With this being the first game in the updated Ninja Gaiden franchise to be released across multiple platforms simultaneously, as well as the first game in the series to be released without input from former lead developer Tomonobu Itagaki, there’s a lot of reason for concern when looking at Ninja Gaiden 3. Itagaki may have had his issues, but it was he who essentially brought the franchise back into relevance, first through Dead or Alive and later through its own separate games, and the fear that the franchise will stagnate or fail without him at the helm are both reasonable and justified. The initial announcement of the game made it apparent that the game would, in fact, be as violent as ever, and interviews with development lead Youske Hayashi indicate that the game won’t be toned back for the more casual market, difficulty-wise, so it appears that the team still has an idea of what the game is supposed to be. That said, the proof is in the pudding, so to say, so when I saw the game available for play at E3, I immediately made a beeline for it, if only to see where the game was going at this point and how it was holding up without the instrument of its revival at the helm.
1.) The demo starts off with a lengthy cutscene to fill in the backstory of this installation of the series. In short, the Ministry of External Affairs pays a visit to Ryu Hayabusa with a video showing a terrorist attack and hostage situation occurring in London. When Ryu inquires as to whether the Ministry is asking for his help, however, he is instead informed that they are the ones offering him help, and they show a separate video they received from the terrorists, demanding Ryu himself. The Ministry offers Ryu the services of Mizaki McCloud (sure, okay), who agrees to essentially act as his handler for the mission, and off he goes to London to wreck some terrorists. One gets the feeling that there is a bit more going on here than the demo is telling, such as why Ryu’s arm is bright red and looks infected, but this a fair introduction point to the plot and gives us enough to go on: demons are ruining things, Ryu has to go end them, let’s fight. That said, guys, we know what Ryu Hayabusa looks like without his mask. He’s had a maskless costume in nearly every Dead or Alive game at this point. I get the visual effect there, but come on now, it’s silly. Also, on the plus side, we’re told that there will be online play, both co-op and competitive. On the minus side, the press details imply that we’ll get to know “The man behind the mask”Â, so if Metroid Other M is any indication, Ryu will cry a lot and be cowed by Mizaki or something.
2.) The game seems to be somewhat visually cleaned up, and the visual effects and gore effects are all very nice. You still do tons of damage to enemies when hammering the hell out of them, and they all flop around and die in exquisite fashion, so if that’s what you were expecting from the game, go nuts. The cityscape the game takes place in is pretty well implemented and looks lively also, so that’s another returning point from the prior games. That all said, though, it seems like the game is just using a cleaned up version of the previous engine, so compared to several of the games we’ve covered already, it doesn’t impress as much as it could. The in-game music and effects are also still very nice, and while the English voice acting was the only one on display, it was pretty good, all in all. Also, in a nice touch, the human enemies you face here beg off when Ryu starts shredding the hell out of them. In a somewhat less than nice touch, Mizaki feels the need to chime in every five minutes to tell you how you’re doing, which is mildly annoying.
3.) So the demo starts off with this whole sequence where you glide down to a lone enemy and prepare to completely ruin him, when suddenly… PRESS X NOT TO DIE. Yes, we’ve got Active Time Events here, and LORD KNOWS THEY WERE MISSED in this series. So, just so we’re on the same page, if we were reviewing the game at this point, that’d be an automatic one point deduction from gameplay. Anyway, the ATE’s themselves aren’t horribly intrusive in these sorts of sections, but when you’re spamming the hell out of a button in the boss fight at the end they get outright offensive and the series really didn’t need a whole lot of this nonsense. People didn’t buy Ninja Blade for a reason, guys.
4.) Otherwise, the game plays functionally identically to its predecessors, meaning that you can run, jump, wall run, throw shurikens, hack into enemies, and charge up attacks exactly as you’d expect. In fact, the gameplay is basically mapped out almost identically, to the point that I was straight out busting out the Izuna Drop from freaking muscle memory in two minutes and giggling the whole time. If there were weapons other than the Dragon Sword to test out, however, I couldn’t find them, so it’s likely that there will be all sorts of new weapons to play with in the final game; from what was included in the demo, though, everything works as it always has, so fans can easily slip into the game like a worn glove and enjoy it.
