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Ninja Gaiden 3
Score: 50%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI America
Developer: Team Ninja
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
I love the Ninja Gaiden series. It's always been my favorite action franchise for two key reasons. I love it for its complexity and for its challenge level. Ninja Gaiden 3 does the unthinkable: it excises both of those with almost surgical precision, resulting in a soulless action game that tries to appeal to a wider audience, but ultimately fails to entertain. It's got its moments, but they are few and far between in this unworthy sequel.

Ninja Gaiden 3 looks an awful lot like the two core games that came before it. The environments and enemies are different, to be sure, but our hero Ryu Hayabusa moves in the same basic ways. He still runs with purpose and unfathomable agility, and the swings of his sword look frighteningly lethal. The graphic level of gore featured in the Xbox 360 version of Ninja Gaiden 2 is still missing in action, but Ninja Gaiden 3 still features a ton of evisceration. The actions that lead to all the instances of said evisceration may be too simple to be inherently satisfying, but the game seems to go out of its way to increase the sense of impact created by steel cleaving through flesh and bone. The main drawback with the visuals has to do with the inexplicable slowdown you'll experience from time to time.

Ninja Gaiden 3 sounds just fine. All the on-screen action sounds as chaotic as it looks -- and it often looks extremely so. Enemies scream in agony as they are pierced, flayed, and impaled; the sounds of the piercing, flaying, and impaling are squishy and gruesome. The soundtrack is more or less what we've come to expect from the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Nothing to jump up and down about, but certainly befitting the actions of a badass master ninja.


Gameplay:
Ninja Gaiden 3 is unwisely focused on its storytelling elements. Team Ninja isn't known for being master craftsmen when it comes to narrative-heavy gameplay. This illuminates one of Ninja Gaiden 3's most glaring flaws: the pacing is absolutely horrible. Forced walk sequences are completely incompatible with the usual breakneck pace that Ninja Gaiden games usually follow. And then there are moments when the game strips almost all control from you without initiating a cutscene. Moments like when Ryu's cursed arm gives him trouble and reduces his mobility to near zero. Or moments like an unsettling early scene that has Ryu slowly approaching a terrified soldier as he fruitlessly attempts to appeal to Ryu's better nature. What are these pace-crippling moments doing in a Ninja Gaiden game?

Ostensibly, Ninja Gaiden 3 is the same kind of game as its forebearers. As Ryu Hayabusa, you make your way through a series of levels populated with enemies and occasional boss fights. You use your trusty sword to cut them all down, and you use your incredible agility to traverse any kinds of special terrain. On paper, this does indeed sound like your garden variety Ninja Gaiden game. However, the main failures lie with the mechanics.

Shadows of the World is Ninja Gaiden 3's small collection of multiplayer modes. Most of it won't surprise you if you've played Ninja Gaiden Sigma and/or its sequel. There are a few new ideas, though; most of them consist of player customization options and an experience system. The Ninja Trials (cooperative play) Mode is more or less the same multiplayer mode from the earlier games. Clan Battles are different in that they are actually competitive in nature. This eight-player mode pits two teams against each other as they vie to complete objectives. It's interesting, but it would have been better if it was using the gameplay framework of the previous installments.


Difficulty:
Ninja Gaiden 3 is child's play, and not only when compared to its predecessors. Yes, the franchise known for having some of the sharpest teeth in the action genre has been reduced to a squeak toy. Do you like to mash the (Square) button? If so, then congratulations! You are good enough to beat Ninja Gaiden 3! As long as you remember this key strategy, the legions of cannon fodder enemies will fall before you. Oh, and health regenerates after every single enemy encounter.

There are some good boss fights here, but none of them are nearly as good as the ones in previous games. One in particular makes two additional appearances with absolutely no changes to the required strategy for defeating him. What were they thinking?


Game Mechanics:
So yes, most of the subtle nuances that made Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2 great are completely missing here. Timing isn't terribly important, and neither is precision. If you want to cut that dude in the corner, run at him and hit the attack button. There's no need to perform an Izuna Drop. (That, thankfully, has not been cut out of the game.) If you're being targeted by snipers, leap into the air, hold the (L2) button, and you'll automatically snap to him for a one-shot bow kill.

Ultimate Techniques and Ninpo used to be interesting. Once upon a time, Ryu could charge up his energy over a few seconds to release a devastating attack. Often, the effects of these attacks depended heavily on the weapon type. Some of them targeted a single enemy, while others targeted a specific area. Furthermore, essence left behind by fallen enemies could speed up the charging process. In Ninja Gaiden 3, all you have to do is hold (Triangle) when Ryu's arm glows red and watch as Ryu instantly dispatches a handful of enemies with no input from you. It looks good, but the player's lack of involvement is disappointing. The same goes for Ninpo. You only have one of these this time around, but it, like the rest of the mechanics, is as good as a win button.

Ninja Gaiden and its sequel features command lists for every weapon Ryu could use. The process of learning these moves is similar to doing the same in a very well-designed fighting game. There are usually no more than six inputs or so, but precision and timing was equally important. Ninja Gaiden 3 says "The hell with that," and does everything short of actually playing the game for you. It leaves poor Ryu alone with a single primary weapon and replaces most of the command list with quick time events. Diving out of the sky to slaughter a bad guy? Quick time event. Landing the finishing blow on a giant boss? Quick time event. Even the Flying Swallow technique has been replaced by a quick time event.

Ninja Gaiden 3 is unquestionably the nadir of the long-running franchise. On its own merits, it's just an unremarkable action game. As a Ninja Gaiden game, it's an utter tragedy. However, every great producer is entitled to a failure or two. All this means is that Ninja Gaiden is no longer a consistently excellent series. I just hope Team Ninja learns from all of these mistakes, because if they don't, the future of the franchise will look very bleak indeed.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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