Before I tell you what I think of Ninja Gaiden 3, let me say something up front: exploding shurikens suck. Their introduction was when I stopped playing Tomonobu Itagaki's Ninja Gaiden, as it was clear this was not my thing. With Itagaki having left Tecmo to work on Devils' Third, the Ninja Gaiden series is under new design management, lead by Metroid: Other M's Yosuke Hayashi.
Ninja Gaiden 3 was at E3 in its first playable incarnation, even making a splash at Nintendo's press conference, confirming that, yes, Wii U owners will also be able to join the bloodbath. But it was running on Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s in Los Angeles, wherein Hayashi was making his pitch for the series' new direction. At a glance, not much has changed; you're still smashing buttons, dudes are falling apart alongside blood geysers and everything's moving really fast.
It's when you start actually hitting those buttons, however, it's clear Ryu Hayabusa's changed.
There are button prompts everywhere now, with quick time events now regularly incorporated into combat. It's not entirely clear how the button prompts are triggered, as it didn't happen in every encounter. Moreover, the prompts don't appear early enough for you to actively process them. In every instance, I engaged the button prompt by accident--I was hitting square anyway. When the prompts do appear, you can rest assured the enemy's about to meet a quick death.
The prompts extend to traditional quick time events, too, like ducking underneath a truck or tapping shoulder buttons to scale a wall. But as this demo is Ninja Gaiden 3's coming out party, it's hard to not have one's takeaway be plastered top to bottom with memories of button icons.
The other major mechanic introduced in the demo involved Hayabusa's mutated arm. Nothing in the demo made it clear how the arm's introduced narratively, but as story was never the stand out feature in previous Ninja Gaiden games, who cares? You're only given the ability to quickly execute a handful of guys at once in the demo, the assumption being there will be more options in the final game. The power itself is a stringing together of the automated button prompt kills without all the button prompts. It only takes moments to charge up the arm's use, however, which means it can be spammed over and over again. Eventually, I was just slashing dudes in order to waste time in-between using the arm.
The reason I backed away from the original Ninja Gaiden was the realization Itagaki had designed something more akin to a fighting game than a traditional action romp. You can (and I do) happily button mash through the God of War series. That wasn't the case in Ninja Gaiden at all, which is why the players who it clicked for found the experience so rewarding. Itagaki had made an action game where pressing each button had an important consequence and maintaing flow was crucial.
It's difficult to say whether Ninja Gaiden 3 is completely moving away from that, but the constant interruption of combat in favor of elaborate, scripted kills makes the case. Maybe if there was a way to make such kills optional, letting people indulge their own preference for how to play. By the end of the demo, though, I was definitely using these gameplay constructs as a go-to crutch to finish sequences faster and move onto the next one. The whole experience felt a bit automatic--quick time kill, charge up arm, kill room of dudes with charged attack. Rinse, repeat.
This is not how I remember Ninja Gaiden.