Ninja Gaiden 3 – E3 Preview

Years back I heard rumours about a game that was near impossible to beat. It promised hundreds of devious enemies, boasted nearly invincible bosses, and required “mad l33t skillz” to beat even the first few levels. Best of all? It starred a ninja. The Ninja Gaiden series has since become known not only as a game featuring brutal, deep, but most of all entertaining game play, but has also become a sort of badge of honour amongst the gaming community if you complete it, thanks to its unforgiving difficulty. Over the course of two adventures the series hero, Ryu Hyabusa, has done battle with rival ninjas, deadly mercenaries, and ravenous hellspawn in locations all across the globe – leaving open the question of where the series can go next from here.

One part of that question answered nearly right away is that the upcoming third game still delivers blissfully violent action. The opening scene jumps quite literally right into the action. A short video sequence shows a group of heavily armed mercenaries capturing the British Prime Minister. Their price to release the hostage? An audience with one Ryu Hayabusa. Flash forward to the present, and we see the master ninja himself looking out over the London skyline. Flinging himself from his perch atop the Big Ben clock tower triggers a quick time event that ends when he lands on top of a very unlucky enemy soldier. From here on out the gameplay takes off in classic Ninja Gaiden fashion. The game controls are deceptively simple – the face buttons are typical of action games, being divided by different levels of attack like light attacks, and strong attacks, as well as jumping and long range projectile weapons. Melee attacks can be strung together into long, flowing combos that rip right into enemies and start the blood flowing freely. Many of the combo moves from previous games are still present, so veterans of the series should have no trouble jumping right in and slicing apart baddies.

While the game may handle similarly to previous entries, there are a few noticeable differences in how the action is presented on screen. The most obvious being the gigantic scar covering Ryu’s entire right arm. As the player racks up combos and deals damage, the scar goes from a simple cosmetic change to a gameplay one, beginning to glow similar to the scars and tattoos of Street Fighter’s Akuma. Once it reaches critical glow level, holding down the heavy attack button unleashes a screen filling move that hits all nearby enemies. In practice the move works similar to the Ultimate Techniques from the previous games, but they can’t be strung together multiple times any more (at least that I saw). Also, since the demo only gave the player access to Ryu’s Dragon Sword, it is unclear if every weapon has its own unique special attack or if they all behave the same as the sword. The attack wasn’t powerful enough to kill enemies instantly at full health (at least not in the demo), though it did knock them to the ground allowing for some breathing room should the player be overwhelmed.

Another addition to the combat was the inclusion of some very cinematic heavy strikes. When an enemy was weak enough striking them with a heavy attack would launch Ryu into a pre-animated flurry of attacks, that dealt significant damage or even death to a single enemy. These attacks could also be activated by certain combos; when the last strike connects with the enemy the usually distant camera zooms right into the action, showing up-close the Ninja’s sword slicing through his victim. During the close-up a single button quick-time event pops up, which if successful deals substantial damage to the target, but if it misses then the attack is blocked. Players who are successful can actually string several of these together between multiple enemies, and keep this going until either an unsuccessful button press or the player runs out of targets.

While I was able to activate this only once, it definitely added to the cinematic feel of the experience, showing off not only Ryu’s skill as a warrior, but also the wealth of experience he has no doubt gathered over the course of his previous adventures. Also added in this time around was Ryu finally doing something ninjas have grown famous for – sneaking around. During certain sections of the game Ryu can approach unwary enemies from their blindside, and take them down with a single strike. The rub is that in order for it to work, the player can’t move faster than a very slow walk achieved by just barely nudging the analog stick forward. If Ryu is moved a little too fast even for an instant, every enemy is tipped off. In one situation Ryu’s discovery actually brought down an artillery strike on his current location. While a little rough in its execution, the addition of the stealth segments brought in some welcome diversity, which could probably only improve as the game progresses into different environments and offers more enemy types.

While the game is taking steps in the right direction to be a successful follow up to an already great series, there were some features I missed seeing in the demo. During gameplay I noticed that the enemy dismemberment models from the last title were completely missing. Enemies would still fall to the floor and attempt to crawl away when wounded bad enough, but the sliced off arms and legs were sorely lacking. While it may be a trifling thing to some, I actually enjoyed the added level of violence that feature brought to the second game, as it backed up the idea that Ryu’s sword was indeed slicing through everything. Another notable feature now missing was the collection of coloured spirits, left behind by fallen baddies. The only spirit released this time around was a pale white blob, that sought the player out and when collected restored a portion of the player’s health. Finally, also missing from the demo were the orbs previously used as currency in the last two games, that could be exchanged for upgrades like new moves and weapons. It’s possible that the feature could have simply been left out of the demo, or the game may use a new replacement system that wasn’t shown (or I didn’t find).

Overall I had a pleasant little romp. The new story has some potential, considering it was all started by a terrorist group actually calling Ryu out. Any group with that kind of confidence will be interesting to tangle with indeed. New moves, new foes, and a new story are enticing enough to get me to think this game worthy of a purchase, but add to that the unforgiving difficulty that comes with a Ninja Gaiden game and it has all the ingredients to make me think this game may just become my new top hack-and-slasher. While the release isn’t scheduled until 2012, the demo was interesting enough to warrant this game taking a spot on my list of titles that I should definitely keep an eye out for.




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3 Comments

  1. Edward says:

    Another great preview, Radam :D
    I tried Ninja Gaiden (the NES one) on the virtual console, and it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I have ever, ever experienced in a game. It will never be completed and even thinking about it too long gives me a literal headache. For that, I think I’ll kindly skip NG3, simply because I don’t want the flashbacks or the type of game that has more fun handing me my arse on a plate than I have fun playing it.

  2. Victor says:

    Another day one purchase. I’d also say that Jokesound should try the Ninja Gaiden 2 demo on XBL. The game has moved on a fair bit since the NES version :)

  3. Adam R says:

    Dont worry Ed, there’s an easy mode now so even those not wanting to finish with bloody knuckles can knock out the new games. Ninja Gaiden: Black on XBLA can be downloaded with said easy mode, it may just make fun of you about it though :P

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