Ninja Gaiden III Review

The Spectrum

Game: Ninja Gaiden III

Publisher: Tecmo Koei

Developer: Team Ninja

Release Date: March 20


Trilogies are hard work, and none know this better than the Hayabusa clan creators over at Team Ninja. With huge successes in its recent past, the team was left with few options, and over much debate, Ninja Gaiden III drops the hardcore act and shows its softer side as ninjas, alchemists, and dinosaurs collide in what can only be described as the least logical plot progression in the history of the series.

Players pick up right where they left off four years ago. Ryu is on the run, hunted by a shady organization bound in blood to take out the globetrotting Asian assassin. With the fate of the world on the line, he'll fight tooth and draconic nail to stay alive.

Ryu's latest enemy, a contemporary alchemist that goes by the title "The Regent of the Mask," is out for dragon blood. But before Hayabusa can mock the madman's title, the sanguine psychopath merges Hayabusa's right-arm and the Dragon Sword it's always held, cursing the swordsman to bear the weight of every soul he's ever torn asunder.

Teaming up with the Japanese Self-Defense Force and the Ministry of Self-Defense, it's up to Ryu and co. to find out exactly what the two-dimensional terrorist has in store.

The game's beautifully rendered environments teem with uninspired enemies, all of whom couldn't pass for trained killers on their worst behavior. Seemingly hesitant to actually do damage, the enemies wait around for their turn to take a blade to the jugular as they merely circle their comrades in the monotonous slaughter that's taking place in front of their eyes.

After these linear arenas of bloodshed, boss battles actually do well to test Hayabusa as the game throws everything from cryptic mages to cyber-enhanced dinosaurs at players in an attempt to actually force the players to work for their kills.

Skilled slayers accustomed to the extremely diverse weapon selection and brutal difficulty of Ninja Gaiden past are in for a disappointing surprise. The series has undergone a major sterilization for a new generation of gamers, and now offers a lowered difficulty and removed mechanics to ease any newcomer woes.

Offering three standard difficulties and two un-lockable modes, most of the game is a bit too easy for most series veterans. The hero difficulty, Ninja Gaiden's polite term for easy, is just that. Enemies, scarce in number, crumple to the ground at the mere sight of Hayabusa, and the boss fights that have players actually feeling some frustration, are reduced to sloppy, repetitive button-mashing scenarios.

Even the game's battle-hardened combat comes as a double-edged sword. Though the fray is faster and more gratifying than ever before, the game slogs through graphical choke points as many enemies can be too much for the game to handle as the camera wildly whips around to try and catch every skin severing slash.

Similarly, even the personality of one of modern gaming's coolest icons has been revamped, slaying innocents and getting easily outwitted by every enemy and ally alike.

The game, like Ryu's blade after a ceremonial cleaning, feels stripped down. Without the armory and ninpo options Team Ninja provided to players in the past, the game fails to live up to its own history. While previous entries tested player's abilities with a blade, Ninja Gaiden III only gets marginally difficult on its hardest standard setting.

The game mars the series' generally stellar reputation, placing more emphasis on pushing gamers through the lackluster story than it does testing their mettle and ability to cope with death. What's interesting, though, is with a title change and iconic character swap-out, the game is actually quite enthralling. As a part of the action or hack-and-slash genres, the game is better than average, but pitted against the Tomonobu Itagaki-scripted masterworks of Ninja Gaiden I andII, the dulled shell of the series doesn't quite make the cut.

There's additional online components called "Shadows of the World" that attempt to compensate for the lack of previously included (and even teased) content, but even eight-way ninja showdowns aren't enough to make up for the equivalent gameplay appendages left on the cutting room floor. Plus, with Team Ninja hopping on the online pass-required bandwagon, most frugal gamers will be left out of the lag-ridden royal rumbles.

Though current series director Yosuke Hayashi should be commended for the attempt at a deep plot and an interesting take on the veteran killer, painfully slow sequences, forced decision making, and utter disregard for the game's "guru-only" roots keeps the title from achieving the same success its predecessors enjoy.

For a game that once rewarded its players for mastery of the lost arts of ninjutsu, now players hack and slash their way through the game's admittedly wonderfully rendered eight-plus hours of gameplay, a sullen conclusion for one of gaming's most beloved franchises.