Ryu Hayabusa, the face of Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden franchise, has been in the business of disemboweling and filleting all those unlucky enough to be his opponent for a long time now. A killing machine is what he is, born in the heyday of the NES—during which he starred in the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy.
Then he took a break from his side-scrolling adventures, and joined a fighting tournament (see: Dead or Alive). Finally in 2004, he reemerged from the shadows to appear in his own game once again for the Xbox. Critics loved the game for the over-the-top action, the uncompromised violence, and that it was incredibly challenging. It was a hardcore game that rewarded anyone resilient enough to master its game play—the same were attributed to its direct sequel, Ninja Gaiden 2, which came out in 2008 for the Xbox 360.
Now comes the third game, Ninja Gaiden 3 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. With those two previous games creating a huge racket, the latest couldn’t exactly sneak up on us like a ninja would. Hardcore fans waited excitedly for another go to play as Hayabusa.
Problem is, Ninja Gaiden 3 isn’t that hardcore anymore—possibly in an effort to appeal to a broader, more casual audience. The biggest tell: the gameplay has been simplified. Perhaps, a bit too much. Combat is still quick and vicious, but it’s more of a button-masher now than the experience it delivered before, where you had to execute combos with timing, skill, and high-level gamer reflexes. The number of weapons you use has been diminished too. Whereas the former games presented the controller as a blade that you had to master, Ninja Gaiden 3 is more of a gatling gun. Just let them bullets fly.
The influence of top-tier action game contemporaries such as God of War and Uncharted can be felt too. Where? With the game’s quick-time events, which are scenarios where you press a button at the right time to watch Hayabusa do a bunch of fancy moves. As a result, the game is definitely more cinematic, and we’re thankful for that, because the game is a visual spectacle. Over the course of the single-player campaign, you’ll definitely get to watch some awesome moments unfold with just a few, simple button presses, especially during some of the more exciting boss fights.
The keyword however is “watch.” It used to be that you had to execute those moves by sheer skill. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re considering Ninja Gaiden 3 as a departure. It’s more accessible, but in the process, it has lost some of its in-your-face flavor, which has always been a signature. It’s cool-looking, Hayabusa’s still a badass, and it can still be a ton of fun for those who just want some hack-and-slash action after a hard day’s work. The series’ new direction however makes it pretty generic, unlikely to push boundaries, and likely to be forgotten in the already crowded bin of mindless action games. We’re just hoping Hayabusa doesn’t hunt us down for saying so.