Ninja Gaiden has changed, there are no two ways about it. Before the games were seen as the powerhouse of the hardcore gamer, now with Ninja Gaiden 3 it has moved to a new audience; the mainstream. For me this has been a blessing and a bane. I have played a few of the titles in the series before however as I entered relatively late in the series I found myself feeling out of my depth when it came to the gameplay of the series. It’s a dramatic reversal that Ninja Gaiden’s opened up to the world of mainstream gamers, but has this sacrifice been worth it just to gain further audience appeal?
To say that the game starts with a bang would be a massive understatement, Ryu is called to London after a terrorist organisation takes our Prime Minister hostage. This gives you the first taste of the new gameplay and it is a bitter sweet taste. As the stage starts, you are presented with a small group of enemies, a scene that previously would have required thinking and probably a few retries, however it ends up being a bloodbath with a spark of fire and a blur of steel.
To say that the game starts with a bang would be a massive understatement.
This is archetypal of the experience within Ninja Gaiden 3, where enemies used to offer a challenge to Ryu, now you can cut through them at will, which makes for a very impressive display to watch but you’re playing a game not watching a movie. The lack of skill required is where the bitter sweet situation that I mentioned in the introduction comes in. While many hardcore fans of the series will feel betrayed by the stripping away of the skill and difficulty levels that made Ninja Gaiden as big as it has been, it does open the experience up and in some instances streamlines the gameplay.
The unfortunate consequence of streamlining the experience takes its toll on the repetitive nature. Throughout the duration of the game this process is repeated numerous times which would have been okay if there was some variation but other than a change of enemy types the game sticks to what it knows.
The developers have come up with an amazing way to cover up the lack of difficulty in the game, by having waves of enemies. Yes, the old tactic of making games harder by just chucking boat loads of fodder at you to carve through is back and back in a big way. None of the enemies pose much of a challenge once you figure out how to defeat them, this does offer a small tactically edge but this is mostly a matter of using heavy attack to break their block or shield and quick attack to take them down after that.
The storyline in the Gaiden games has never been that much of a ‘grounded in reality’ plot, but this entry takes a step towards that. Following the attack on London, Ryu encounters a mysterious man who casts a curse on Ryu which breaks down his Dragon Sword and fuses it into Ryu’s arm. This leads to the thousands of souls that Ryu has killed with the blade to infect his arm, the now cursed arm is gradually weakening Ryu. From here the story devolves into a very normal evil organisation and it’s quest to rule the world with Ryu the only one to save it.
There has been a fair few features cut back in Gaiden 3, we have already talked about the combat but there is more. Ninpo has been moved to a power up bar that charges as you kill soldiers in combat areas, but you need to use that bar up during the battle as if you don’t after you kill the last enemy you lose it all. This devolves the combat further in a lot of respects, as Ninpo can kill all enemies in a given area you only really need to build the bar up and unleash it to win the day.
Another element that has been streamlined is the health system, previously health was an important commodity, but now it is simple a battle element. Your Heath bar can be refilled in a variety of ways, the first and most usual way is via a save point, this restores all your health to full. There is also Ninpo which will also restore your health to full, while your health bar also restores after every fight. The problem with the end of battle restore is that it doesn’t restore everything. As you fight and take damage not only does your health decrease but so does the length of the bar. Using Ninpo and a save point restores both health and the bar to full length but finishing a battle alive only restores the health to the bar’s current length, nothing more. Not that you should worry too much as save points are pretty frequent within the stages and so is the ease of powering up the Ninpo.
Another sore point is that customisable weapon upgrades have been removed, no longer can you upgrade your sword in any way you wish, in fact the sword no longer has any upgrades at all. You are given a bow which can be upgraded but you have no control over that change.
Boss battles are the one shining gem in the game… well they would be if it wasn’t for the small fact that they are reused. The first time you encounter a boss the fight is impressive and you revel in the stylish combat, however you can fight some bosses up to three times which by the third time makes things extremely boring.
There is one problem that seems to persist across all Ninja Gaiden games and that is the camera. It just isn’t fast enough to catch up with the action, this is made especially clear with the streamlined combat. There has been many a time in the game where I was attacked by an unseen enemy that wasn’t shown on the screen or hit by a projectile that was fired from somewhere the camera hadn’t shown me. This is all compounded by the lack of an easy way to lock the camera to your front view quickly.
The PS3 version has Move support, but support is a very loose word. The problems setting up the controller could have been levelled squarely at the controller but alas no. As many other games have shown, Move can be used and set up easily, but here it is very much a mini-game of trail and error, which leads to nothing but frustration. Once it is set up the controller works, but due to the hit and miss nature you’ll find that most of the time you fall back to the normal controller just for ease of use.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is going to sting the loyal fans that the game has built up over the years.
Ninja Gaiden 3 does offer some multiplayer options, the premier of which is 4 vs 4 clan matches. These offer some interesting matches where stealth is rewarding, which is something that is lacking in the single player. There is nothing that will engage your for longer than a few hours here, but at least you have the option.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is going to sting the loyal fans that the game has built up over the years, but the changes will encourage the more mainstream players into the series. Whether the changes were required is questionable as Ninja Gaiden is a strong and popular franchise. But it seems more probable that Tecmo are trying to protect themselves from the revamped Devil May Cry that will be hitting at some point this year.
Rating: AverageReview Policy(version tested: PS3)
You can order both the Collector’s Edition (PS3|Xbox360) and the Standard Edtion (PS3|Xbox 360) from ShopTo.