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Ninja Gaiden 3 review

Disappointing
AT A GLANCE
  • Boss battles
  • Pulling off combos… when the game’s not Kill Cam-ing everything
  • The kill animations are cool…at first
  • Complete gameplay divergence from what made the series great
  • Cookie-cutter enemies
  • No additional weapons, magic, or items

The Ninja Gaiden series is world-renowned for its unforgiving difficulty and reflex heavy gameplay, and for rewarding those with skill, tenacity, and buckets of patience since its 8-bit roots, and leading into its critically acclaimed 2004 reboot. Ninja Gaiden 3 takes a hard shift away from the series’ diverse combat, outrageous enemies and infamous difficulty, toward a more story-focused game. In removing the elements that made the newer NG games such standouts, it’s a disappointing sequel that feels as soulless and cold as the corpses of ninja protagonist Ryu Hayabusa’s victims.

Ryu is once again called upon to save the world from a mysterious emerging threat, the terrorist group called the Lords of Alchemy. The secret organization seeks to begin a “new world” by destroying the old one. The plot isn’t particularly interesting and makes little sense. For some reason (which is never made entirely clear) the convoluted plan for world domination relies on cursing Ryu’s dragon sword and fusing it into his arm. This makes Ryu feel the pain of all those he has ever killed. Supposedly, it’s an attempt to humanize Ryu, even though you’re still slaying into the quadruple digits by the time the credits roll. Instead, it slows up the pace of gameplay during some bland encounters. Weak narrative never really held back the action-oriented series before, but the new effort to focus the story on the now-unmasked Ryu Hayabusa just ends up clichéd, uninteresting, and essentially pointless. Fortunately, if you’re among the legions who don’t play Ninja Gaiden for its approach to ninja narration, there’s still lightning fast ninja action, but not without problems.

Gameplay is focused on giving the player the feeling of cutting through opponents by implementing a close-up “steel to bone” kill view and one button quick-time events when slaying tougher enemies. The series’ gore has been significantly reduced, discarding dismemberments and decapitations entirely (which seems oddly counter-intuitive considering the emphasis on cutting). Still, the action is hard-hitting and swift, but feels lacking in accuracy compared to the crisp controls of its predecessors.

It’s less precise because Ryu automatically zips to a weakened enemy to dispatch them with a canned kill animation, often times against control input. The camera also has trouble keeping up with zooming in and out of the action, and leaves everything confusing. Once a kill animation is triggered, successive attacks can set up chained instant kills on anyone within sword’s range. While this allows for Ryu to wipe out a large group of enemies in quick succession, the unique combat style established by the previous games disappears in favor of mashing buttons. Strategically dodging, blocking and singling out tough enemies is still necessary at times, but not nearly as necessary for survival as rapidly pounding the attack buttons.

On top of the area-clearing instant kills, Ryu still has two build-up attacks that effectively nuke the opposition. Ryu’s cursed arm will glow red after killing enough enemies enabling him to unleash a devastating one-hit kill on multiple enemies. The Ninpo ability summons a flaming dragon that devours every enemy in the immediate area. These abilities are earned and available in every fight and can sometimes be earned more than once – removing all the challenge of combat. Ryu also only has access to a single sword. Weapons like the Vigoorian Flail, massive scythe, and bludgeoning Tonfa are nonexistent, further reducing players combat options (at least until you download Koei Tecmo’s free post-release DLC, which won’t be available until a few weeks after launch). The combo counter is also a no-show, making the combo-connecting shuriken tactically pointless. Players no longer have to stay on their toes, find an advantage in another weapon, and utilize unique strategies to defeat difficult enemies, they can just activate a super ability to flush those tense situations --and any remotely interesting combat mechanics-- down the toilet.    

Along with the uninspired combat comes a legion of monolithic sword fodder. Ryu’s main opposition consists of standard soldiers and their tougher knife wielding counterparts. These chatty militants never pose much of a threat and are constantly begging for their lives once you’ve weakened them. The Spider Clan ninjas make a cameo appearance, and there are eventually some laboratory mutants to slice up, but there just isn’t enough enemy variety, so it feels less like traditional Ninja Gaiden, and more like a bland slasher with an “I Win Button” firmly installed. 

