Ninja Gaiden 3: The Kotaku Review

I admit it: I may well be the world's worst ninja. My sense of timing is less than exemplary, my coordination is not always great, and sometimes I just plain lose track of what's going on.

If Ninja Gaiden 3 had needed me to learn any actual skills or to provide any creative input into its battles, my deficiencies in the art of being a ninja would have been a severe impediment. But it also would then have been an interesting game that demanded skill, patience, or at least experiments with trial and error to complete. Perhaps it would not have been a great game for me, but it would still have been a game that challenged its players and left them feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end.

Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 is not that game.

In real estate, they say that what matters is size, cost, and location, and that you can get any two. In business, they say that you get any two out of good, quick, and cheap. In games, it seems, we often get any two out of three in the areas of good writing, good graphics, and good mechanical design. I have loved many a game that looked gorgeous even while being incoherent; I've loved games with great stories and bland mechanics, and I've enjoyed games that were smooth to play and looked pretty while having abysmal writing. It's a fool's errand to demand perfection from a game, and I've enjoyed many games that excelled in one area while failing miserably in others.

Ninja Gaiden 3: The Kotaku Review

WHY: Because it's a tedious, uninspiring mess that neither pleases the franchise's old fans nor appeals to a new audience.

Ninja Gaiden 3

Developer: Team Ninja Platforms: Xbox 320, PlayStation 3 Release Date: March 20 (North America), March 22 (Japan), March 23 (Europe)

Type of game: Ninja-themed quick-time heavy hack and slash bloodbath

What I played: The singleplayer story, roughly 9 hours long, on PS3

My Two Favourite Things

  • Playing "spot the voice actor"
  • It's a very nice sword, as ninja swords go

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • The useless camera and targeting controls
  • The generic interchangeability of everything

Made-to-Order-Back-of-Box-Quotes

  • "Like Frankenstein's monster, it's built from other games and comes lumbering unevenly toward you." -- Kate Cox, Kotaku
  • "Until now, I always thought that a dinosaur vs. ninja fight would be cool. I was wrong." -- Kate Cox, Kotaku

The basic premise is this: you are Ryu Hayabusa, legendary video game ninja extraordinaire, and you're on a mission to save the world from some guys in masks with a doomsday plan. You have seven days to chase them down and figure them out, because Biblically the world was created in seven days and that's how these guys plan to re-create it. Along the way you'll be variously betrayed by your allies and supported by your enemies, most of whom (on both sides) switch back and forth more than once.

The story doesn't matter much, and it doesn't necessarily have to. Ryu Hayabusa is a ninja! We're not here for some namby-pamby about the state of the world; we're here to kill things! With a sword! And to do other really cool stuff, with other really cool weapons, and to level up skills and learn combos and become a stealthy, stylish badass!

Only Ninja Gaiden 3 doesn't provide any of those things. Hayabusa has one sword and one bow, for shooting jetpack-mounted gunmen and the occasional helicopter out of the sky. There are no skills to level, no items to find or collect. There are no spiffy combos to learn, and there is no sense of accomplishment or reward for completing a fight. Each wave of generic henchmen leads to another wave of generic henchmen, with little to differentiate or motivate them.

In fact, the only henchman who does differentiate himself begs for his life. He cries out that he's a father, that he was just taking the job to support his kids, that he doesn't want to die (as seen here). And the player has no choice but to run him through, in slow motion. The act is referenced a number of times throughout the game, as Hayabusa faces repeated accusations that he's a cold-hearted murderer, but nothing ever actually comes of it. The closest the game gets to delivering a moral message is in the very end, when Hayabusa is told: "You are NOT a murderer. But you're not exactly a hero either. Guess that's what it means to be a ninja."

Generic levels, generic henchmen, and a generic story could all be forgiven if the fighting mechanics were tight and fun. But they're not. Granted, I played on the easiest mode available but even so the game asked virtually nothing of me in terms of technique. Damningly, I realised just under two hours into the game that combat got markedly smoother, easier, and more successful, and that I took fewer hits and less damage, when I stopped trying to target enemies or move on my own, and instead just started spamming the light and heavy attack buttons indiscriminately. In a very small handful of fights, striking a defensive pose from time to time came in handy, but in most waves of nameless enemies, I was better off not thinking at all.

In many ways, the mechanics of the game actively work against themselves. Rules change seemingly at random to suit the tension of a scene. For example, generally Hayabusa cannot climb a wall if there are enemies nearby; they'll pull him down and combat continues. In one specific scene, however, taking out a wave of enemies before climbing the available wall guarantees certain death. The only way out of that area is to leap onto the wall while surrounded, at which point the enemies and floor fall away. This is never communicated in any way to the player; one simply needs to guess or to discover it through failure.

