Friday, April 6, 2012

Ninja Gaiden 3 (PS3, 360) Review

The first review of April and the review to begin the next 300 reviews, Ninja Gaiden 3 was an anticipated title of mine that has finally released. (It is also planned for the Wii U.) How is it? No need to wait for the answer. Let's find out together!

Itagaki: (laughs)

Known for his work on the popular fighting game franchise Dead or Alive and for his revival of Ninja Gaiden, developer Tomonobu Itagaki recently left Tecmo and Team Ninja to work on his own pursuits, most notably a new game called Devil's Third. There was a lot of concern regarding whether Team Ninja could pick up the pieces of Itagaki's departure and still craft a fine experience with installment number three of the Ninja Gaiden HD franchise. Unfortunately, the cause for worry was justified as Ninja Gaiden 3 does little to satisfy the action gamer's thirst for blood, fun gameplay, and fierce action.

In London, England, a terrorist group has taken over a residency, and they desire the presence of Ryu Hayabusa or they will continue to kill off hostages. The nimble ninja agrees and arrives at the residency where he meets a man dressed in a red robe, face obscured by a white mask, and head covered by a hood. During their encounter, the mysterious man, claiming to be a part of the Lords of Alchemy group, infects Ryu's right arm with a curse. The curse penetrates the skin, calling upon all the souls Ryu has slain, and will rot not only his arm but will grow to his body unless Ryu can come up with a cure. So not only does Hayabusa need to fend off the curse, but he must put a stop to the Lords of Alchemy's terror-filled crime spree. The story is much more pronounced than in previous Ninja Gaiden games, and it isn't for the better either. Long cutscenes (though not Metal Gear Solid bad) infect the title like Ryu's arm curse, and the game attempts to turn Ryu into a more human-like character with deeper emotions. These moments in the story are merely cringe-inducing and further verify that video game stories are rubbish.

This hooded man holds the key to Ryu's curse.

Ninja Gaiden 3 follows a simple structure for its 8-10 campaign. You follow a linear path with no exploration to speak of, you slay rooms full of foes with various sword slashes and shuriken throws, and you move onto the next room or area. Getting lost is incredibly difficult to accomplish, but if you do somehow, you can always click in the right stick to light your path. In between sections there are opportunities to show off Ryu's platforming prowess through performing wall runs, using his kunai blades to climb off vertical walls, and utilizing poles to swing across gaps. Each checkpoint occurs after a given battle, so losing one's health (health is regenerated after every encounter) and dying isn't too punishing to the player. As you progress in the relatively short campaign, you receive new weapons such as a new sword (Ryu's Dragon Sword gets sucked up by his cursed arm) and a bow for attacking foes long-range.

Yeah, I'm sure this guy's internal injuries are just fine.

Fighting is as streamlined as possible, and usually streamlined means dumbed down in video game public relations speak. That is exactly the definition of Ninja Gaiden 3's combat. You battle wave after wave of enemies with one of three different attacks: a weak attack, a strong attack which is good for taking down enemies with shields and/or great defense, and shurikens to trip up foes from afar. When engaging enemies, you really don't have a choice as to which baddie you give priority to. It seems like the game makes you lock onto which ever opponent it wants you to combat with. This can get frustrating when there is a goon blasting you with rockets, and all you want to do is take him out. Yet the game makes you continue to do battle with the people right next to you.

Even mechanical foes need some tough love.

Additionally, most encounters with enemies are efforts in button-mashing and that is all. There were many rooms where my attention was diverted to something else, yet I still managed to clear the room. I imagine that difficulties beyond Normal make for a more interesting challenge which makes the dodging/evading mechanic more useful. That said, enemies take way too many hits to defeat, there is no real reason to experiment with new attack strategies as spamming moves seem to work well, and even though there is plenty of violence and blood to give the game its M ESRB rating, severing limbs and dismembering them has been eliminated. Furthermore, the camera is simply awful. It is persistent in changing angles and direction while in combat, so you are constantly fighting it to look at your desired target. Then there's the moving sections where you're on a monorail or what have you. I have not gotten a headache from a game in a long time, but Ninja Gaiden 3's spastic camera certainly gave me one.

By far for me the highlight of Ninja Gaiden 3 comes from its intense boss battles pitting you against war planes and mechs and screen-filling deities. This is where the God of War influence comes in with all of Ninja Gaiden 3's quick time events. Sure, they are a cheap way of separating the player from the actual action, but I would be lying if I said they didn't look cool. The time limit for each necessary input is very lax, so failing a QTE is almost something that the player needs to try to do. That notwithstanding, launching Ryu from a building, striking his sword into the cockpit of a military airplane, and sending it crashing to the ground while escaping only seconds away from the explosion is just plain bad ass.

Red is a popular color to see in Ninja Gaiden 3.

Aside from the one and done solo campaign (really, what motivation will there be to play it again?), new to the series are a myriad of multiplayer modes such as Ninja Trials where you and another player try to endure horde after horde of ruthless enemies and Clan Battle which pits you in a Team Deathmatch-esque setting with up to seven other players. Ninja Trials won't take many players long to complete as there are but less than a dozen trials to actually partake in. In the online competitive multiplayer you start out as weak ninja, but as you play games you gain levels giving you new powers and customization options to make your silent warrior of death look unique from the pack. The actual fighting in the competitive multiplayer isn't going to win any awards for innovation or longevity. Most of the battles feel random as you mash on the attack buttons to slay your online opponents.

Your online escapades will consist of
cooperative and competitive multiplayer action.

Even with its lackluster gameplay, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a beaut to look at. Gone are the shiny textures and characters of past titles in the series. For all the hack and slash action with rooms crawling with enemies that happens in the game, there is nary a case of slowdown. Everything appears to run at a steady framerate. From visuals to sound, despite the incredibly cheesy story, the voice work is excellently done. Though in battle you will hear the same taunts from thugs ad nauseum. Their sentences will sometimes cancel one another out just so they can repeat what they were going to utter. Also bad on the sound side is the music which is forgettable at best with loads of butt rock and atrocious at worst.

Such is the life of your everyday henchman.

Team Ninja seems to have lost their way without the humility-lacking Tomonobu Itagaki at the helm. Ninja Gaiden 3 is a mess of boring, repetitive gameplay, an unwelcome emphasis on story, and an unneeded addition of multiplayer. The focus on less complexity and violence makes for a game that is... well, less intriguing of a title to experience. The game is not necessarily broken, but it is not necessarily all that entertaining to plop down and play through either. Unless your desire to resume the role of a ninja is strong, you're better off with one of the previous (see: better) installments in the franchise.

[SuperPhillip Says: 4.0/10]


Chalgyr said...

This was a game I was holding out some hope for, but your review and points of concern seem to be in-line with just about everything else I've read to date as well. Disappointing to say the least, but thanks for the review!

Parko said...

This is definitely disappointing, I was hoping that this would turn out to be a must buy. I'm not so sure now...