Ninja Gaiden 3 Review
I’m not really sure what to do here. By the time I sit down to write a review, I’m confident in the score I plan to give. But no matter how much thought I put into it, no matter how often I go back to play Ninja Gaiden 3, I can’t seem to decide upon an accurate and fitting number. There’s just so much wrong here, especially from the standpoint of hardcore fans. At the same time, it’s not necessarily a terrible game. Maybe expectations are killing it…? Or maybe it’s just seriously lacking.
The graphics are a disappointment to me, primarily because I really did expect a lot more. In some ways, the added detail is evident, especially in regards to the well-drawn character models. Textures aren’t too bad, either, and I’ve always enjoyed the over-the-top boss designs, which are staples of this series. But besides that, the backdrops are really flat and unimpressive, and there’s a general pervading sense of low-resolution mediocrity. It’s like the character models stepped into the new generation but everything else stayed behind.
The sound is another category with several highs and lows but unfortunately, I think the lows sort of win out. I’m usually a supporter of heavy-hitting soundtracks, especially in regards to flat-out action extravaganzas, but the overuse of strangely corny and repetitive metal music in NG3 got annoying after a while. The Japanese voices are just no good, either. The combat effects are okay, though, especially when the chaos hits a certain level on the crazy meter. It’s just too bad that only the effects seem able to keep up with the fastest, most demanding action.
And in starting the gameplay segment, the latter leads me to the first big problem: Once again, the camera just isn’t quite right. It has been a recurring issue in the franchise over the years – those familiar with these titles will tell you the camera has always sat too close, and too low behind Ryu – and they didn’t fix it for this new installment. In fact, it got worse. At least before, the camera was predictable; now, not so much. It’s awfully erratic and often betrays you at the worst possible times. But the frustration only begins here.
If there’s one game that really didn’t need QTEs, it’s this one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the button prompts are extremely unforgiving because missing just one forces you to replay an entire section. Then there’s the platforming, which feels cumbersome and completely takes one out of the experience; I’m supposed to be an elite ninja, why am I having so much trouble with this climbing thing? And who’s ingenious idea was it to use the shoulder buttons for this mechanic? That idea needed to be put out of its misery immediately.
But wait, before I start to get too upset, let me make a few clarifications: Firstly, the combat isn’t atrocious. It’s actually a lot of fun, depending on the type of enemy and your skill level. Secondly, while some may not like the dark, bloody theme that is very new to this franchise, I like it a lot. It adds a sense of brutality and harshness to Ryu’s world, which makes perfect sense in my eyes. Thirdly and lastly, the overall atmosphere is pretty cool and although the level design is barely average, the game does try to keep you involved in the story.
But one weapon? Really? That’s just unforgivable. It’s also not helping matters that despite Team Ninja’s efforts to engage us in the disturbing plot, the writing and pacing aren’t anywhere near good enough. Therefore, the attempt is admirable but the execution is not. I just think they tried to change too many things after Tomonobu Itagaki’s departure and while some ideas might’ve worked by themselves, the combination of all these poorly implemented concepts makes the game feel rushed and incomplete. And nobody likes that feeling.
Last but not least, I have to address the difficulty alteration. At first, I really thought the enemies were just as aggressive as always but the more I played, the more I realized that too many just weren’t dynamic enough. In past entries, just about every enemy was a challenge, and fighting three or four at once was a dangerous and challenging proposition. Now, the number of foes has been ramped up but as a direct result, the strength and ability of each enemy has been lessened. Now, I say this is a judgment call on the part of the developers, and I’m not about to label it “bad” or “good.” …but I can almost guarantee the label the die-hard followers will choose.
The bosses are still a highlight, though, and I really felt pushed against some of the tougher ones. I should also note that while the lack of alternate weapons really is a huge blow, the game does do a good job of trying to make you forget that…maybe that’s not worthy of praise, but I felt I should mention it. Lastly, online action isn’t really doing the fans any favors. The biggest issue with the multiplayer is that co-op just doesn’t cut the mustard; it’s nowhere near as interesting as the campaign, and after a while, you start to get that, “okay, this was just tacked on” feeling.
Ninja Gaiden III isn’t what I expected, and I’m sure it isn’t what the fans expected. It is found lacking in too many major categories to be considered a worthwhile purchase, and all I can say to the dedicated followers is this— Play the game on Hard Mode. It’s really the only way you’ll make it feel like Ninja Gaiden. But even that can’t erase the bad camera, occasionally faltering frame rate, disappointing visual presentation, the lackluster online, and oh yes, the disappearance of other weapons. It’s appropriately dark and brutal, the story tries, and it can be fun.
But you know, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts…
The Good: Control is fast and responsive. Some boss fights are cool. Darker, harsher tone works. Good atmosphere.
The Bad: Graphics are underwhelming. Voices are sub-par. Camera has definite problems. QTEs were unnecessary and frustrating. Story isn’t very good and pacing is off. Online multiplayer is bland.
The Ugly: “…can’t really see what’s happening, but I know I don’t care much anymore.”
3/22/2012 Ben Dutka