Quick time events are also inconsistently applied, some appearing with regularity right when you would expect and others hanging on so long that I briefly worried that the game might have crashed. Eventually I began to tally my frustrations in my running notes. Looking back, I find a useful look at Ninja Gaiden 3 by the numbers.

  • Number of times I got stuck in the geometry in the centre of a room, within view of a save point I couldn't reach, and had to force-quit: 2
  • Number of times I died in the middle of one specific chase scene because of a camera perspective switch: 20+
  • Number of times I died in battle due to failing a quick time event even though I pushed the button on time: 3
  • Number of times I did not receive any prompt indicating what buttons to press to continue what turned out to be a quick time event: 5
  • Number of times the camera pathed into a wall during a fight: 15+
  • Number of very rude swear words I exclaimed (per hour): 20+

Despite knowing, going into this game, that I would likely be a terrible ninja, I was looking forward to trying. I have been told by many fans of the series how demanding the combat is, and what immense satisfaction they feel on completing fights. I thought if it was hard, well, at least I could try to learn. But there's nothing here for me to learn except boredom, which is far more deadly than difficulty. I ran or walked as the game allowed; I followed strictly linear paths from cut-scene to cut-scene; I engaged in repetitious waves of combat that were nearly all identical and that all went on about 30% too long and then walked (or ran, as the game allowed) down the hall to the next enemy spawn point. I never once had to make an actual choice, not even about which enemy in a wave to stab at first.

No part of it is good enough to make other shortcomings worth overlooking and, in fact, no part of it is by itself very good at all. It's a hodge-podge of the worst elements of many others reassembled into a shambling hulk. The pretension of the Metal Gear Solid series appears, without the deep character writing or responsive gameplay to back it up. The worst of the Uncharted series' scripted chases shows up, without the lush environments or quippy humour. It's got God of War's mindless waves of slaughter, without the interesting skills, and Ninja Gaiden's ninjas, without the effort.

At one point, a character mentions offhandedly, "You'd better watch it; the ends don't justify the means." I think that was meant to be the moral of the story, but Ninja Gaiden 3 is afraid to give itself wholly to the moral or to the story. In the end, for all its talk of consequence and self-important posturing about what it means to be a killer, it refuses to examine the questions it raises either through the story or through player control.

It's not hard, and it's not challenging. It's tedious and dull. This is a game that doesn't know what it's saying, and it doesn't know to whom it's saying it. Long-time fans of the franchise will be driven away by the drastic change in mechanics and tone, and newcomers to the series have nothing here on which to anchor themselves, nothing special to pull them in. Without a message, without meaning, without engaging combat, and without a target audience, Ninja Gaiden 3 has nothing to give and no one to give it to.

Update: The Multiplayer Experience

Ninja Gaiden 3 has two multiplayer modes: one, Ninja Trials, is a co-op experience; the other, Clan Battle, is a 4-on-4 competitive mode. Both are actually kind of entertaining.

Ninja Trials can be played solo or with a partner. The play echoes the game's story mode, starting the player out in London, but rather than providing an incoherent narrative, it provides clear goal prompts and pop-up hit/score counters that provide a sense of accomplishment.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of partners, I found myself fairly quickly overwhelmed in all my attempts. I tried at four different points, all between 3pm and 10pm Eastern time on both Saturday and Sunday, to join quick matches. Three times, the game's matching system couldn't find any lobbies or partners for me at all and, after spinning on the idea for several minutes, pushed me in solo. The fourth, the partner found for me either quit the game or lost connection within three minutes, and I was again a solo ninja.

I had better luck with the Clan Battle mode; only one out of four attempts came up with zero lobbies to join. The other three times, however, I only ever saw two or three battles available. Still, I joined them and had a fairly good time, even when my team lost horribly. Perhaps due to insufficient players, there was no level matching to speak of so each bout I was in had a range of players from level 2 to level 39. Still, in an eight player melee bloodbath nearly anyone can make some kills so the level disparity isn't that big an issue.

Having human opponents, rather than wave after wave of AI enemies, makes what skills Ninja Gaiden 3 has to offer more dynamic and more exciting. Each round is just about the right length -- neither so long it wears out its welcome nor so short there's no time to get into it -- and the sense of teamwork and of competition keeps it interesting.

But that a multiplayer environment would be a complete ghost town not even two weeks after the game's release, during prime time on a weekend, speaks poorly of its long-term viability. A couple of hours of singleplayer, story-mode play are required to unlock the multiplayer modes, and it seems many aren't making it that far. It's possible that the scene is more robust for players on the Xbox 360 than my PlayStation 3 experience was, but ultimately the mildly entertaining melees aren't enough to save this game.


Comments

    Thanks for the honest review

    I got it yesterday and it's even worse than I thought. At the start, the VERY beginning of the game there is a quick time event... which you can actually fail. I didn't mash Y button fast enough and failed it and basically started the game again.
    That room you mentioned with the falling floor, R-Stick wasn't working properly to show me where to go, so I had to manually move the camera slowly around looking for this wall all the while the timer is counting down before this floor drops, as i jumped up the wall the floor fell, i was in mid air, JUST about to stab the stupid kunai into the wall, but I died because I was too late, even though I was in midair.
    The amount of times I died from being chased by a boss down a hall was absurd! Never died during the actual fight. Most of the time I'd reach the end and Ryu would just stop moving all together for NO reason, then the boss catches up and instakills me.
    They even screwed the controls. RT fires the bow, it does not reset the camera, that is on RB. If you go into options and switch RT and RB, it will do the same for LT and LB so block will be on LB! WTF?? And you really need camera reset as the new camera will not put the giant fucking enemy that can jump onto you from any area in the fight, in the camera's view, you have to do that manually. The camera constantly lets Ryu get to the edge of the screen rather than leading him or moving to show enemies around, so enemies are constantly off screen.

    It's stunning how bad they fucked up this game. These are just a few things that made me think "Seriously, what the fuck?", there are so many more things wrong with it that I don't think even a Sigma update can fix this pile of shit. This game is a bigger disgrace to the NG franchise than DmC looks to be to the DMC franchise.

    Wow. I wouldn't normally not play a game because of a review but 1 weapon, no combs, no skill levelling? No thanks

    I went into EB yesterday and told them I was about to do something I thought I'd never do. Cancel my Collectors Edition for the game. The store owner even admitted to cancelling his order after the reviews.

    Then I bought Soul Calibur V.

    I have to admint that I do think this os probably not a good game but I hate how much the reviewer complains it's too easy and there is no effort involved in learning moves or combos to be successful in combat when she says straight up that she played it on the easiest setting. Most games don't require as much effort or challenge if played on the easiest setting. Stop harping on about it not being hard when you've put it on EASY by choice!
    Again, having said that, it still doesn't sound great. :)

      Ninja Gaiden is a game where even on the easiest setting you did need to learn a few combos, learn different enemy types and attacks, and resource management.

        Yeah, I've played the last 2, I know that. Which is why I agreeed that this is probably not a good game as the reviewer says, however I take exeption at this element of the review.
        So how about the reviewer does a proper job and tries the game on a higher difficulty setting so they can give a proper opinion on how the game may play at higher levels? I have played many games on multiple settings and the difference can be huge. The whole reason she did not need to learn any combos could be because of the difficulty setting, but I guess from this review we will never know. ;) It is doing people a disservice to just blanketly say combat is boring, easy and repetetive with no need for any kind of strategy when it hasn't been experienced at another level other than easy.
        And just because the game prior to a sequal had certain mechanics it is not mandated that it's successor also has to have exactly the same mechanics or features.

    Ninja Gaiden is meant to be hard as crap... this is bad.

      Agreed, to review a game, one should always stick to the default settings, i.e. Normal difficulty. Play for 1 hours, then decide if one should bump up the difficulty or not.

    HAHA FAIL! Im getting my copies of Ninja Gaiden 1, Black, and 2 out and reliving its glory (might even get NES emulator and play earlier ones). I think its all due to Itagaki's leaving and not controlling the development of the game. If you ever saw the making videos of NG2, Itagaki's perfectionism is what made every aspect of the game so fine tuned and precise, and so difficult.

    Kotaku pls get someone who's experienced an NG game at least once before to play this game on HARD then review it properly.

      Doesn't matter, it's still shit

      Go read a different review, maybe?

    Wow. All of u people are pussys. Seriously? U didn't press the buttons in time? U have all day!!!!! Unles u have never seen a controller before u r retarded. I loved all the ng series games and ya this one is a little weak but still great. It is meant to beard otherwise how fun would it be. Sack up and quit bitching. Keep playing. U guys sound pathetic. It's almost like u have never played any game ever.

    Blanketly shit lol

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