Ninja Gaiden 3 doesn't just strip away Ryu's choices--it also strips away his mask from time to time. The game focuses on its story a great deal. We watch as a little girl implores him to be her new daddy, and cringe as he grasps his veined arm, which becomes increasingly diseased by the blood of those he has slain. We're meant to take it all seriously: Ninja Gaiden 3 possesses none of the tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of , , or even . But it's hard to buy into a story when you can easily sense who will betray you; it's hard to care about a little girl you spend almost no time with, and who speaks only near the end of the game.
6367310Size really doesn't matter when you wield the dragon sword.None
And yet the story is always there, intruding at the worst possible moments. Ryu holds his fingers to his ear to get a mission update like a refugee. A cutscene ends, you walk for three seconds, and the next cutscene begins; why even have the player walking at all? Other times, story and gameplay merge: the action slows to a crawl, and Ryu clutches his arm, slicing through his enemies in slow motion. Used sparingly, these sequences could have given the game emotional heft, but instead, they are so frequent--and last so long--that they're just a pain. You slowly pan the difficult camera around looking for the next ninja you must murder, lurch toward him, and perform yet another hyperbolic execution before stumbling toward the next victim. It feels like those dreams where you try so hard to move but are almost paralyzed.
For an extra challenge, you could up the difficulty to hard (which is about as challenging as previous games' normal difficulties, but hardly as deep), or go online, where you can take part in cooperative challenges and (gasp) competitive matches. If you played 's co-op, you have an idea of what to expect here: servings of slashes and dashes for two. The sense of progression absent in the single-player campaign reappears: as you play, you level up and learn new techniques, along with costume pieces, costume colors, and so forth.
Excuse me, but where did you get that gorgeous robe?
The co-op is fun, in part because it jettisons superfluous mechanics and quick-time events in favor of the core action. This is in spite of the hyperactive camera, which is jarring enough to get you temporarily lost as you try to figure out just which of the blade-flailing figures is you. The team deathmatch-type mode also suffers from the game's incessant need to be a movie instead of a game. More importantly, there's a sense that you aren't quite in control. The auto-targeting is fickle enough in the single-player game, but it can be frustrating to have the game send you slashing toward one opponent when you meant to focus on another.
Ultimately, the competitive play is a curiosity and nothing more, though at least you have to earn your victories: there is no bow-spamming here. In the campaign, on the other hand, you can leap into the air and fire flaming arrows everywhere, the snappy auto-targeting doing all the work for you. And that's Ninja Gaiden 3 for you: it does all the hard labor so that you don't have to. This forgettable action game may feed your bloodthirst, but the series' sharp edge has been dulled by Team Ninja's attempt to bring the master to the masses.
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