When I heard I was going to be reviewing Ninja Gaiden 3 I thought “this is great: just the kick in the pants I need to finally play the first two games.” I was going to knock a couple games off of my backlog and be better informed when the third installment arrived. I was wrong. I was very wrong. I am not a good or patient enough gamer to complete the first two Ninja Gaiden games. I see what Team Ninja was doing, and I have a tremendous respect for it, but it just is not in the cards for me to see the credits roll on either game. This isn’t the case with Ninja Gaiden 3, and it is worse for it. Much worse.
The Ninja Gaiden 3 that I played feels like it was made by a completely different team than the first two games. I know that Itagaki left Team Ninja, and I have to assume that there have been other changes as well, but aside from the aesthetic, the third installment is plain and simple: a Ninja Gaiden game in name only. The deep and rewarding combo system has been replaced by button-mashy combat, the large and varied weapon selection is gone and the spell system has been scaled back dramatically.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is certainly more accessible than past entries, but the difficulty has swung too far in the opposite direction. Ryu slaughters everything in his way, and it doesn’t really matter what order you hit the attack buttons in so long as you are pressing them nonstop. If there are a lot of enemies on screen, use your single magic spell to deal heavy damage to all of them. It look flashy the first time, but since it is the only one you have it has to be effective against just about anything.
Limiting the player arsenal so heavily and removing the combo system that made Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden 2 the gold standard for action games completely negates any need for strategy. If you die (unlikely on normal) then the answer must be something along the lines of “I didn’t attack fast enough” instead of “I need to figure out these guys’ weaknesses and see which combo works most effectively against them.”
There is also a multiplayer mode that everybody should avoid. The horde-style cooperative mode is done better, recently, by Gears of War 3 and Mass Effect 3. The competitive mode is hampered primarily the same lack of combos and weapon choices as the single player mode. A fighting game made out of Ninja Gaiden 2 would be fantastic, but the offering here is phoned in, not fun, and reeks of “we need a reason to include an online pass with this title.” I guess the upshot (if you can call it that) is that all of the single-player adventure is available if you pick this one up used.
It is criminal that so much was cut that made the previous two games challenging and rewarding (even though they both got hard enough that I could not continue them). There are certainly changes that could (and maybe should) have been made to make the series more accessible. More checkpoints closer together, for example, is a change that makes sense, and I was glad to see it implemented.
It turned out I didn’t need them though, because between parts 2 and 3 Ryu changes from a ninja to an unstoppable, angry god. I like beating games as much as the next guy, but when the path to victory is assured, the victory is a hollow one. That really stings, because all I felt when I beat Ninja Gaiden 3 was relief that I could move on to other games, while I think if I ever manage to beat one of the first two games, I will feel like the unstoppable hero that Ryu is in Ninja Gaiden 3 without my help.
Pros: Accessible to new players, improved checkpointing from previous games
Cons: Where are all the combos and weapon choices? Where is the challenge? Why were they replaced with bad multiplayer?