To its credit, bosses pose the most challenge and are the closest thing NG3 gets to the best of yesteryear. The boss battles require you to carefully watch the enemy’s movements while dodging and striking at opportune moments. None of them will drive players to insanity from unrelenting difficulty, but disassembling a giant helicopter with a katana and fighting a huge bio-engineered T-Rex were the definitely most enjoyable moments we had in the whole experience.

 

On the PS3, we tested out the Move controls which essentially broke down to furious waggling. The Move control option is only accessible on the easiest setting which not only reduces damage taken but activates auto-dodging and blocking once the health gauge drops too low – making it literally impossible to die. We were able to pull off simple combos easily enough, but the Move controls add nothing to the experience and being limited to only one difficulty mode make it even less enticing. At least it’s optional.

The multiplayer adds little to the experience. Woe to any poor soul entering for the first time, since you’ll only have the most basic two hit combos and ranged weapons, while experienced players have a full set of powerful moves, Ninpo attacks, and special abilities. Players gain access to special abilities and visual customizations by racking up kills, but a new headband and colored ninja jumpsuits do little to distinguish one player from the next. We often found ourselves lost in the madness, swinging at the air because we thought we were another ninja on-screen. Nothing more is offered than a standard deathmatch which quickly becomes a tedious mess. Even if you endure the uninspired single-player game, skip the multiplayer at all costs.

Ninja Gaiden 3 has completely missed the point of everything that made the series great. Challenging combat, weapon variety, engaging enemies and the series’ legendary difficulty have all been cut out in favor of a bland story, flashy finish moves, screen nukes, and button mashing. If you found Ninja Gaiden’s difficulty to be a barrier to entry, this game’s accessibility won’t make it a more attractive option. If anything, it’ll leave newcomers wondering what all the fuss was about. We even popped in Ninja Gaiden II to get a feel for how much is missing in the third game. When we finished, we wanted to keep that game in the disk tray and leave Ninja Gaiden 3 in its plastic case. 

This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3 as the lead platform. We also played through sections of the Xbox 360 version to see if there were any distinct differences, and we found no major technical shortcomings during our playtime.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Published by: Tecmo
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes

35 comments

  • lilj805 - March 30, 2012 1:52 p.m.

    Itagaki WAS NG! they shouldn't have screwed him over, I'll just play NG2 again and think of it as 3
  • Kaei - March 22, 2012 2:21 p.m.

    Great Review, I was going to get this game but guess not if the developers are going to just "FIND ME IN THE ALPS" (if you will). the reason i play video games is because of the 8-bit Ninja Gaiden.
  • elsnichkum - March 22, 2012 1:40 p.m.

    third times the (c)harm.
  • ObliqueZombie - March 22, 2012 8:20 a.m.

    Also, not to bash on you, Mr. Lorenzo, and I'm glad you guys are starting to do video reviews (it's always nice to see gameplay AND the opinion on such), but you sound like you're SO uninterested. Put a little heart, a little soul into it!
  • Ravenbom - March 21, 2012 5:29 p.m.

    Wow. I almost want to play a game that supposed to be this bad.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - March 21, 2012 4:38 p.m.

    Holy shit. I read OXM's review and was at least gonna try it, but a 3? I don't think so.
  • mysterious_warrior - March 21, 2012 10:18 a.m.

    I tried to look past no more exploration, karma, lack of weapons, lack of ninpo, and balancing issues. But man I played it last night and the combat is $hit. It is just a button masher now. I press select to check out the move list and there are tons of combos you can do, guess what though, they do not work! Everything is just random now. Random QTEs in the middle of your combo, auto-aiming to enemies closer to death (so Ryu will change direction without your input if a weaker enemy walks on-screen), hit detection is all over the place (attacks that shouldn't hit, hit - attacks that should hit, don't), health regen everywhere, enemies that don't attack you and beg for their lives
  • trackstar007 - March 21, 2012 9:43 a.m.

    could the voice on the video review be any more bland?
  • Darkhawk - March 21, 2012 6:26 a.m.

