck at the game, but the appeal of the fast and furious ninja combat keeps me trying again and again. Admittedly, I’ve never finished a Ninja Gaiden game although I’m getting fairly close to the end of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus on the Vita thanks to the easy mode – at least I can finally see the end of the story.
When I heard that Ninja Gaiden 3 was taking a departure from the traditional (and in my case “impossibly difficult”) gameplay I was eager to check out the latest installment in the franchise. Team Ninja has certainly gone off the rails, creating a mindless hack-n-slash not unlike classics like Devil May Cry, Onimusha, and in later levels, Dynasty Warriors. While this type of gameplay certainly has its own merits, it’s just not the right thing to do for a Ninja Gaiden game, and fans of the previous games are sure to revolt.
Gone are the skill and finesse required from the previous games, not only for incidental encounters but those controller-smashing boss battles. Ninja Gaiden 3 has been reduced to a mindless button masher where you subconsciously tap out XXX or XXY combos until you can unleash an Ultimate Technique or Ninpo Dragon smartbomb then repeat until the room is clear so you can move on and do it all over again for 8 chapters that will encompass 10-12 hours of your life you can never get back.
The designers try to mix things up by adding a collapsible bow as your secondary ranged weapon, far superior to your infinite dagger supply, but a weapon that can often be abused, especially once you get the explosive tips. While it’s not effective in smaller rooms or crowded combat, if you can get some distance between you and the enemy or an elevated firing position, you can sit there and tap RB+RT until everyone is dead.
There is very minimal exploration or platforming in the game. Often, you will need to run along the wall or climb a vertical surface using alternating taps and releases of the LT and RT buttons, possibly with a dagger attack during the climb or a last-minute assassination when you reach the top. There are also numerous moments where the floor crumbles away or you find yourself sliding down a ramp and must tap A to launch yourself then momentarily skydive before tumbling to the ground below or, if you’re lucky, tap Y for a violent impaling takedown on some unsuspecting guard.
Ninja Gaiden 3 opens with a bang as you find yourself in the final moments of an epic boss battle complete with freefalling and numerous QTE’s. I was having flashbacks to Asura’s Wrath, not knowing what I was doing or why, but furiously tapping the buttons just the same. Once the game settles into the main narrative you’ll find yourself in some sort of ninja-James Bond hybrid where each mission starts with a global map followed by your insertion into the area, sometimes by jeep, sometimes by freefalling from the back end of a C-130 just like the opening to Wolverine, and other times you just appear as part of the story.
A radical group known as the Lords of Anarchy seems bent on ushering in a new evolution of man and Ryu’s dragon blood (apparently more powerful than Charlie Sheen’s tiger blood) is the missing link. LoA terrorists take over London and try to lure Ryu into a trap. Here, he has his first of many encounters with a Guy Fawkes impersonator who also moonlights as an alchemist and somehow disintegrates Ryu’s sword infecting his arm with the angry souls of everyone the sword has ever slain. Now, the more Ryu kills the more the red veins spread up his arm as the evil curse spreads its way through Ryu’s body.
The game starts off great and despite the repetitive nature of the button-mashing combat I really enjoyed the first few levels. London was a blast taking out soldiers, stealth-killing in the fog (or was that smoke) and defeating my first spider-bot boss. The second level was even better, starting in the desert, obtaining my trusty bow, and ultimately engaging helicopters on a fast monorail ride and going head to head with a giant aircraft on the top of a towering skyscraper. And even the third level was a wild ride, freefalling into the jungle, fighting through dark caves using luminescent insect blood to light my path all the way to the first mind-numbingly stupid-hard boss – the augmented T-Rex. After consulting a few online guides and forums I made it through this fight only to find myself in some sort of futuristic holo-deck; a VR simulation that could and would kill me. You eventually break out and find yourself in some crazy James Bond villain-style lab with all sorts of crazy creatures that start off a zombies and morph into giant apes and medusa-style snakes. Has your head exploded yet?
Yeah – it’s crazy and repetitive and often ridiculously hard but not for the reasons you want. The controls are often unresponsive and the camera is all over the place trying to give you all these cool “moments” with slow-motion, freeze frames, or quick-zooms as your blade pierces an enemy torso. But all off these camera moves only make it that much harder to intelligently fight, so you end up just button mashing and hoping that somebody or something is in the path of your blade. Blocking is replaced with side rolls and forward lunges that make you untouchable to all but the bosses. Press LT and forward and you are suddenly behind your target where you can easily get a few hits then just as he turns around repeat the lunge move and XXX until dead.
Visually, Ninja Gaiden 3 looks fantastic in places and other places not so much, but then it’s hard to keep track of the action with all fast cuts and cinematic effects. Some textures looks great while others are bland. Some enemies are cool while others are boring and then they start reusing enemies. Why am I fighting British SAS in some deserted desert facility? Did they suddenly join the LoA? And in a game that is rooted in some sort of reality, how does a 800-foot Asian spider queen fit into the mix? The game is also quite dark in places and even when there is light and color the contrast is blown out. And where is all my M-rated violence? Sure, there is some blood but I want flying body parts or at least a decap every now and then. At least watching my Ninpo fire dragon spiral around the room and eat a dozen henchmen never gets old…well…maybe it does after the 20th time.
The music is great and really amps the combat adrenaline and the sound effects are also really good with weapons and combat effects blended with plenty of environmental noises. The voice acting is average; some of it really good and some of it very bad. The main villain in the white mask is awesomely evil with the perfect delivery and pompous accent. Ryu sounds like Christopher Lambert doing his raspy Raiden character. There is one Asian kid in Ryu's village that sounds a lot like Milhouse from The Simpsons.
You can polish off this game in around 8-12 hours depending on how long you get stuck on the T-Rex and a few of the other ridiculously insane boss fights. The game will offer to lower the difficulty if it catches you repeating the same battle over and over, and I really enjoyed the unique spin on checkpoints and saving by having you interact with a falcon. These are just close enough that you seldom have to repeat too much of any level if you die or want to quit for the night. Team Ninja stuck on some co-op and competitive multiplayer allowing up to 8 ninjas to do battle, none of which is particularly fun or challenging.
Ultimately, Ninja Gaiden fans will be the ones who will come away feeling the most betrayed. Team Ninja really butchered this installment in their attempts to make it more assessable to casual action gamers and newcomers to the series. And while I really dug the first four chapters, Ninja Gaiden 3 just got way too repetitive and way too difficult (for all the wrong reasons) during the last half making it a chore to finish. Wait for this game to hit bargain bins or skip entirely. You and Team Ninja can do better than this.