Ninja Gaiden 3 Review
I feel like my video game past has been coming back to haunt me. A few weeks ago, Nintendo finally got around to revamping one of my favorite NES games, Kid Icarus (cannot... stop... playing... ), and now Ninja Gaiden 3 (PS3) is on my desk. The original Ninja Gaiden on NES was one of the first games I ever owned, and I've been following the series ever since (Fun Fact: Ninja Gaiden (NES) was the first game ever to utilize cutscenes to tell a story. It's true!). My history with ninja Ryu Hayabusa has been a long and beneficial one, but Ninja Gaiden 3 is the worst thing to happen to our hero since Tecmo released Ninja Gaiden Black (why couldn't they just leave the fixed camera alone?) on the original Xbox. By the time I'd finished the final boss, my entire personality had morphed into that of Towelie from South Park; I found myself mumbling, "I have no idea what's going on right now." To put it plainly, Ninja Gaiden is a franchise that should be held in the highest regard. Games like Ninja Gaiden 3 threaten legacies (remember Devil May Cry 2?) and lose franchise fans.
"Oh he's just being dramatic. It couldn't be THAT bad," I hear you saying to yourself. Nothing would delight me more than self-applying the exaggerator label, but in this case I'm leveling with you; Ninja Gaiden 3 is a bad game. Let's kick off with the most important aspect of any adventure: gameplay. Franchise fans know one of the crowning jewels in Ninja Gaiden's headdress is amazingly difficult, but never unfair, combat. For whatever reason, Tecmo decided to do a 180 and make Ninja Gaiden 3's combat, you guessed it, either too easy or simply unfairly difficult. The omnipresent "any single enemy can give me a game over" tone has fallen completely by the wayside in favor of weak henchmen and laughably easy boss battles (or, conversely, a camera that only seems to be concerned with blocking your view will cause many a cheap death).
Difficulty aside, Ninja Gaiden 3 just doesn't feel like a member of the Ninja Gaiden family for two reasons: stage progress and violence. Wait, what? I'll explain stage progress first. Ninja Gaiden 3 doesn't convey the sense you've made any physical progress during the game, mostly because the campaign is, at it's basest level, merely a series of interconnected rooms filled with enemies. The ENTIRE single player experience can be viewed as such: Enter room, clear room of enemies, enter next room, clear enemies, enter... You get the picture. Boss battles do help to break up the monotony, but like I said before, they are crazy easy, oft repeated and often just plain stupid.
The violence is Ninja Gaiden 3's Achilles heel, but not in a way you might expect. Tecmo announced early on that they were moving away from severed limbs and heads in favor of giving the player a sense of what it feels like to cut through flesh, bone and sinew. To the surprise of exactly no one, the change comes off as a weak one. We aren't going to get into the old game violence debate here, but despite the changes' best intentions, it makes Ninja Gaiden 3 feel like a censored, watered-down version of what could have been a great game.
If you've been with the franchise for a while, you already know that Ninja Gaiden plotlines rarely come close to making any sense whatsoever. What we've got in part three is similarly disjointed, but with a much darker tone; Ryu is possessed by a demon/sword, turning him into one of the series' fiends. It sounds cool on paper, like a Prototype 2-type mutation with special attacks and such, but the plot device is totally wasted gameplay-wise. The only time you'll be actively thinking about your possessed arm is when it is slowing Ryu to a crawl or just generally getting in the way, and the result is a feeling that Ryu is like a driver's ed car, with someone pressing the passenger side brake every so often.
Beyond the wasted arm mechanic, the plot of Ninja Gaiden 3 will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. In a move reminiscent of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the jump to Warrior Within, Tecmo amps up the moral ambiguity by displaying PLENTY of civilian and innocent death, all in search of just how far they could go. No one appreciates this kind of shift any more, and the dour, depressing tone will only appeal to those who aren't old enough to be playing M rated games anyway. To make matters worse, the game relies HEAVILY on cutscenes, one right after another. So not only is the tone just unpleasant, it is constantly shoved in your face.
I could keep going, talking about the targeting system that renders all ranged weapons unusable or how you'll often see one boss multiple times, but I won't. Ninja Gaiden 3 isn't good. It isn't the Ninja Gaiden you know, the Ninja Gaiden you love. With equal parts disappointment and disgust, my opinion on this one isn't too high. My advice? Remember Rachel from the Xbox Ninja Gaiden (or Black, or Sigma, or Sigma Plus)? Sure you do. Think about her for a little while and save your hard-earned dollars. You can thank me later.
Final Rating: 40%. The score should probably have been lower, but I'd like to see Tecmo get another chance to return Ryu Hayabusa to his former glory.