It was their big chance. The godfather, Tomonobu Itagaki, had long departed the series he was synonymous with, Ninja Gaiden, would continue though. They didn’t need Itagaki, they would show that with the all-new Ninja Gaiden 3. You can almost picture the Team Ninja meeting to decide on how to approach the game’s development.
“Ok, so we need to really open up this series to newcomers, especially Westerners. They don’t seem to like hard games. Suggestions? We need to look at what’s hot right now.”
“Well God of War is popular with Westerners. How about hundreds of quick-time events in a simplified combat system?”
“Goes completely against what the series is built on, let’s do it.”
Ok, it probably didn’t happen like that. The problem is, it seems to be the most logical (albeit sensationalist) conclusion as to why Ninja Gaiden 3 feels so abjectly inferior to its predecessors. To understand the present however, a quick look into the past is required.
Ninja Gaiden, and the numerous sequels and remakes it has undergone, has always been about its finely tuned combat system and rock-hard (yet fair) difficulty curve. Mastering the fluid jumps, dodges and attacks of Ryu Hayabusa was essential, the game simply demanded you invest time and learn. It only worked because it was rewarding, the more time you spent with the game, the more it all clicked with the player and progress was made.
Any attempt to bastardise those principals in favour of a more mainstream title could possibly alienate the series’ core audience, and at the same time appear as nothing more than another God of War styled wannabe to many newcomers. Sadly, the latter is what has happened to NG3.
The most grating aspect to series fans will almost certainly be the heavy-handed implementation of quick-time events into far too many aspects of the game. Attacking, counter-attacking, jumping and climbing all have far too many instances where an on-screen game of Simon Says plays out with the player. Boss battles, a series staple for fantastical design and challenge, are absolutely riddled to the point where more time can be spent on QTEs than actually using the game’s base combat system.
Another simplification of the combat system is the reduction of weapons and limitation of the Ninpo that Ryu can cast. Whereas NG2’s multiple weapons and Ninpo were progressively unlocked, only the standard Dragon Sword and a single Ninpo attack is available to players. However, further weapons can be collected through downloadable content packs (which are pleasingly free!). The addition of the talons and scythe do add a little bit extra, enhancing the somewhat mediocre combat slightly. It may have been wiser to have them in the game from the start, alleviating a little of the criticism that combat is repetitive.
NG3 still has the bombast of its predecessors. Soldiers, tanks, helicopters, mechs and even dinosaurs are all sliced apart as the game progresses. Some of the enemies are fantastically presented, combining the organic with the robotic on a huge scale. The first time they appear on screen is an impressive moment. Sadly, they’re just not as awe-inspiring as the classic bosses of previous Ninja Gaidens.
As well as the convoluted, globe trotting single player campaign, there is also a multiplayer mode added to the game. Unfortunately finding anyone playing it is a bit of a challenge. Too often game searches timed out with no other players found. A shame really, as the changes to combat make multiplayer ninja fighting an intriguing proposition. The co-op Ninja Trials mode is a brilliant concept, and should definitely be more fully explored in future NG titles. Having a friend who also owns the game will add a decent chunk of additional gameplay on.
In adding on multiplayer, changing the combat system and taking away a lot of the extreme challenge the Ninja Gaiden games are synonymous with, Team Ninja has taken its eye off the ball. Instead of trying to be what it isn’t, Team Ninja needs to let the series embrace what made it so unique. Ninja Gaiden 3 isn’t a complete disaster, to label it so would be grossly unfair. The old magic is still in there, just not in as much abundance. A regrettable case of what could have been.