    Seriously? Videos only and no screencaps? Talk about NSFW
  • Sinnott - March 21, 2012 2:53 a.m.

    Looks like Duke Nukem Forever has someone to play with now.
  • n00b - March 20, 2012 11:53 p.m.

    missing the point hope it doesn't happen DOA 5. and dmc for all the praise gamesradar and Chris gave to Ninja Theory im still skeptical about dmc. dmc and by extension bayonetta was all about quick gameplay and stylish, rewarding and varied combat, and frankly, thats all i want from dmc. but ninja theory's past 2 games heavenly sword and enslaved did not have that, which give me reason to be skeptical. just my two cents and sry about going off topic
  • taokaka - March 21, 2012 1:11 a.m.

    totally agree, I really hope DOA5 turns out to be great because I was really looking forward to that, while I'm not particularly excited for DMC I have to agree that Ninja theory's combat just isn't the right style and so far from what I've seen it's reminding me of dante's inferno. I suppose if it does turn out like that then it isn't too bad, it just isn't going to be great. Anyway back to the point, it's a shame that NG3 has abandoned its awesome roots, I was really excited for this but I don't think I'll get it now.
  • ultimatepunchrod - March 21, 2012 6:21 a.m.

    The combat in DmC is being worked on by both Ninja Theory's people and Hideaki Itsuno (who gets little credit when it comes to DMC as a whole), who was the game director for DMC 2, 3, and 4. While 2 wasn't good, I think we can all agree that 3 was the best in the series and no matter what people say 4 had a deep combat system. The only thing that was bad about 4 was forced backtracking (and maybe Nero, but I liked his combat options). People have raised those concerns about DmC's combat, but I think that Capcom have worked with NT quite extensively to make sure that the combat is up to the DMC standard, so I'm not worried about that aspect. The gameplay videos so far have been fantastic. On topic: Good review Mr. Veloria! This is disappointing. This is my favorite genre (even though Ninja Gaiden was never my favorite game), but to see it dumbed down for newcomers is not cool. I mean, it's the 3rd game. Hasn't Team Ninja proven that there is an audience for the Ninja Gaiden games they've made in the past? This seems like Tecmo Koei just wanted a game that more people could easily get into (I will say that those Ninpo attacks looked pretty cool). As far as the Move stuff goes, it's really disappointing that they limited it to the easiest difficulty. I really wish something good would have come out of Move, but alas, nothing.
  • pr0tostar - March 20, 2012 11:17 p.m.

    Wow, bad week for videogames... Operation Raccoon City AND this totally flopped. I wonder if these publishers will learn that they should just put their franchises out to pasture with their original devs. And on that note, I agree with mainthehor... kinda concerned for DMC now lol.
  • mainthehor - March 20, 2012 9:52 p.m.

    This for some reason makes me fear for DMC
  • shawksta - March 20, 2012 9:11 p.m.

    DOUBLE OUCH, First Raccoon City Bombed and now Gaiden 3 too!?
  • SonicX_89 - March 20, 2012 9:11 p.m.

    A little off topic, but this doesn't really leave me all that hopeful for DOA 5 anymore.
  • Corsair89 - March 20, 2012 9:08 p.m.

    This is probably one of the most disappointing games I've played in a while. It's a shame, the first two Ninja Gaiden games were so good too. But at least it came with the DoA5 demo, which I had an absolute blast playing.
  • BladedFalcon - March 20, 2012 9:08 p.m.

    Oh geez... I had a bit of hope for the game, but well, this seems pretty unredeemable >>; *sighs* Yeah... this paints a gloomy future for the new DoA indeed... Tecmo sounded like they supposedly were rising above the shallowness of Itagaki and such... but can't really seem to grasp what made his games great... (And no, i am not talking about sexism and tits, I'm talking about gameplay. Says what you will about Itagaki, but he knew his game design.)
  • samsneeze - March 20, 2012 8:57 p.m.

    QUICK!! Everyone act surprised!

Showing 1-20 of 35 comments

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