Available on Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed)
You used to know where you were with Ninja Gaiden. In Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2, you were in for a bonkers, ninja-themed hack-and-slash epic, with some acrobatic platforming, copious quantities of blood spurting everywhere you looked, a mildly incoherent plot, some vicious bosses and – vitally – one of the most demanding combat systems ever found in a mainstream action game.
Ninja Gaiden was happy to humiliate its fans. More casual players found the initial Ninja Gaiden virtually impossible, and while the Sigma update on PS3 threw in what you might just about call an ‘easy’ mode, it only did so after telling you exactly how pitiful it thought you were. On the one hand, the difficulty level put a lot of players off, but on the other it’s what the fanbase now expects.
To them, Ninja Gaiden 3 will come as a terrible disappointment. With its infamous leader, Tomonobu Itagaki gone, the series’s developer, Team Ninja has made a clear decision to broaden the appeal. The result is a game with simplified combat mechanics, a weapon set that only includes swords and throwing knives (not the sickles, scythes, shuriken, claws and Tonfa sticks of previous outings), and a whole load of quick-time events. If old-school Ninja Gaiden was all about precision, timing and expert blocking and dodging before unleashing a vicious attack, then the new Ninja Gaiden is, frankly, a bit of a button masher.
As most encounters involve swarms of enemies attacking from every side and an auto lock-on that doesn’t leave a lot of room for any real strategy, the biggest decision you’ll have to use most of the time is whether to whack your foe with the triangle button (or Y) or the square button (or X).
If you’re not an existing fan, this isn’t as much a disaster as the series’s hardcore fans would have you believe. Combat in Ninja Gaiden 3 still has an enjoyable rhythm, and while you rarely feel fully in control, the bloodletting is nothing if not spectacular. While the limb-lopping and decapitation of Ninja Gaiden II appears to have been cut back, there’s still some gobsmacking, Kill Bill-style hack-and-slashery going on, and when you throw in dash moves and jumps then there’s something quite satisfying about sending Ninja hero, Ryu Hayabusa, about his deadly business.