March 24, 2012

Review – Ninja Gaiden 3

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 1:25 pm

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
Ryu Hayabusa’s latest outing opens on a briefly disorienting note that left me anticipating the worst.

Players begin as an unknown victim, looking up at Ryu before suddenly finding themselves able to control his movements – leaping from a balcony to slice into an enormous glowing deity with a series of obligatory quick-time prompts in tow. This quick sequence of events will make sense once players have come full circle, chasing a well financed doomsday cult across the globe, but it did little to ease the cynicism I admittedly brought to Team Ninja’s latest addition to the Ninja Gaiden franchise, and seemed to give merit to the scorn critics have been heaping on the title since its release.

However, the game shifts gears rather quickly, with Ryu responding to a terrorist group demanding his presence, and leaping into the streets of London to slice through the first of many soldiers offered two days of fast paced action I’ve gladly sunk my blade into.

This doesn’t entirely take away from complaints that the title is too straightforward and simplistic – because it definitely is – but rather that the truth of those accusations offers up an experience that is still inviting. Setting the game to normal difficulty presented some occasional bottlenecks, particularly during later stages, and aside from evading or blocking before slashing repeatedly, the nearly non-existent learning curve allowed me to keep the momentum of the story moving along quite nicely, which was appreciated since I actually enjoyed the story – no one is more shocked than I am about that.

There are plenty of legitimate complaints to lodge throughout the experience, and yet this straightforward affair finds a still pleasurable balance between ludicrous action sequences that feel empowering and overwhelming swarms of enemies that are often rather satisfying to slash a path through.

And insofar as others have no complaints about running around with Nathan Drake as he shoots countless mercenaries ad nausea whilst solving a few puzzles before wrapping up another adventure, I’ve still found a reasonable amount of entertainment on this trip with Ryu as he slices through helicopters, spider tanks and an obligatory dinosaur.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
The Lords of Alchemy are intent on ushering in a perfect new world by extinguishing the existing one, which kicks off a series of stages that take Ryu across the world, from major cities to secret research facilities, and even a visit to Ryu’s village. Standing between Ryu and his objective are waves of soldiers, often appearing in thick pockets of armed resistance, which will require players to wear the symbols off at least two controller buttons while clearing the path forward.

Ryu has two primary sword attacks, with most situations working a light attack and occasional confrontations requiring a heavier swing of the blade. As enemies swarm around Ryu, the player’s responsibility is evading or blocking incoming attacks and responding with one of these two options – while maybe throwing a few daggers from time to time. The game’s primary agenda is to present a pocket of enemies, leave the player to grind through them for 15-20 minutes, and then sheath Ryu’s sword as players move forward and automatically regenerate health before encountering the next wave.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
Rather than decapitating or slicing limbs off enemies, players will find opponents ready to take an impressive amount of damage, becoming more bloodied as Ryu slices into them. As a result, when you have ten or so enemies surrounding you, blood will be the key means of keeping track of which enemies are closest to staying down for good, because they really do like to pick a gun back up as soon as possible. Ryu can literally slice into enemies, bringing steel against bone, hammering a button prompt harder to cut through for more extensive damage, as well as finish off enemies who were going to fall down and die if only given an extra moment to do so.

Enemies vary from soldiers with guns, rocket launchers and blades of their own, to attack dogs, freakish genetic monsters, monk like warriors, and a few demonic creations I couldn’t hope to give a name too.

The game struggles to break up bouts of combat with scripted direction, sequences where Ryu needs to wall jump or perform a Kunai climb – holding both triggers to stick to a wall and then alternating taps of each to ascend it. Most often the game will use helicopter gunships, which are always happy to appear and fire off a barrage of missiles to change Ryu’s course through a stage. It isn’t long before Ryu receives a bow, allowing him to fire back and jump into the air to gain a brief slowdown and auto-target advantage.

Since all of this sounds straightforward, I guess I’d better get on with what I found enjoyable.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
Despite the familiarity of the formula, there’s a progressive rise of difficulty and balance that kept me playing – I suppose what I like about this is that it feels balanced while repetitious, as if there’s nearly always just enough variety and numbers in enemy ranks to push my health to the limits, but see me emerge victorious in the end. Anytime you hack and slash there’s a certain exhaustion that passes from the controller to the mind and body – somewhere in that mix, I still felt like I was working to survive these encounters.

Enemy variety leads to different concerns during battle – if you ignore someone with a blade, they’ll likely stab you, but if you ignore someone with a machinegun you’ll find yourself riddled with bullets. While dancing to the same old song, I was constantly scanning the area for the most lethal threat, and anytime I didn’t, I quickly found myself taking heavy damage for the ignorance. This often made the same pocket of enemies a changing threat that played out with subtle differences depending on what I focused on during replays, including a certain element of recurring chance when I scored lucky strikes.

Performing repeated strikes that leave enemies bloodied but whole is a strange shift, but it’s clear that Team Ninja attempts to convince a greater sense of the physical by having players hammer a button to saw into opponents. The effort isn’t entirely unsuccessful, but remains a curious change of direction all the same.

