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Ninja Gaiden 3 Review

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Ninja Gaiden 3 is little more than a shadow of the games that came before it.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is a sequel that tosses aside nearly every single thing you might have liked about its predecessors. It's ill-conceived from top to bottom, seemingly completely unaware of what it was that made Ninja Gaiden interesting to begin with. Namely, its stiff challenge, deep and brutal combo system, and overwhelming sensation of ninja bad-assery. Instead of any of these things, Ninja Gaiden 3 offers up an experience that practically holds your hand from beginning to end. In place of truly thrilling moments of action, it's rife with brain-dead button mashing and enough haphazard quick time events to make Asura's Wrath blush.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is pretty much the Beverly Hills Cop 3 of Ninja Gaiden games.

I don't really know what would inspire Team Ninja to head in this direction. Certainly the loss of series creator Tomonobu Itagaki must have had some bearing on it, but Ninja Gaiden 3 is such a sharp left turn for the series that you'd almost think nobody who worked on this thing had ever played a game in the series before. Clearly that's not true, as there are any number of fan-service-oriented moments peppered throughout the campaign, but I wouldn't be surprised if most diehard fans never saw them, due to just quitting this thing out of disgust.

The only explanation I can think of for Ninja Gaiden 3's existence is some mandated need to make Ninja Gaiden more accessible than its predecessors. It's certainly that. Where previous games in this series made me feel like the world's worst ninja time and time again, Ninja Gaiden 3 made me feel like pretty much nothing could kill me; because by and large, nothing could. I'm not talking about the easy mode, either. On the normal difficulty, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a total breeze. I died a few times during particularly disorienting boss fights, but those moments were rarities. Mostly, I just cut through the blade fodder in my way for the eight or nine hour duration of the campaign, with only a pitiful amount of resistance in front of me. And when I did find myself getting beat up, it was usually because the attack buttons aren't always as responsive as they should be.

Yes, there is a hard difficulty, and while that does make the enemy AI tougher, it fails to address the fundamental problem with Ninja Gaiden 3: there is just no depth to it. The combat system, long the standard-bearer for action games of this type, has been reduced to a miserable, button-mashy bore. Alternate between the two attack buttons as you please, as it matters not what combination you hit them in. This game is far more Dynasty Warriors than Ninja Gaiden.

Even most of the spells and specialty weapons that made the earlier games so awesome are just altogether missing here. You get one magic spell. One. While I certainly enjoyed watching a giant flaming dragon emerge from my hands and swallow up all the enemies around me, it did, in fact, get old some time before the umpteenth time seeing this. It also makes the combat even easier, since it lays such effective waste to pretty much whatever happens to be standing in the room with you. As for the weapons, remember when Ninja Gaiden used to let you use all sorts of crazy weaponry? That's not the case anymore.

Looks tough, right? Nope.

This makes the additional difficulty siphoning steps taken by Team Ninja all the more baffling. Much has been made of the abundance of quick time events spread throughout Ninja Gaiden 3's campaign, and with good reason--they're remarkably dull. Yes, you'll see anti-hero Ryu Hayabusa fly through the air, land on moving helicopters, slash them into exploding debris, and land perfectly on two feet while killing enemies on the ground in the process, but in order to do all of that, you just press a button, or maybe two. One boss fight, in fact, ends with you literally holding down both trigger buttons for like 20 seconds. This might be a lot more tolerable were the underlying combat more fun, but combined with the brainless real-time action, it gives one the impression that Team Ninja intended for this game to be played by those who have never played video games before.

Look, the idea of making Ninja Gaiden more accessible isn't a horrible one. After all, those earlier games could be punishing well beyond reason. The issue here is that Team Ninja went completely in the other direction. Instead of scaling back a little bit here and there to try and ease a new audience in, it just veers straight off a cliff.

It's depressing, because you can see glimmers of good ideas buried within the monotonous gameplay. While the lack of limb severing attacks this time around is a bummer, the game is nonetheless bloody, and full of absolutely brutal looking attacks that become even more so when you slice straight into an enemy, and find yourself mashing buttons to cut through whatever bone your sword happens to run into. It's the one cathartic thing Ninja Gaiden 3 has going for it, but surrounded by so much mediocre stab-'em-up gameplay and outright stupidity, it's nowhere near enough to keep you interested.

