After having such a good time with the recent reboot of Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, I was sort of looking forward to Ninja Gaiden III. Tomonobu Itagaki was cast out, Metroid: Other M fell flat on its face, yet Team Ninja soldiered on with the latest Ninja Gaiden entry. The odds were stacked against this title before development even begun. Whereas past games in the series focused on gore, difficulty, and obscenely large boobs, the third put an increased focus on Hayabusa's thoughts and feelings. I don't mind games that expose a character's psyche, however if not well done, the story becomes as appetizing as raw chicken. The same mistake made by Metroid: Other M, but no one learns, do they? Even after IGN's infamous 3/10 rating on release day, I held on to a shred of hope and purchased the game the following week. What a mistake.
Ninja Gaiden III is easily the laziest and most shallow game I've played all year. It features a terribly boring story involving dreadfully bland characters. Ryu Hayabusa didn't need a personality. He's a one dimensional killer, the super ninja himself, raining wrathful justice on those who deserve it. In Ninja Gaiden III, he runs with a single mother and becomes a father figure, one of the biggest facepalm moments I've ever had the displeasure of experiencing. As you mash the same buttons in the same pattern over and over, you're treated to flashy, close cropped kill sequences, which look pretty nice. The only problem is they occur way to often and there is hardly any variation in them. I'm pretty sure you can play the entire game without blocking once, a design choice that Itagaki would spit on. In fact, I went through a few segments doing nothing but jumping straight up into the air, auto aiming with my bow and arrow, and just firing off blindly. When I did this, I was untouchable. Just miserable design. One of the most difficult games around has become Dynasty Warriors: Hayabusa. As you slice or perforate your way through foe after foe, Team Ninja continually tries to play to Ryu's emotions as enemies cower away and beg you think of their family. There's even a scene where you slowly walk a baby through an exploding labratory. Ugh.
When you're not busy button mashing, there are half-assed quick time sequences that you are excrutiatingly guided through. Running, sliding under obstacles, scaling walls, and the like. There are also some forced stealth sequences that are neither difficult, fun, nor rewarding. There's even a button you can press that shows you exactly where to go. Not that it's needed, because this is one of the most linear games I've ever played. There are no extras or easter eggs to collect, no secondary weapons, no upgrades. Just running and slashing, and my God does that get old. I'll be completely honest when I say I couldn't sit through the whole game, there's just no reason to. You use the same attacks against the same 6 enemies, over and over and over. Boss battles are designed such as my cat could figure out their patterns and best them whilst licking himself. Quick time events are a heavy part of the game, however for some reason, QTE prompts and tutorial prompts exist in the same overlay. So you know that the left and right triggers scale walls, and you want to turn the intrusive tutorial overlay off, but you can't, or else you lose all your quick time prompts as well. Try beating a boss without those, it gets a little frustrating.
The online mode pits player created ninja against each other, either in free-for-all or team matches. You learn more moves and unlock more weapons and armor as you level up, making you a more efficient killing machine. I kind of enjoyed playing online for at least an hour, which after playing the story mode felt like finding an oasis in the Sahara. However, like most oases, you soon discover that the succulent water you've been drowning yourself in is just more sand. I would have rather Team Ninja completely forego Hayabusa's journey and the shitty attempt at making players care about a ninja's feelings, and instead focus on making a pure multiplayer title. There is a good foundation in place here, but it is squandered by a lack of polish, and generally a lack of fucks given. If done correctly, we could have had an online version of Tenchu, but I guess that's asking for too much.
Ninja Gaiden III might have been worth $20, but I paid $55 for what ended up being one of the worst things I've ever laid hands on. The fact that someone had the audacity to consider selling this game for the same price as Skyrim makes me hurk uncontrollably. I was so infuriatingly frustrated with the regression of the series, I stopped playing and sold my copy back to Amazon at a whopping quarter of what I paid for it. Thanks for the laughs, Tecmo Koei. Needless to say, if you are thinking about buying Ninja Gaiden III, wait for it to drop under ten bucks. As far as I'm concerned, the heart and soul of Ninja Gaiden has departed to found Valhalla Game Studios.
The Score: n/a (incomplete)