By Boogie Knight:
There’s been a pattern going on at Team Ninja: release a Ninja Gaiden game then wait a while before releasing a new version with more content and boobies. The first couple times make sense because they were initially Xbox 360 exclusives which got ported to the Playstation 3 (thanks for beta testing it, guys). With Ninja Gaiden 3, the release of a remake is a little different as the original was multiplatform (though I think Razor’s Edge was made to port to the WiiU), but the principle motivation is releasing the game that Team Ninja should have made in the first place.
When Ninja Gaiden 3 was first put on shelves it went over like a streaker at a bar mitzvah: You only got one weapon (two others were DLC), the game was much easier overall (and not just because you could getaway with spamming Izuna Drop), and everything about the game seemed to scream to fans, “Identity Crisis.” Most of the gameplay problems could be explained with two words: motion controls. “But Boogie,” you might say, “Motion controls are the future.” They might be, but nobody likes to talk about all the screw ups and failures which happened before the Wright brothers got it working. Nobody requires a flying machine in your front yard either and charges for the privilege of not wanting one. Besides, normally Ninja Gaiden is a demanding and punishing ballet of death. It’s still an option in the new version, but playing Ninja Gaiden with motion controls is like trying to knit while wearing mittens.
Another problem the game has is the absence of Itagaki, the mind which drove (into the ground depending on who you ask) the Dead or Alive franchise and the new Ninja Gaiden series which share continuity. Never particularly cared for his vision, but in an age when game developers focus group test their games to cynically pander to twelve year old boys there is something pure about a game being designed by a man with the aesthetic sensibilities a twelve year old boy. Though it seems unlikely that there ever was a plan for the direction of the series aside from giving excuses for Ryu Hayabusa to kill enough people to make “Death by Ninja” an exclusion from insurance payouts like acts of war, Team Ninja probably made some bad decisions because they were trying to prove that they could make the franchise work without him or his male gaze vision.
The “plot” as it were kicks off with terrorists holding the prime minister hostage, of Great Britain that is not the Japanese one, and demanding Ryu Hayabusa to come over and murder them all. So Ryu does what he does best, and after ridding the world of surprisingly well armed and trained British terrorists he gets cursed by the level boss with the Grip of Murder. The general idea is that the hate, fear, and other nasty emotions of the bazillion people mowed down with his sword is festering in his body now and will eventually kill him. In and of itself, this isn’t a half bad idea. The bad guys aren’t very sympathetic as they’re up to no good and they’re damn stupid for even thinking that they are the ones to can kill a man who should be riding a pale horse, but a potential crisis of conscience for the man who massacres those idiots offers character development and could make for a strong finale.
We even get a couple characters in the mix that would go well with a retirement arc, including a career woman with a kid. However, I’m not sure if she’s there to step away from the usual shameless booby buffet or if she’s just a fetish Team Ninja realized they weren’t catering to. Keep in mind this is the same Team Ninja who also character derailed the original badass female heroine, so even if they wanted to do something smart it was highly unlikely that we would get it. Didn’t help that during the “stirring” end cutscene I accidentally found out the six-axis controls make the breasts of female characters move so that killed any sense of immersion in the drama.
The gameplay is very similar to the mechanics of previous titles, and overall this is a move for the better. First and foremost we get more weapons, which is very nice as I preferred the Lunar Staff myself while others preferred the claw weapon. Enemies are more aggressive and have more health, but you can abuse the autoguard feature in Easy mode to just clear the story though at harsh penalties to XP gained so the game has a nice balance of challenge while being finishable. Checkpoints seem to be decently placed so on harder difficulties you might be able to reach the next save point once you learn how to not suck. Though at times it feels like the camera is an enemy too, but this seems to have been a problem which will persist until those VR headsets become the norm and we can use peripheral vision.
Yes, there are times when QTEs play a part in the game, but this is a surprisingly less evil version. For starters, there are never QTEs in cinematics, so you can watch the cutscenes in peace. Secondly, the QTEs are almost entirely assigning buttons to perform regular actions. A guy tries to ambush you? Use the same command to dodge that you normally dodge with. Have to tear up the armor on an attack helicopter? Press the strong attack button. It’s hard to be particularly angry when the QTEs feel like an extension of normal gameplay.
Razor’s Edge also added a couple stages with Ayane bringing her fast and furious frenzy of violence and dubious plot support. Her stages were certainly fun to play as she starts out of the gate with a decent set of skills and leveled up abilities. To be honest, going from Ayane back to Ryu felt like being Megatron DeathKiller 3000 to the fat kid in PE struggling to meet the minimum requirements in physical abilities. However, it is possible to play Ayane in parts centered on Ryu due to the Chapter Challenge. You can also play as Momoji, one of the supporting characters, and of course Kasumi for no reason other than she gets shoehorned in to pander.
Remember when collectibles in games actually conferred in game bonuses? Pepperidge Farm remembers, and Razor’s Edge too. Gathering Golden Scarabs lets the player increase their max health, get new weapons and ninpo that isn’t unlocked through normal gameplay. Too many games these days throw collectibles at you which serve to fill in important plot details which the main story should be addressing, or to pad gameplay with no reward other than the achievement.
Then there is the multiplayer… while there is an appeal to tackling challenges beside an experienced player in the co-op trials, the game seems to want people in the Clan Battle mode. Team Ninja is no more guilty than other major game companies, but I still don’t quite see them anywhere near the top as their competitors and for that reason the online pass requirement is a boneheaded move. Ninja Gaiden already appeals to a smaller, more hardcore demographic and online passes generally exclude players who rent their copies. To me, a good competitive multiplayer mode requires getting as many people as possible participating so that there’s an ample pool of rank amateurs to battle each other for practice as well as be fodder for mid-level players. When the servers are already ghost towns, it’s not much fun to get your only matches with god tier players who savage you like a pissed off kitten with a ragdoll.
The final product is a game which should have been more awesome than it actually was, but the developers didn’t get when to be serious and when to have a sense of humor about the game’s over the top nature. Yes, people are gonna write it off over surface issues as well as Team Ninja’s reputation and ignore that there’s a decent action game with the sensibilities of a B- movie. However, I still think that a better subtitle would have been, “Die, Ryu Hayabusa, Die.”