I'm not completely sure why this multiplayer mode exists. I'm not sure Team Ninja does either.

Speaking of stupidity, Ninja Gaiden 3 has a plot. Yes, I know. Ninja Gaiden games are always kind of nonsensical and weird, but this one really goes for the gusto in terms of making absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. It's the kind of stream-of-consciousness nonsense you'd expect to hear blurted out of the mouth of a particularly hyperactive twelve-year-old, full of demon prophecies, evil corporations trying to destroy the world because of reasons, evil alchemists also trying to destroy the world because who the hell knows, and also healthy doses of rather unpleasant misogyny; the kind that goes beyond the usual absurd boob jiggling (of which there is plenty) I might add. Look, Team Ninja is not generally who I look to for thoughtful female character interactions in my video games, but it gets pretty over-the-top here.

What's even worse is that there is an air of self-importance to Ninja Gaiden 3 that is completely unearned. The plot mostly revolves around Ryu moaning over his life as a "murderer," due to a curse put on him that basically makes his arm morph into an increasingly monstrous, blood-red demon...thing, that also gives him special powers. The few times the game actually bothers to do something with all this new-found character pathos, it all but disregards it moments later, when Ryu is cutting dudes to pieces like nothing ever happened. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. This game can't even keep its core plot on track, much less build upon any narrative ideas that go beyond "STAB THAT DUDE."

Case in point: There is an entire mission section smack dab in the middle of the game where Ryu goes back to his village and then goes and fights a bunch of ninjas because... I guess the designers realized he'd been fighting too many soldiers and genetically-engineered monsters, and not enough ninjas? It's a senseless divergence that is even more maddening when you realize the game never bothers to explain any of it, and in fact seems to forget that it even happened. How the hell are you going to make me fight a skyscraper-sized witch demon for 15 minutes and then just completely forget to explain why?

If you're mainly here to get an eyeful of Chesty McNinjalady, you'll be sad to hear she's barely in this game.

Maybe I'm trying too hard to find logic where there is none. It certainly doesn't feel like Team Ninja really gave too terribly much of a damn about any of its ideas here. It got them working well enough to be functional (though sometimes camera glitches and unresponsive controls negate that), and looking reasonably good (the game is pretty sharp visually). That's especially true of the game's inexplicable multiplayer component, which allows players to fight each other in arena battles, or take on wave after wave of bad guys with a co-op buddy. You may be shocked to learn that these modes reek of non-effort. They work, but the twitchy camera, combined with the cramped-feeling environments, pretty much kills what little fun there was to be had. If anything, this multiplayer component just seems like an excuse to tack an online pass onto the game.

Maybe those still left at Team Ninja just assumed that the visual splendor of seeing Ryu Hayabusa stab things into oblivion (as well as the occasional side-character boob jiggle) was all players wanted out of a Ninja Gaiden game. The combo system and intense challenge didn't matter so much as the mere visual of Ryu flying around like a unstoppable death machine. This assumption would be incorrect. Ninja Gaiden is great because you feel like you are actually accomplishing something when you best it. You feel like you've actually overcome an obstacle worth overcoming. Sure, there were changes that could have been implemented to perhaps make the game a bit less overwhelmingly aggressive in its hatred of the player's success, such as the legitimately improved checkpoint system and even a few of those quick time events tossed in from time to time. But killing the combat system that made this franchise so enticing, and robbing it of any modicum of challenge was so far beyond what was necessary that it leaves Ninja Gaiden 3 feeling like little more than a stripped-down husk of its former glory. If the previous Ninja Gaiden games were like carefully built, brutally fast hot rods, Ninja Gaiden 3 feels like it should be up on bricks on somebody's lawn.

Alex Navarro on Google+
104 Comments
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Edited by Akyho

Alex always gets the bad games. He takes the bullets so you dont have to.

The writing was on the wall for Ninja Gaiden 3 with "We dont have violence so you can feel for the henchman you just killed."

Posted by HadesTimes

Good Review Alex, I'm surprised you gave it such a generous score. I've played about the first 2 or 3 hours and I can barely stand it. The achievements are easy at least.

Posted by gamefreak9

... Ninja Gaiden Black was the best action experience EVER. What have you ass-holes done?

Posted by Anlino

Been great following your progress on Twitter.

