We were delighted to hear that Team Ninja are developing a third Ninja Gaiden title, with director Yosuke Hayashi promising us "the number one 3D action game of the time." We're excited partly because we love the series... but mainly because Team Ninja have a lot of making up to do. Sure, the first 3D Ninja Gaiden was a work of utter genius, but we genuinely can't understand why anyone played the sequel. Let alone bought it. At the time, shiny graphics and brand loyalty blinded us to the fact that it sucked on levels previously unknown to game journalism.
To this end, here's what we want from Ninja Gaiden 3... and the lessons that Team Ninja will need to learn in order to succeed in the wake of Itagaki's departure.
Take Advantage Of The Mythology!
The Ninja Gaiden franchise sits halfway between Eastern and Western cultures, providing the art department with two unique mythologies to draw on for creature design and inspiration. Japanese mythology alone contains horrors that would make H.R. Geiger vomit into his ribcage-themed bin. In Ninja Gaiden 2, however, the design team took a long hard look at their rich source material and used it to create tall purple guys and werewolves.
Squandering is an understatement. A wealth of inspiration for exciting monsters was completely overlooked in favour of cliched combatants with no personality or flair, and we fervently hope that Ninja Gaiden III will go back to the drawing board to reflect its unique setting.
Oh, and if you need some extra padding, please don't insult us with palette swaps. Team Ninja, go back to the drawing board and give us something new and interesting to fight!
More Ninja-On-Ninja Action!
Ninja Gaiden II actually started out very well indeed. Engaging in swift, decisive battles against fellow assassins was easily the highlight of the experience; so it's something we'd love to see more of in the sequel. More powerful enemies with abilities akin to Ryu's would provide a refreshing change of pace in amongst the masses of useless flesh puppets; as would larger Dynasty Warriors-esque battles.
Putting the focus on fighting humans instead of palette-spammed werewolves would also have a beneficial side effect. By introducing monsters slowly throughout the first half of the game, players will genuinely fear them rather than quickly tire of cutting through their identical hordes.
Fix The Bow... Or Kill It!
There's nothing more galling than gracefully slashing through multiple enemies... only to take out the longbow and become rooted to the spot. Using the bow and arrows completely ruined the flow of the game- not to mention the fact that it was extremely finicky to wield in the first place. The Sigma series made some headway into clearing it up (thanks, xino), but there's still a lot of work to be done.
Look. Ninja Gaiden is all about the swordplay, throwing stars and the windmill shuriken - not blithely standing around and squeezing off arrows. To this end, we'd like to see the bow mechanics completely overhauled for Ninja Gaiden 3, or preferably, completely removed. Give us interesting new ways to evade and close in on distant foes instead! You know. Like a Ninja would.
Oh, and Team Ninja? Whatever you decide, please don't make us fight the final boss with a ranged weapon. We didn't spend an entire game levelling up our swords and claws just so that we could shoot arrows at a fat blob. Just saying.
Considerate Game Design Touches
No, we're not asking for the game to be easier. That's not what anyone really wants from a Ninja Gaiden experience. However, Ninja Gaiden 3 could do with a few little mod cons that most gamers take for granted.
Being able to reset to the nearest checkpoint (rather than quitting back to the last save point) would be nice. As would a default autosave system that doesn't create dead games every five minutes. Just a basic understanding of our needs will help cater for a softer audience without sacrificing the underlying hardcore masochistic vibe. Don't make us fight the game itself!
Cheap =/= Hardcore
This is an important one. The original Ninja Gaiden was difficult, yes, but it was also finely balanced. Skilled players only had themselves to blame for defeat and failure... but deaths in the sequel tended to result from shamefully cheap enemy attacks that didn't really give us a fighting chance. This isn't the whiny mewling of a pathetic weakling (I completed Ninja Gaiden on hard, for the record), but there's a world of difference between being subtly nuanced and plain unfair.
Less enemies that explode after death, launch unlockable rockets from offscreen or grab Ryu in inescapable death grips would also go a long way towards making Ninja Gaiden 3 hardcore rather than cheap. Balance is key, and Team Ninja needs to give the matter some serious consideration. After all, cheap enemies are a quick and easy way to make a game more difficult.
Better Quality Assurance, Folks!
Finally, it's worth noting that Ninja Gaiden II was bugged to high hell. Hundreds of players (myself included) reported myriad gamekilling clipping glitches and enemies that simply failed to spawn. This was bad enough when trigger enemies gleefully flew into the scenery and forced us to reload an entire level, but it's genuinely insulting when entire bosses suddenly fall through the floor. Coupled with the lack of a checkpoint reloading feature, the shoddy design ruined the experience for many series fans.
Test it. Test it. And test it again.
Despite all this, we are genuinely excited about Ninja Gaiden 3. Here's hoping that Hayashi and the team can deliver a brutal action masterpiece that truly stands up to Ryu Hayabusa's legend.
What do you want from the next Ninja Gaiden? Want to leap to Ninja Gaiden II's defence? Have your say in the comments!