Between these sessions the game would suddenly spring a surprise helicopter attack, or simply leave me on a rooftop to contend with one – dodging missile barrages while I hurriedly tried to fire back arrows. And then Ryu would gain an opportunity to leap from the building and slice through the helicopter with his sword, landing on the wing and waiting for a chance to strike at a gunpod. As much as I loathe quick-time events, they do convey a sense of the physical. Ryu isn’t opening a jar of pickles, he’s stabbing a monster in the brain, and I have to admit that light use of these sequences wins me over and offers a welcomed break from the grind of regularly scheduled combat.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
While the game is very linear in direction, offering no pickups or skills to really master along the way, the first half of the title is well scripted. The first three quarters of the game offer interesting set-pieces and introduces a series of increasingly difficult enemies that offer patterned attacks to recognize and respond to. For better or worse, I found myself caught up in the pacing and hurriedly chewing through enemies to discover what the game might still have left to throw at me. While the last two stages devolve into terribly familiar patterns to stretch out the play, I was already too invested to surrender.

Team Ninja seeks to explore the humanity of Ryu, who is cursed very early in the game, with the dragon blade absorbed into his body and poisoning him with the blood of all the lives it has taken. The most immediate effect is your arm will glow red when you’ve killed enough enemies, allowing you to unleash a rage attack that will automatically cause Ryu to slice through some of the constant herd surrounding you.

The other side of this is that Team Ninja is interested in exploring Ryu, but also slightly baffled toward how they might accomplish that goal. There’s a consistent conflict between the idea of Ryu as a bloodthirsty monster, and as an honorable man keeping a promise to a young girl. The closest Team Ninja comes to drawing something interesting from the idea is when the player holds down a trigger to carry the child while hideous mutations jump at them, but beyond this, the morality falls entirely to cinematics that hope to imply many things Team Ninja can’t seem to find ways to convey within the play.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
Ninja Gaiden 3’s most notable void is that it seems to simply forget the ninja element very early on. While Team Ninja wants to take the series in a new direction, the result is a series of half explored ideas and mechanics that briefly appear, only to be quickly forgotten. For instance, Ryu can walk slowly behind an unsuspecting enemy to perform a stealth kill. But while the game advises players to give this technique a try early on, the option simply vanishes as no further opportunities to use this knowledge appear throughout the game.

The same neglect attaches itself to the Kunai climb and wall running, which never find means to feature in the grinding combat. The only means of breaking up grind sessions is to jump into the air to fire off arrows, which is admittedly useful for dealing with snipers and exposing cloaked enemies. While this doesn’t result in a shorter gaming experience, it does lend to an idea that stages could have had a more developed series of challenges, but for some reason fell back to repetitious combat. So I can’t deny loyal fans have reason to complain, because it is clear that there was much more intended versus what was delivered by the final product.

Boss battles are the only time the game convinces a sense of being a ninja, where blades often meet and players will find it necessary to wake up to the art of blocking and evading attacks while waiting for a window in which to strike. There are brief moments where a larger enemy might charge and give players cause to slide underneath them while slicing at their belly – memorable but short lived.

The game includes online modes that allow players to work alone or with a friend to grind through enemies, scoring higher when meeting certain kill requests. The grind of the story mode takes away any real emphasis for spending time here however. What is slightly more interesting are clan battles, where players can simply tear into one another online, using stealth ninja walks to cloak themselves and hammering buttons to win decisive strikes – though likely not interesting enough to encourage repeated visits.

Review Ninja Gaiden 3
Ninja Gaiden 3 falls far short of meeting expectations toward setting a new agenda for the series, and yet the safe route presents an opportunity for a wider audience to sample a franchise that may have previously intimidated many with the legend of its merciless difficulty.

The final stretch of Ninja Gaiden 3’s story runs short on even basic ideas and fresh assets, but maintains a momentum that encourages completion. This is far from the worst action game one could drop money on, but also a poor contender for longevity. With that said and stressed, the linear direction and absence of complicated controls does offer a title that is easy to fall into, and perhaps finds sympathy from me because even decent action experiences seem harder to come by these days. Simply put, Ninja Gaiden’s most pedestrian offering still delivers an enjoyable experience.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is certainly a shallow experience, and my enjoyment of it may say something shallow about me. But there simply aren’t many action offerings that are this easy to pickup and feature production values of this caliber, so that even when the game dips into tedium near the end, I never regretted the time invested.

Maybe it’s shallow of me to admit that just this once, I was fine with not learning complex chains and moves, with a game I could come back to a week later and not feel it necessary to run through tutorials again. As such, the game leaves the door wide open for anyone looking for a quick action experience, and while I certainly grasp why many fans and critics would rather Team Ninja explore this with a different IP, I can’t deny that there’s a reasonable amount of fun to be had in the blood and carnage being offered here.

Team Ninja

Tecmo Koei

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Xbox 360 Reviewed)

Singleplayer, Multiplayer

Release Date
March 20, 2012

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. No comment.

    P.S. I read this right after it was posted… :)

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — March 28, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  2. haha, fair enough. It’s an incredibly linear game, I just happened to have a tonne of fun slashing through it. It’s unfortunate that a lot of ideas that make brief appearances don’t build.

    Comment by Jamie Love — March 28, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  3. I’m sure it’s decent for an “action” game but it’s supposed to be a “Ninja Gaiden” game and being a *hardcore* Ninja Gaiden fan… I’m pretty devastated by what Team Ninja has done to yet another one of my favorite franchises, and this is one they should have had no problem perfecting. :

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — March 28, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

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