Posted by BonOrbitz

@Akyho said:

Alex always gets the bad games. He takes the bullets so you dont have to.

The writing was on the wall for Ninja Gaiden 3 with "We dont have violence so you can feel for the henchman you just killed."

That's not true. SSX, Saints Row: The Third, and Journey spring to mind.

I had a feeling this game was going to be bad when I saw the European producer or someone on X-Play wearing Itagaki-like shades telling Adam Sessler that this game will make you feel like you're "actually killing someone".

Posted by CitizenJP

What a shame.

Posted by Draxyle

It's quite a shame that Ninja Gaiden has fallen so hard after one good entry.

The CBS money needs to buy Alex some more avatars, just by the way.

Edited by Dany

I hear the credits are unskippable

So FUCK this game apparently.

Online
Posted by zombie2011

Yeah after the demo the game seemed to play like Ninja Blade, not the Ninja Gaiden.

Posted by CookieMonster

This game exists?

Posted by Nadafinga

With virtually nothing positive to say about the game, I'm wondering where the 2 stars came from. This reads like a zero star review.

I know I know, star ratings don't really matter. I'll be avoiding the game either way.

Posted by Dany

@CookieMonster said:

This game exists?

Nope, lets pretend it doesn't.

Online
Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

I wish Alex worked in office with the rest of the bomb squad. I would like to hear him talk about this game on a podcast, no one else in the office is going to. 2 stars is what I would give it as well.

Posted by mikey87144

Shame really. Love this series but I'm not going to be supporting a game like this.

Posted by TheJohn

Hey, internet. Which Ninja Gaiden game should I buy for my PS3? I haven't played any of them but I enjoyed the combat in the demo of what I believe was the first one out for the PS3 way back when.

Posted by BaroqueSampson

@TheJohn: Sigma. Or Sigma 2. The original Ninja Gaiden is one of my favorite action experiences ever. I hear Sigma only builds on that.

Posted by deerokus

I love Alex's reviews of bad games. It actually seems like 2/5 is generous.

Posted by Alex

@BaroqueSampson: Agreed. Sigma and Sigma 2 are both fantastic.

Staff
Edited by TheSouthernDandy

sigh...this seriously bums me out. NG is where I went for tough as nails awesome Ninja bad-assery. Now what do I do huh? NOW WHAT DO I DO??

Posted by Example1013

@Draxyle said:

It's quite a shame that Ninja Gaiden has fallen so hard after one good entry.

The CBS money needs to buy Alex some more avatars, just by the way.

Why? Alex gives the same two scores for everything, so having trollface mcsnarky avatar seems fitting. Love ya Alex!

Posted by CharAznable

Fucking fantastic review, Alex.

Posted by spiceninja

I heard that the game only has one, non-upgradeable weapon, but has day 1 free DLC for other weapons. What the hell is up with that?

Posted by Vinny_Says

this is obviously a troll review to attract more pageviews....some guy said it on the forums so it's true

Edited by Brackynews

So, Ninja Blade-en? :/ At least they didn't tack on Kinect support for casting magic. ONE spell?? Really??! (Love the Ryu Foxworthy imagery at the end.)

Posted by Jaqen_HGhar

I feared as much seeing the footage of it. Oh well, at least we still have Ninja Gaiden Black. Those where the good days.

Posted by Hailinel

Different Team Ninja, different Ninja Gaiden. I'm going to play it eventually, though I'm considering waiting for the Wii U version since that version of the game will allegedly have console-specific features.

Online
Posted by zyn

Not surprised. Great review Alex.

Posted by rm082e

So sad to see. I spent hundreds of hours on NGB. Favorite game of all time. Seeing the series reduced to this is kind of heartbreaking.

Posted by DukesT3

But I love Beverly Hills Cop 3...

=(

Posted by Sooty

I liked Beverly Hills Cop 3 :(

Posted by paisan13

@Dany said:

@CookieMonster said:

This game exists?

Nope, lets pretend it doesn't.

Haha ^_^

Posted by hermes

I see most of the points Alex sees in this game as valid, but there is one that still bothers me.

How the hell are you going to make me fight a skyscraper-sized witch demon for 15 minutes and then just completely forget to explain why?

I saw that point being drawn on multiple reviews of the game, but it never felt so big to me...