5.) There are a couple of new things added to the game, though. Now, the soul-based charge attack is still in the game, though it seems to be a bit more whacked out this time around, possibly due to Ryu’s demonically possessed arm. What is new, however, is that in the middle of combos, Ryu will stop with the blade in the enemy, and you’ll be able to press X or Y or whatever button on the controller you’re using, and Ryu will essentially tear into the enemy, as if he were rending them asunder, which will then allow you to combo to the next enemy. The mechanic was perfectly fine, and I more or less had it down in a few seconds without a problem.
6.) Another thing that’s interesting is that when Ryu dodges he’s essentially sliding, which, aside from making it easier to cover ground when going after enemies, factors into the movement and some of the ATE’s a bit, as he’ll have to slide through gaps and under debris in order to survive or make progress. Also, Ryu now has the ability to scale walls using his shurikens/kunai/whatever, by holding both bumpers to lock in place, then releasing and pressing the buttons in alternating fashion to climb, which is annoying as mechanics go, considering they could just let you, I don’t know, hold the right bumper and press up or something. Finally, save statues have been replaced by falcons that replenish health and let you save, and while it’s uncertain A.) if this will be the case in the final version, and B.) how this will affect the statues used for gear upgrades, I can tell you that it effectively further limits the amount of manual saves you can make, though the game does seem to auto-save still, at least.
7.) That all said… okay, so maybe I’m a bad judge of this thing, given that it’s likely the first stage of the game and I’ve beaten the last two games, but… it doesn’t seem very hard. In fact, it doesn’t seem hard at all. I literally rent the entire stage asunder from top to bottom, and while yes, the final version of the stage won’t give me access to have the combat tools I had here… I had no trouble against anything but the final boss, and even then that was only token difficulty with the ATE’s. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing per say; realistically, there is a much larger pool of terrible gamers than there is skilled gamers, and making your game break it off in the player from the word go is a good way to limit your sales, and it’s not like they couldn’t just make some insanely hard difficulties for diehard fans or whatever. I’m just saying, I don’t know how to rectify the actual experience I had with the assertions of the lead developer that the difficulty wouldn’t be nerfed when it seems like the exact opposite is true.
8.) Aside from fighting a bunch or random gun-wielding terrorists and a few rocket launcher-wielding terrorists, and running from a giant metal spider, the only other section of the stage that was of note was this section that was full of fog which required you to move around in a somewhat stealthy fashion to ruin the enemies you were facing in said fog. As a concept it was cute, but as an actual setpiece I have no tolerance for this in Ninja Gaiden so I just killed everyone normally and ended up basically not having a problem anyway, so… I’m not sure what the point was.
9.) So, the giant spider. Basically it’s a battle where you hack its legs apart, then perform an ATE to rip said legs off completely. Once this is done, you then whack its rear generator and perform another ATE to kill the damn thing. Right, well, I’m not sure what lessons the remaining members of Team Ninja were taking from Itagaki before he left, but “entertaining boss battles”Â clearly weren’t one of those lessons. Now, I mean, Itagaki came up with some terrible ideas of his own; anyone remember the lava armadillos that went nuclear when they died? Right. But this battle was uninteresting, frankly; there was no real back and forth, there was no real competitive feel to it, there was just Ryu hacking at a robot spider. Anyone remember the first boss battle in Ninja Gaiden and how hard that was? How you had to practice for like an hour before you could complete that? Well, this was the exact opposite, and I’m not sure what the team was going for, but it wasn’t anything I’d be proud of in comparison to the last two games.
10.) In the end, Ninja Gaiden 3 is fine, but the team seems to be going in a direction that’s more aimed at casual fans who want heavy action and mild challenge over the diehard fanbase of the last two games. Now, it’s entirely possible that this is just a supremely early build and that a lot of these issues will be cleared up long before the game hits store shelves, but if not, it’s likely that this game will be generally well received, but will be victimized by skilled players complaining of the dumbing down of the skill aspects of the game, as I simply didn’t exert much effort into playing the game and came away with nary a scratch on Ryu at the end. It’s not bad so much as it is underwhelming, and I’m hoping that there’s more of a variance in the difficulty, with a wide appeal so that diehard and casual fans can both love it, but as it stands right now, it’s a pretty, fun, enjoyable game that’s not terribly challenging and features new mechanics that never should have been considered, let alone put into a demo and showcased before the gaming press.