Goofy. That’s the word that we’d plump for if we were forced to summarise Ninja Gaiden 3 in a single word. The plot is amiable and lunk-headed (as ever) and the combat system is simplistic in the extreme, but this is the videogame equivalent of a top-shelf 1980s B-movie, and fans of mindless action gaming are going to be tremendously well served by it. Whether or not you let Ninja Gaiden 3 entertain you is another matter altogether, because this really isn’t a Ninja Gaiden game. So much of what has always been so distinctive about this series – including that patented, brutal-but-rewarding difficulty tier – has been inexplicably binned, and the combat is so elementary that it often struggles to utilise more than one button at a time. In short it’s a game that you could almost play with a NES pad, and as such (difficulty pitch aside) it feels as if it took that seminal 1988 NES original as its primary source of inspiration.
If you’re a hardcore Ninja Gaiden fan you’ve probably already refused to treat this instalment as canon but if you’re not, there really is a mightily enjoyable videogame here. Ninja Gaiden 3 does share its predecessors’ bloody-minded sense of linearity, and the complete lack of things like collectibles and branching pathways is (the dearth of a currency aside) pretty much standard practice. That said, there are a few occasions in which the game threatens to become a bit more interesting than it actually is. Early on, you’re asked to slowly pace towards an injured enemy who pleads incessantly for his life, but the only choice that you’re given is to execute him; no matter how long you stand around and wait for another option to present itself. The fact that Ryu Hayabusa’s cold-hearted nature has been preserved is wise; the fact that Ninja Gaiden 3 then forces the man into a cheesy relationship with an insufferable young moppet is anything but.
But there is something very alluring about all this box-ticking flakiness, and if you’re an undemanding sort, it is a relentless crowd pleaser. The story has got as much in common with early James Bond movies as it does with early Ninja Gaiden games, and trying to ascertain whether or not it’s aware of itself is part of the fun. The game’s (predominantly cockney) assailants are very fond of spouting a few recurring bits of amusing nonsense at you, with “He’s a bloody monster!” being the most popular retort from an enemy after you’ve hacked him half to pieces. During a desert-set sequence in which we were pursued by a bunch of paired-up enemies riding what looked like jetskis, one duo got stuck on a piece of scenery briefly. While they were in the process of reversing out of it, we managed to get a few crossbow rounds off on the goon who was sitting on the vehicle’s back seat. His response to the driver? “Corr… speed up would ya?”
There is one unfortunate (though minor) technical annoyance. On-screen instructions prevail throughout the entire thing unless you switch them off, but doing this also turns off the prompts for the QTE sections; so if you haven’t played it before, you’ll have to grin and bear the clutter of being repeatedly told how to execute old moves. There’s no question that Ninja Gaiden 3 is mindless (and totally uncouth about its rich heritage) but it’s a very enjoyable piece of unadulterated hokum all the same… and hokum is extremely underrated these days. It should probably have been given a different title and the lack of claret (in comparison to its forebears, at least) doesn’t really benefit it, but if you’re looking for an unpretentious slab of daft-as-a-brush, Saturday night entertainment, this isn’t going to steer you far wrong.
Ninja Gaiden 3 is available now for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the launch trailer for Ninja Gaiden 3 below: