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Ninja Gaiden III Hands-On Preview | Fixing What Ain't Broke

Jonathan Lester
Games previews, Gamescom 2011, Ninja Gaiden III, Team Ninja, Techmo Koei
Ninja Gaiden 3 | Playstation 3 | Xbox 360

Ninja Gaiden III Hands-On Preview | Fixing What Ain't Broke

When the British Prime Minister is kidnapped as part of a coup d'etat, none other than legendary ninja Ryu Hyabusa is willing to take up arms against a sea of troubles - and by opposing, end them. And end them hard. The moody new London setting is a refreshingly dark and dank change of pace from the first two games, with familiar landmarks and tube stations providing a canvas to liberally splash with an inordinate amount of viscera. Though the voice acting is insultingly stereotypical ("looks like Jack the ripper is back again," quips a mockney soldier as he observes a fallen comrade), on the whole the new setting is by far the most pleasing part of the package. Team Ninja have to prove that they're capable of making a Ninja Gaiden game without Itagaki at the helm... but from what I experienced in the Gamescom demo level, Itagaki may have been more important than they'd like to admit.

Fighting against fellow humans was easily the most satisfying part of the first two games, and once again, you'll be thrown into arenas against waves of incoming forces. Like their predecessors, these mercenaries use a mix of ranged and melee attacks, with more powerful foes bringing shields or rocket launchers along to the party. Combat, therefore, revolves around blocking attacks, dashing behind foes and planning quick, decisive strikes from your Katana and throwing stars. The infamous Flying Swallow attack no longer decapitates opponents, instead, it triggers a cinematic takedown when it connects. Brawling is just as fun as you might remember, though frequent knockdown attacks still make an unwelcome appearance.

Ninja Gaiden III Hands-On Preview | Fixing What Ain't Broke

Project lead Yosuke Hayashi famously promised that Ninja Gaiden III will feature "deeper" violence that actually makes players witness the consequences of their actions, and I'm delighted to report that he's managed to pull it off. Dealing the killing blow occasionally snaps the camera in for a gory close-up of the finishing strike, but rather than an outrageously cinematic moment that glorifies the act of murder, it's a jarringly nasty and efficient affair that genuinely makes you feel sorry for the man on the business end of your blade. I doubt that fighting against demons will elicit the same emotional reaction, but it's an impressive touch nonetheless.

Unfortunately, any sense of immersion is instantly neutered by the inexplicable addition of Quick Time Events. Just when you're about to buy into the moment, just when you're on the verge of buying into the universe, Ryu will frequently automatically lock blades with an opponent as an enormous button prompt appears on the screen. Ninja Gaiden III constantly reminds players that they're simply playing a game. In a franchise that traditionally relies on technical combos and split-second timing, these QTEs feel awkward, unnecessary and pointless. More than that, they feel plain wrong; like the nausea one experiences a few seconds after being punched in the gut. This wouldn't have happened on Itagaki's watch.

Ninja Gaiden III Hands-On Preview | Fixing What Ain't Broke

There are other, more obtrusive examples of the new focus on QTEs in action. Ryu seems to have forgotten that he can effortlessly flip and bounce up walls, and now has to sluggishly drag himself up sheer surfaces using his kunai and a series of timed trigger presses. Again, replacing a fluid and visceral gameplay feature with Quick Time Events doesn't improve anything whatsoever, and from what I can see, it's just an effort to bring Ninja Gaiden III in line with what Japanese developers assume we want from our games. There's little courage or conviction on show here.

To give Team Ninja some credit, there were a couple of fun new innovations in the demo level. Dealing damage charges up Ryu's cursed gauntlet, which can release its energy in a teleportation smart bomb attack that sends Ryu on a furious short-lived (and automatic) rampage. A section set in deep fog also demands the use of stealth (an underused mechanic in the Ninja Gaiden series), as attacking the guards directly results in them calling in air strikes on your position. Sneaking around and backstabbing your hapless foes is the order of the day, and is fairly satisfying and refreshing to do. Leaping from tall buildings allows Ryu to glide, resulting in a brutal kill if it connects with an enemy on the street below.

