Ninja Gaiden 3 Hands-On Preview -- The More Things Change, the More People Still Get Horribly StabbedBy Matt Cabral - Posted Jun 27, 2011
When Tomonobu Itagaki, controversy-stirring creator behind the last two Ninja Gaiden games, took a permanent vacation from Team Ninja, fans began to worry about the fate of their favorite assassin-starring franchise. That understandably cautious concern morphed into outright panic when the PS3’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 replaced the original 360 version’s buckets of blood with…purple mist. After having my thumbs blistered by a recent Ninja Gaiden III demo, though, I‘m happy to report that the blood geysers are back in full screen-splashing force. Itagaki is still gone and some questionable refinements--quick-time events--have been added to the mix, but based on my brief time under Ryu Hayabusa’s black hood, I’m confident the series’ faithful following will embrace this sequel like a shiny new katana.
At first glance, NG3 serves up what we’ve come to expect from the franchise: lightning-quick, hack-’n-slash combat. And while that absolutely holds true, Hayabusa’s handlers are also changing things up a bit, refining what worked in the previous games and mixing some fresh ideas into the corpse-carving cocktail. As mentioned above, the blood is back. However, it’s not just splashed willy-nilly in an effort to make the game gorier than a SAW movie. The developers are aiming to make the combat more visceral and the kills more intimate, so the liberal splattering of life juice is done in support of that.
One of the better examples of this approach sees Ryu’s blade graphically driven through a baddie‘s belly; rather than committing the entrails-spilling act in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion, Ryu, or rather the camera, slows so every graphic detail can be appreciated. Furthermore, the kill is dramatically drawn out while a button prompt directs the player to remove the sword from its fleshy target. The up-close kill, coupled with appropriately squishy sound effects, adds an almost disturbing layer of emotional intensity to Ryu’s deadly deed.
Of course, not all life-siphoning encounters are such cinematically-framed affairs; while the action occasionally comes to a crawl to remind us that we’re not simply slicing up cantaloupes, the majority of the combat still moves at a white-hot clip. In fact, a new charge move--built up by slaying with epic style--sees Ryu’s arm glow an appropriately blood-red, just before he unleashes a relentless string of lethal attacks. Essentially, he pin-balls between bad guys at breakneck speed, leaving pulpy piles of bone and blood in his wake. Additionally, his pulse-quickening kill spree is followed by a camera that finally seems up to the task of tracking him. Previous Ninja Gaiden games were plagued by clunky camera work, but based on my hands and eyes-on time, it seems Team Ninja’s made fixing this notorious flaw a priority.
While these tweaks seem to be bettering the franchise, the developer will no doubt court some criticism over their decision to include quick-time events in Ninja Gaiden III. Thanks to their heavy use in successful series such as God of War, the QTE was all the rage for awhile. However, their poor implementation in some games, and overuse in others (I’m looking at you, Ninja Blade) has since made them a risky proposition.
That said, the few I experienced during my time behind Ryu’s blade worked organically within the framework of the story and action. On top of the aforementioned context-sensitive finishing moves, I utilized another that had me alternating trigger pulls to climb a wall. These QTE’s spawned pretty seamlessly from the experience and never frustrated me, but Team Ninja still needs to tread carefully, lest they bring the fun to a screeching halt by too-heavily relying on these oft hated mechanics.
The developer’s also promising a greater focus on story for Ryu’s latest bloodletting romp. My demo didn’t really reflect this, as I mostly spent my time carving through hordes of soldiers on pretty nondescript London streets. Although, the thumb-numbing action was sandwiched between a cinematic opening sequence and a screen-enveloping boss battle. The former, which saw Ryu diving from the London skyline, Batman-style, and the latter, which pitted him against a mechanical arachnid, both packed promising narrative potential within the game’s greater context. Sure, I was busy bloodying Ryu’s blade with the insides of unfortunate enemies, but I did leave the demo dying to know how London-dwelling, metallic spiders factor into his latest adventure.
While the title sports a number of under-the-surface alterations, Ninja Gaiden 3 still feels like a Ninja Gaiden game at its limb-lopping, head-rolling core. The combat, complemented by a variety of flesh-flaying weapons, relies primarily on light and heavy attack combos, as well as the occasional barrage of throwing stars; the expertly animated action’s as fast paced as ever; and if that eight-legged menace is any indication, epic boss battles will still serve as the series’ breath-stealing center pieces. If Team Ninja can balance the old and new to deliver a better game, fans just may forget about Itakagi’s departure and maybe even forgive that purple mist.