The Ninja Gaiden series has been lauded for its extreme difficulty, but satisfying combat. Since its rebirth on the original Xbox many years ago it’s been considered one of the most controller-breaking experiences out there. Ninja Gaiden 2 stepped up the game, adding in some customization, unique locales, and plenty of weapons to the mix to propel the series further. Now that Ninja Gaiden 3 is here, the first game sans Creative Director Tomonobu Itagaki, there are some big shoes for Team Ninja to fill.
The story begins with Ryu Hayabusa being called out by a mysterious group who take some political figures hostage. Their demands are simple - they want Ryu. After an awkward meeting with some secret government agency, Ryu is sent in, fighting his way to a climatic battle with a nameless and somewhat faceless character. Suddenly Ryu’s arm becomes possessed by a disease, causing his famed Dragon Sword to disappear and his mind to become cloudy and confused.
Players familiar with the series will be right at home with the basic combat of hard and light attacks. Mixing these up is used to create different moves and a deeper skill set is utilized when combining jumps and slides. It’s paramount that you are quick and agile; you are a ninja after all. Fighting one enemy for too long is death, instead you must bounce back and forth between attackers wearing them down slowly and finishing them off when the chance arises.
Yeah, there's a bit of blood in this game.
Ryu has three main weapons he can use to fend off attackers - a sword, shurikens, and a bow and arrow with explosive tips. You basically have short, middle and long range attacks here to utilize. On top of this, killing enemies will earn you Ki which unleashes a special dragon ability to destroy most enemies on the screen and refill your health. A little later on the game you are able to have a second ability utilizing your possessed arm to unleash a brutal wave of attacks on enemies.
Sadly the combat just doesn’t feel as deep as it has in previous games. The same patterns seem to work over and over again, and though the game tries to throw in a heavy enemy or a distance enemy to break up your methodological killing, it’s a small diversion until it’s back to the norm. While the game tries to be more difficult by throwing more at you, there are some severe frame rate issues. We played on the PlayStation 3 primarily, but we’ve seen reports of the issue plaguing both platforms.
Between combat sections you’ll be doing some minor platforming. Running on walls to cross gaps, climbing on walls to reach new heights, and swinging and climbing on ropes. These sections aren’t difficult in any way except that you’ll need to be an expert in timed rhythm presses of the trigger button.
Finally there are the boss battles, which are a complete mixed bag. While some offer a decent challenge and require some strategy, others are just downright stupid. The T-Rex battle comes to mind, yes...a T-Rex. To defeat him, run in a circle until he hits his head on a wall, falls down, and then hack at him for 3 seconds. Rinse and repeat. But he’s not dead, oh no, he comes back with armor! This sort of artificial difficulty is simply maddening.
After the single player experience it’s on to the game’s co-op mode which consists of a handful of arena like missions for two players online. Each player uses a generic looking ninja that they can customize to some degree. It should be noted these aren’t unlocked until after completing the 3rd mission in the game. These missions are ripped from sections of the game’s single player campaign and throw a variety of different enemies (and bosses) at you in each one. The hook during gameplay is the current contract, basically a specific way to kill an enemy to gain bonus points. The reality is, it’s still pretty shallow.
While the co-op missions are a nice distraction, I never felt like there was a need for co-op play. Teaming up on the enemies felt jilted and stiff, and for the most part, not even fair. Other than reviving a fallen teammate there aren’t any other co-op specific things to do. I would have loved to see a few separate move sets just for co-op gameplay, but alas, there is nothing.
It's not until the bigger monsters that the co-op becomes somewhat challenging.
Completing missions in co-op allow you to earn experience, level up, and unlock customizations. While some allow you to change your appearance ever so slightly in co-op, most of the items are used in the Ninja Gaiden 3’s 4 vs 4 multiplayer mode. Sadly this mode is mostly forgettable, if not, somewhat sloppy.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is disappointing on so many levels for me. I prided myself on trudging through the first two games, fighting tooth and nail to a satisfying victory. In a different world, if the first two games didn’t exist, my thoughts and feelings on Ninja Gaiden 3 might have been different. There’s something intangible missing from the third installment, and whatever that thing is, it’s what made the series so special before.
This review of Ninja Gaiden 3 is based on the PlayStation 3 version which was provided by the publisher.