Ninja Gaiden 3's new fighting style has subtly tipped the focus from defence and simply staying alive, to aggression and adventure. Enemies will tear you apart if you sit back and block - it's far better to get stuck in and try to chain together steel on bone moves. Devastating a whole group of grunts or fiends with one long combo move makes you feel unnaturally powerful; the most lethal ninja in the world. You're no longer the plaything of a sadistic development team, you're now the puppet-master in a horrifically violent - if poorly acted - play.
MASK OF SORROW
Once you realise that, it's easy to overlook some of the game's more irritating shortcomings. Level design is extremely old-fashioned. Every stage is simply a series of circular arenas linked together by quick-time events. Fight, win, press buttons, watch the incredible cut-scene, fight some more. Bosses can be infuriating, but they're mostly creative and well designed, so hitting restart afew times while scrapping them isn't a chore.
The downside is that the ending, despite featuring a massive boss fight that's strolled straight out of Bayonetta into downtown Tokyo, feels like an anti-climax. When the button-hammering is done, there's no momentum left in the story. Gaiden 3 is meant to focus on the humanisation of Ryu - he's being judged/punished for the thousands of lives he's taken. But aside from his demasking, and a series of increasingly weak scenes where the action turns slow-motion and you have to wrestle the camera through virtual treacle to fight, there's little or no pay-off. In fact, it seems mildly ridiculous that, in order to atone for the lives he's taken, Ryu has to massacre another few thousand people.
When it's over, all that's left is the prospect of a higher difficulty, a quick blast on the Ninja Trails mode (co-op, good) or the woefully misjudged online (er, woefully misjudged). Sure, you'll sink 8-10 hours into the main campaign to finish it, but you'll desperately hanker after more variety as you play. New game buyers will get fresh weapons on the day of release - scythe and talons - and we're certain alternate characters will appear as DLC in a few months - but is that enough? It seems mean-spirited to only feature three weapons, less than half the toys we killed with in Ninja Gaiden 2.
The addition of a proper online deathmatch mode, along with co-op and the regular single-player, shows Ninja Gaidenhas aspirations to become a major player in its genre. It wants to be all things to all people, to offer accessibility beyond its hardcore roots. Results are mixed. Some aspects (like the simpler combat and improved difficulty options) work well, while others (like the online play and semi-serious story) fall flat. The question is, dothe pros outweigh the cons?
The hardcore, who previously gritted teeth and suffered through the punishment are unlikely to forgive the myriad concessions to the wider audience. This is undoubtedly an easier, less tactical game. Everyone else, though, is advised to take advantage of Ninja Gaiden's new found friendliness and show up to butcher some bad guys...
It's less hardcore than previous games, making solo play enjoyable, but the online mode is a misstep. Still, while it's not as accomplished as Bayonetta, it's the best Gaiden yet.
- Rejoice: insane, sadistic difficulty given the boot
- New lease of life for the combat - feels more attacking and aggressive
- Stupid, tittersome (in an ironic sense) story
- Commiserate: insane, sadistic difficulty given the boot
- Multiplayer modes feel clunky
- Moronic, unfunny (even in an ironic sense) story