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Ninja Gaiden 3 fails to meet expectations

Ninja-Gaiden-3

Ninja Gaiden 3; Score: * *; System: Xbox360; Genre: Action; No. Players: 1 (2-18 online); ESRB rating: M (Mature).

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The developers for the Ninja Gaiden series had a problem. The game was a success with fans of swordplay but it was almost too difficult for the novice player.

Outside of the fan base, the game was nearly inaccessible. Fans lauded the need to master the ninja's moves and skillful swordplay and those who succeeded felt as though they were indeed ninjas with a gamepad.

Everyone else was just frustrated.

So the folks at Tecmo Koei made Ninja Gaiden 3 more enjoyable for the masses. Their success is doubtful because they replaced the mastery with mediocrity and restructured the game to fall in line with some of the more popular titles.

Now they have a bigger problem. All the fans of the series want their ninja back. Gamers no longer learn difficult combo moves or train with an arsenal of weaponry. Now they just sit back and mash some buttons until all the baddies are dead.

The series follows the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa as he becomes the Ninja Dragon Warrior and uses his special powers to fight for good. In NG3 the story gets a little more personal. The focus is on finding the bad guys and killing them before they kill you, as you are the new target. It's not original or very interesting but it falls in line with all of its predecessors. None has a story line that is very interesting. Where NG titles have succeeded in the past is in the gameplay. Now, not so much.

There used to be combo attacks where pressing certain buttons in the right order would bring about a devastating final blow that would disembowel an enemy with its ferocity. Those are gone.

Now every time you kill a bad guy you get to enjoy an overly theatrical performance of steel shredding through flesh. In fact it's the overused cinematics that make this game a bit dull. Do we really need to have every death be so fantastical? Wouldn't the game move at a more natural pace if we didn't have to sit through a cut-scene every ten seconds?

And just so we know what we are talking about here, cut-scenes are nothing more than downtime. If I'm watching, I'm not playing.

All of the various weaponry used throughout the series is missing. In NG3 you will have a sword and a bow and that's it, which really wouldn't be that bad if they wouldn't have eliminated the combo attacks. Now you basically have one weapon with a light attack and a heavy attack, which are the same things you start every action game with. Weapons aren't upgraded or enhanced with special powers as you advance, as in most other action games, which means you will only be able to defeat the tougher foes by mastering the same two moves and hacking your way to victory.

And that's the main problem that NG fans will find with this game, it's just not that difficult. Where the difficulty always resided in the mastery of the ninja skill set, it now rests in the shear numbers of enemies that attack you. Most foes can be sliced and diced without your ninja taking any damage at all. Their only strength is in their numbers.

Visually the game is sharp. The environments weren't as overused as other aspects and the rendering was quite good. At times the scenery was nearly life-like. Though most of the characters in the animations moved with a natural fluidity, their faces were void of expression regardless of the dire circumstances at hand. In truth, however, that is not an uncommon trait to video game cinematics.

What you have is a game that really isn't all that horrible. It's fun to play for at least the first few levels, until the repetition sets in. Then it sort of loses its flavor. It's a ninja game for sure, it's just not worthy of the "Gaiden" moniker.

Contact Tom Fisher at tfisher@theblade.com.

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