Maybe I am missing something, but the randomness of enemies and locations was something that I considered part of the franchise. You fight in a skyscraper against ninjas and the boss fight is a giant spider, next is a cave where you fight an skeleton dinosaur, a jungle filled with monsters, a subway where you face a robotic worm and a volcano where you fight a demonic bat.

Maybe this one is worst in some respect, but it seems like an unfair point to hold against this game in particular, when the previous were just as arbitrary.

Posted by paisan13

Thanks Alex for an as usual honest review of a ******* bad game, you are one of the few the has the balls to tell it like it is ^_^

Posted by Chris2KLee

Shame, the basic idea of a more accessible NG game sounds good, but to dumb it down this much seems to have crippled it. Good review from Alex as usual.

Posted by damswedon

@TheSouthernDandy said:

sigh...this seriously bums me out. NG is where I went for tough as nails awesome Ninja bad-assery. Now what do I do huh? NOW WHAT DO I DO??

Hope enough of the Bayonetta combat makes it way into Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance? I've never played any of the Ninja Gaiden games so if they are completely different to the Devil May Cry/Bayonetta games discard that.

Posted by kerse

I feel sorry for Alex, it seems like he gets to play all the bad games lol.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

@PlasmaBeam44 said:

I heard that the game only has one, non-upgradeable weapon, but has day 1 free DLC for other weapons. What the hell is up with that?

That DLC is not day one. It's coming out April 3rd.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

@Nadafinga said:

With virtually nothing positive to say about the game, I'm wondering where the 2 stars came from. This reads like a zero star review.

I know I know, star ratings don't really matter. I'll be avoiding the game either way.

My thoughts exactly. Often times, there's a crazy dissonance between the written review and the stars given, but as you said, it's not about the stars. Just weird to see.

Posted by TheJohn

@Alex said:

@BaroqueSampson: Agreed. Sigma and Sigma 2 are both fantastic.

Brilliant. Thanks, duders!

Posted by jred250

Quote this if you imagine Alex's voice while reading the review.

Posted by Nekroskop

A fitting punishment.

Posted by Cloudenvy

@LooseChange said:

But I love Beverly Hills Cop 3...

=(

@Sooty said:

I liked Beverly Hills Cop 3 :(

You both better be joking. D:<

Posted by phrosnite

Great game.

Posted by Bones8677

If anything, this multiplayer component just seems like an excuse to tack an online pass onto the game.

Pfft. THAT'S RIDICULOUS! >_>

Posted by csl316

Aw man, if Chesty McNinjalady can't save this... things must be bleak.

Posted by Cybexx

I didn't think Itagaki was the one holding that team together, guess I was dead wrong, The Ninja Gaiden reboot on Xbox was to last generation what Demon's Souls and Dark Souls is to this generation: Hard as hell and frequently on the verge of being unfair but never quite crossing that line. You always felt that if you were just a little bit better you could have survived, as opposed to the controls being the limitation. It was a game that was appealing because it flew in the face of the hand-holding and difficulty-softening of modern games, if you weren't turned off by the difficulty it was very rewarding.

It sounds like Team Ninja doesn't really understand their audience, they were never making anything that had a chance to be the next mass appeal game, they were making the hard of the hardcore skill based game, the type of game that spread by good word of mouth. Now they've succeeded in making a game that still won't appeal to anything approaching a casual gamer or the Call of Duty crowd and they've alienated their fan base, perfect.

Posted by cavemantom

@bonorbitz said:

@Akyho said:

Alex always gets the bad games. He takes the bullets so you dont have to.

The writing was on the wall for Ninja Gaiden 3 with "We dont have violence so you can feel for the henchman you just killed."

That's not true. SSX, Saints Row: The Third, and Journey spring to mind.

I had a feeling this game was going to be bad when I saw the European producer or someone on X-Play wearing Itagaki-like shades telling Adam Sessler that this game will make you feel like you're "actually killing someone".

It does: yourself.

RIP, Ninja Gaiden. I hope Devil's Third exists/is cool.

Posted by RVonE

DAT VEIN!

Posted by fisk0
@TheSouthernDandy said:

sigh...this seriously bums me out. NG is where I went for tough as nails awesome Ninja bad-assery. Now what do I do huh? NOW WHAT DO I DO??

We will always have The Last Ninja.
Posted by KROMEangel

Ouch.

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