"Ninja Gaiden 3"
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Tecmo Koei
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore,
intense violence, strong language,
By Billy O'Keefe
The more credit you give "Ninja Gaiden 3" for respecting your ability to play it, the likelier it is to make you rue the thought.
That alone makes "NG3" — a beautiful, blazingly fast action game that's also a descendent of one of the most perfect action games ever made — a crushing letdown.
Superficially, "NG3" looks a lot like 2004's "Ninja Gaiden," a game so cherished that Tecmo keeps reissuing it (most recently, for the Vita in February). Ryu Hayabusa (that's you) remains one of gaming's most agile action heroes. The places you'll visit are beautiful and diverse, and while many of the enemies you face look like reskinned versions of enemies you saw already, the bosses — from a T-Rex to a giant witch whose body becomes a level unto itself — are satisfactorily outrageous.
In flashes, "NG3" also fights like the original "Gaiden," which treated every single enemy as a significant danger and provided the ingredients — a healthy offensive and defensive arsenal for Ryu, some cunning intelligence for his enemies — to turn the most ordinary fight into a showdown more tense than many games' boss encounters.
But those flashes — where you're evading a pattern of attack in perfect time and countering to turn the tide — are fleeting. "NG3's" tendency to crowd every encounter with roughly six to 10 mindless grunts leaves little room for showdowns, and respecting your enemies' intelligence simply leads to cheap, frustrating barrages of knockdowns where the game effectively strips control from you. You're better off just mashing the attack and evade buttons mindlessly and relentlessly — which is about as much fun as it sounds — because that's all your enemies are doing to you.
The result looks spectacular, in part because "NG3" takes a page from other games and uses interactive cutscenes to add flair to Ryu's kills. But the satisfaction of a grueling fight intelligently won — the main pillar of the original "Gaiden" and, to a dampened degree, its sequel — is just about gone this time around.
Boss fights, sadly, rarely fare better. There is a gem or two, and the one-on-one format certainly provides some badly needed focus to the action, but sloppiness and repeat encounters abound all the same. More than not, the same rule of engagement still applies: Give a boss enemy's attack pattern more credit than it deserves, and prepare to get burned and just mash away on the next (and likely successful) attempt.
Elsewhere, "NG3" takes steps forward and backward to ultimately settle comfortably into mediocrity. A surprising attempt to tell a more personal Ryu Hayabusa story results in the usual incoherence, but the presence of one character lets the story fulfill its mission to partial effect. As bloodthirsty ninjas go, Ryu's a pretty nice guy. Who knew?
The not-entirely-welcome infusion of interactive cutscenes and quick-time events has a similarly mixed effect. "NG3" looks great when Ryu's cutting a helicoptor to pieces while it's in flight, but it screeches to a halt every time you have to laboriously press the triggers to climb a wall. When did simply pushing up on the joystick stop being enough?
"NG3" also marks the series' first hand at online multiplayer, and the result likely matches your expectations for it. The solo or co-op Ninja Trials mode presents no-frills missions that load up the screen with enough enemies to bring down the framerate, while Clan Battle (eight players) lets you cut your friends to pieces via team deathmatch. "NG3" bakes in a leveling and upgrades system to encourage replayability, but the sloppy gameplay that ails the storyline also persists here. And without that story to pull it along, the novelty runs out pretty quickly.
(c) 2012, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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