E3 2011: Ninja Gaiden 3 Hands-On Preview – Fancy a Slash?
Written Wednesday, June 29, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
What the hell has happened to Ryu Hayabusa? That's a question that we ask ourselves numerous times during our extensive hands-on with the E3 2011 demo of Ninja Gaiden 3, from the moment we plunge Ryu's razor-sharp Dragon Sword into the guts of our first victim, to the second we're chopping off the legs of a huge mechanical spider tank. Ryu now has a cursed, infected right arm that appears to have imbued him with incredible power and carving through enemies feels almost effortless.
Wait a minute?! Ninja Gaiden? Effortless?! Right, here's the deal. From the outset of our hands-on session, Ninja Gaiden 3 feels just like it should, with typically glorious graphics and graceful, blood-soaked violence by the bucketload, but Team Ninja has apparently been tinkering with the game's mechanics quite a lot with Series Producer Tomonobu Itagaki now out of the picture. The result is a blend of the hack and slash that you know and love, alongside a liberal sprinkling of chained QTE executions and tweaks to Ryu's move set. More on this in a bit...
Opening with a flashback sequence that has Ryu issued with a contract whilst in Japan, you're then transported to a rainy Westminster Bridge in London, where Hayabusa surveys his surroundings from a gargoyle on the edge of the Big Ben Clock Tower, before leaping off and gliding down to the rain-slicked streets below. You can control Ryu as he glides and target an enemy on the ground before striking him down, which then leads seamlessly into the action.
It's a great way to enter the game and the swordplay that follows is immediately gratifying, as arterial spray splatters in every direction and the mockney terrorists scream and writhe in agony. However, there's one all-important detail missing. There's no dismemberment or decapitation. None whatsoever, so the hopping, maniacal, one-legged Black Spider Clan ninjas of Ninja Gaiden II are a thing of the past, which is criminal in our book. It was bad enough when Team Ninja traded blood for Ribena in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, now there's no limbs being lopped off?! Madness. Fingers crossed that this oversight gets fixed sharpish.
From a control standpoint, Ninja Gaiden veterans will feel right at home mixing up quick and strong attacks, while blocking and dashing with the left trigger. Except, Ryu no longer dashes but slides instead, so he can cause foes to stumble as he tears across the floor into their shins. Sliding and hammering the quick attack button usually sets in motion a series of button prompts to perform multiple rapid and violent executions, which shift the camera into a cinematic view for the best angle on the brutality. As such, it's entirely possible to slice your way through an entire gang of terrorists in style just by repeatedly pressing the same quick attack button. There's no Flying Swallow aerial attack any more either, as it's been replaced by a spinning aerial suplex, which isn't nearly as effective, so it's a good job you can still keep the crowds at bay with rapid sword swipes.
If you do become overwhelmed by bad guys, Ryu can unleash the fury of his corrupted right arm when it's glowing by holding Y in a new variation on the previous game's Ultimate Technique, which enables you to perform several instant one-hit executions in quick succession. There's certainly enough enemies to cut through during the course of the demo, with few breaks in the relentless slice 'n' dice action. There are brief moments of respite, like down an alleyway for instance, where Ryu uses his kunai daggers to scale a wall using alternate trigger inputs. And before you ask what happened to the old Flying Bird Flip technique for scaling high walls, the gap in the alleyway is too wide, so we don't know whether it'll return or not.
Upon scaling the wall, Ryu finds himself on a rooftop where an armed terrorist is patrolling the balcony. This is where the Hayabusa's stealth comes to the fore, as he has to creep up behind the enemy, which demands you carefully nudge the analogue stick to walk slowly and silently to get the jump on your target for a swift stealth kill. From here, it's another jump from a great height and a glide back into the fray, katana blade primed, as you dodge incoming rockets with the left bumper. Upping their game, the terrorists send in units with heavy shields, dual-wielded glowing orange knives and rocket launchers. Ryu can cut straight through shields though, and his slide move proves useful against the rocket launcher-toting foes, as you can easily evade their projectiles and knock them back in a single sliding motion.
Having dispatched this wave of enemies, a falcon swoops in from above and lands on Ryu's arm, giving us the chance to save our game while simultaneously fully replenishing our health. There'll be no save statues in Ninja Gaiden 3 and no Muramasa shops either, as Ryu's weapons will now be upgraded gradually as you progress. Around the next corner, we encounter a troop transport truck that tries to run Ryu down, which initiates another QTE that requires a fast reaction on the left trigger and stick to slide underneath it before you get wrapped around the bumper, and as the vehicle slides to a halt in the rain, more troops are deployed from the back, with more shields to slice in two, more rocket-propelled projectiles to evade and more bad guys to be stabbed up.
Flanked by abandoned London buses on either side of the street, we suddenly find ourselves immersed in the middle of some classic Victorian pea soup fog – the kind that Jack the Ripper probably used to commit murders in – and stealthy troops slip out of the thick mist to grab Ryu and put a knife to his throat. Fail to react and you'll have your jugular cut, but a fast mashing of X is all it takes to turn the tables and do the cutting yourself. Clicking in the right analogue stick centres the camera and faces you in the direction you should be heading, which proves invaluable during this section. So, with the foggy gauntlet out of the way and some much-needed vitality absorbed from our vanquished foes, it's boss battle time as an enormous mechanised spider tank stomps into the area, spewing rockets and machine gun fire in our general direction.
We're not new to Ninja Gaiden by any means, so we know the score here. One slash is all it takes to create a chink in the armour plates covering each of the spider walker's legs, which are then ripe for exploitation as they glow with bright orange sparks where the weak spots are exposed. Some fast attacks eventually open up the legs completely as the armour shatters, enabling Ryu to then plunge his sword into the hinges of each appendage. You than have to jab X (again) to have Ryu cut through each leg like a hot knife through butter, then rinse and repeat until all of the legs are severed. Unable to move, the tank lets rip with a final desperate payload of mortars and exposes another glowing weak spot at its rear. Jumping up onto a ledge on the back of the immobilised tank, we thrust Ryu's blade into the tank and it explodes in a suitably spectacular fashion.
There's no denying that we had a great deal of fun going hands-on with Ninja Gaiden 3 for the first time, although there's no escaping the changes that Team Ninja has made for this particular iteration. Some will be welcome, some might not be. We're somewhat perturbed by the proliferation of QTEs in the demo and although the violent, blood-drenched brutality is visually spectacular, we're confused as to why the dismemberment has been removed from the game. Ninja Gaiden 3 is looking fantastic though and with the game moving at such a breakneck pace, with relentless intensity, we're remaining positive about its prospects and trust that Team Ninja will rectify our misgivings about the game in its current state.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is sharpening its katana in time for launch sometime in 2012.