And if all you want is a thrill ride, then Ninja Gaiden 3 does have its moments. Boss battles against a massive spider-tank, a flouncing, mask-wielding weirdo, an attack chopper and a massive cyber-dinosaur are well-staged and enjoyable, and it’s possible to forgive an over-reliance on quick-time-events when the effects are so grisly or impressive on the screen. The graphics have their bad points, with many characters suffering from a dated, plastic look, but the rich scenery and scale of the spectacle more than make up. As much as hardcore Ninja Gaiden fans don’t want to hear it, Ninja Gaiden 3 can be an entertaining game – as long as you’re prepared to enjoy it in small doses.
You see, the problem is that there’s not an awful lot of variety here. The lack of alternative weapons doesn’t help, and nor does the fact that Ryu’s special attack count has been reduced down to two: one big dragon attack that clears the area and heals, and one that sees you stringing together some high-damage attacks for a limited time. There aren’t enough different types of enemies requiring different types of strategy, and when more difficult foes do turn up, like the creepy robed sorcerers and rampaging mutants that turn up mid-way through the game, they’re more annoying than actually challenging.
In the end, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a bit of a one-trick pony, and the only sure way it knows to make things harder is to overwhelm you with masses of enemies, some bearing ranged weapons, or up the toughness of those enemies to give them more chance of wearing you down. The combat system is an issue, but what really holds Ninja Gaiden 3 back is that, after God of War and Bayonetta, it’s simply not inventive enough. Team Ninja should really have done something about the vocal samples during combat, too. Once you’ve heard “Get ready for the main course”, “Goddamn that Ninja” and other variations a few thousand times, it really does begin to grate on your nerves.
The storyline, meanwhile, is the worst of any Ninja Gaiden yet – a challenge when that of the second game was so incoherent that you ended up just trying to ignore the plot. It’s obviously meant to explore the dark side of the Ninja lifestyle and what it means to be the kind of guy who kills 20 people before breakfast, but it’s horrifically clumsy and unengaging, with numerous dopey twists and cast members like a little, wordless waif that you’ll struggle to care anything about.
If you like the game, you might get a little extra life out of it through a serviceable co-op challenge mode, which balances some camera issues with some gruesome ninja laughs. PS3 owners also get Move support, though as it’s hard to setup and virtually unworkable in practice, it’s questionable whether this is actually a benefit at all.
In reaching out for a wider audience, Ninja Gaiden 3 does its level best to alienate the series’s existing fans while proving too repetitive and frustrating to acquire many new ones. It is more accessible and there’s enough hack-and-slash spectacle to entertain in bite-sized chunks, but the latest Ninja Gaiden is a long way off the best.