You'll also spend a lot of time sliding around on your arse, which feels a bit silly to be honest. Sliding under barriers is a little redundant when we know full well that Ryu could just as easily leap over them in a single graceful flip (which would be much more cinematic and impressive to boot).

Ninja Gaiden III Hands-On Preview | Fixing What Ain't Broke

And then the boss arrived: a quadrupedal mech that will likely rank amongst the least imaginative, least inspired and most formulaic boss fights of all time if it makes it into the final cut unedited. Each of its legs needed to be slashed open, leaving them vulnerable to - say it with me - a Quick Time Event. After three more of these identical animations, the core opens and - you guessed it - another QTE was required to polish off the walking tank once and for all. It was a far cry from the fast, capable and skilled combatants that series fans are used to facing, and a battle that left a sour taste in my mouth.

As the demo faded to black, I was left with the distinct impression that Team Ninja are trying to fix the parts of the series that aren't actually broken. The combat, once fluid and slick, is now punctuated by QTEs that add nothing to the experience and stifle the flow of each engagement. The wall climbing is a pointless replacement for something that worked perfectly well. And the boss was plain awful. If Ninja Gaiden III resembles the preview build when it hits shelves next year, it's set to be a homogenized shadow of its former nuanced self as rather than a return to form. As a fan of the series, I hope that the finished article will prove me wrong.

Add a comment6 comments
jernholl  Aug. 28, 2011 at 21:11

Sounds like this is going to be a huge dis-service for hardcore-diehard fans of the ninja gaiden series.

xino  Aug. 28, 2011 at 21:18

i hate reading garbage articles like this.

How can you preview something and talk all negative?
I don't think that is what developers want journalist to be doing.

Also what is wrong with changing the gameplay of Ninja Gaiden? the gameplay was changed in Ninja Gaiden 2 that added more fast paced combat, less defensive and more offensive.
It basically took a different direction from Ninja Gaiden Black.

If NG2 can change the gameplay of it's predecessor, why can't NG3 change the failed gameplay of NG2?

tplarkin7  Aug. 28, 2011 at 21:25

QTEs are abominations. They should never be used. Itagaki never used them. Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 are the very best examples of hack-n-slash. Anyone making one should study those games. After seeing what Tecmo has done to NG3, I have no desire to play it.

bigevilworldwide  Aug. 28, 2011 at 22:38

Well looks like team ninja may just fail proving my point that without itagaki team ninja ain't ****...Too bad theres no chance in hell he would comeback and help fix the game.Maybe they could sell him the IP though

pcstraw  Aug. 29, 2011 at 02:00

@ Xino

So what do you want the previewer to do, lie and say the game is brilliant to keep the developers happy? So they can give him/her more games to review or something? Thank God your not a games journalist...
And why SHOULD they change the gameplay? It's Ninja Gaiden 3 gedit..."NINJA GAIDEN" it needs to play like "Ninja Gaiden". If it doesn't they might as well make a completly new game. I love Ninja Gaiden's combat and if they change it I won't be buying the game...is that reason enough for them not to change it? And NG2 didn't change the combat system, it expanded on it.
I suggest you think as long and hard as your dad's **** before commiting stupid comments to the internet. I know it's already full of crap but you don't have to add to it.

JonLester  Aug. 29, 2011 at 16:29

@Xino: You're right, publishers would like us to say that their games are looking absolutely perfect and deserve instant pre-orders. But our job is to call it how we see it, and from what I played, NG3 is going in a fairly worrying direction.

However, I certainly wouldn't say that this preview is "all negative." I made sure to highlight what I thought was good about the preview build (i.e. the deeper violence, stealth section, setting, teleportation attacks etc)... but on balance, we didn't like what we saw.

I'd like to re-emphasize my final paragraph: that I hope the final build makes this preview completely redundant. There's plenty of time for Team Ninja to absolutely nail Ninja Gaiden 3.

Last edited by JonLester, Aug. 29, 2011 at 16:30

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