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Ninja Gaiden 3 Preview

by on June 20, 2011

Regular listeners to the GodisaGeek Podcast will know that the LA team discussed a growing trend at E3: the return of difficult console games.

For the last few years, with some exceptions, single player experiences have become just that: experiences. Little more than mildly challenging sequences of set-pieces, designed to excite the eyes and ears without ever giving the thumbs a real work-out. The imminent release of Dark Souls, El Shaddai and The Witcher 2 coming to consoles shows that the desire for challenging games is rising.

With this in mind, it is somewhat surprising that Ninja Gaiden 3, the latest release in a series famous for its difficulty and challenge, feels as if it is making concessions to the masses, being easier than its hardcore forebears.

There was one level of Ninja Gaiden 3 available to play at E3, a battle in London (or at least a heavily London-themed level) that saw Ryu Hayabusa take to the rooftops of the old city, followed by a fight along the Embankment, overlooking the London Eye.

The instant you pick up a pad, it is clear that this is a Ninja Gaiden title. The look of the game (particularly Hayabusa’s shiny leather pop-S&M costume), the acrobatic movement (complete with zippy animations) and copious bloodletting are all still present but there are some noticeable differences to previous games in the series. It is easy to call any japanese game that doesn’t feature over-gelled, shouting manga teenagers and coquettish underage females with eyes the size of eagle’s eggs “westernised” but this Ninja Gaiden, with Hayabusa contacted (or maybe even hired) by a mysterious agency to fight a group of terrorists that have overtaken the streets of London, has far more to do with current western political fears than it does with the more traditional mystical foes and clan rivalries of previous encounters.

Hayabusa himself has undergone some changes, afflicted as he is with brick red growth that that entwines his entire arm like an angry vine. This growth was not fully explained in the demonstration, although it does seem to give Hayabusa a new ability not seen in previous games. On defeating groups of enemies the arm starts to glow red, allowing the mega-ninja to unleash a special combo-attack that automatically damages most enemies on the screen. The result is similar to the charged attack available on Ninja Gaiden 2, but is easier to access and requires less skill and timing to implement effectively. It is one of the signs that the game has been made accessible, and less challenging, to new players.

Another indicator of simplification is the new health system. In Ninja Gaiden 3, when Hayabusa kills an enemy, his health bar is automatically replenished a small amount and because of this it is easy to keep the bar full. However, whenever Hayabusa takes damage it permanently lowers his maximum health by a small fraction. The upshot of this, is that whilst it is easy to keep Hayabusa’s health full, every hit leaves him permanently more vulnerable. Whilst Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 were exercises in attrition, the player desperately trying to dispatch opponents quickly whilst not making mistakes and leaving themselves open to attack, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a lot more forgiving of those mistakes initially but punishes them harder in the long term. It is an interesting system that, as mentioned, makes the body of the levels feel far less challenging than you would expect from a Ninja Gaiden title. This doesn’t seem to be the exacting slasher of old and worse, and the level started to drag in the middle; the enemies a series of low hurdles easily vaulted using Hayabusa’s new charge attack.

In a time where games are allowed to be difficult, once again, it seems a shame that the first glance at Ninja Gaiden 3 showed a game making concessions to players that want an easier experience, when the audience of players that want a strongly stylised, ultra-hard game seems to be growing all the time as more titles hit the market. [Editor’s note: Regarding the apparent difficulty issues, we have been told to “watch this space”]

There is no doubt that Ninja Gaiden 3 is an incredibly polished game, graphically still impressive, with cracking art direction that viscerally shows all the the blood letting from a lethal armoury of moves and combos. However, time will tell whether the whole game has made too many compromises in an attempt to attract new players and, as such, has lost its identity and unique qualities in the process.

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Ninja Gaiden 3 is due out in 2012, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.