Someone in the games industry needs to reexamine what a curse is.
You know, being the head of an evil ninja clan...oops, shit. Uh...forget I said that. I'll start again.
You know, if I were the head of an evil ninja clan, I know exactly how I'd deal with Ryu Hayabusa if he was after me. I'd immediately infect all my low-level troops with HIV. Not overtly so they hate me for it; I'd probably just secretly pay someone to rape them on the way out of the meeting. Then once they're at the acceptance stage and are getting kind of philosophical about it, they'd firstly be a lot more gung ho about being sent to their almost certain death, but when Ryu Hayabusa the human sanitary towel drenches himself in their blood, all it takes is one drop on the surface of the eyeball and he's Lifetime Movie of the Week.
Well, the baddies in Ninja Gaiden 3 had a similar idea to this kick-ass one, but instead of infecting Ryu with a sensible terminal illness they infect him with a magical curse that makes his arm go all weird and gives him the ability to go banana nut butters and instantly slaughter a bunch of dudes berserk-style. Wait, that's not a curse at all! Hey, assholes, you ever thought of setting up a suggestion box? So yes, Ryu Hayabusa has a grotesque swollen arm covered in hideous exposed veins. So imagine how bad it looks after he gets cursed, mneheheh!
When a terrorist group takes the British government hostage and specifically asks for Hayabusa by name, the Japanese Self-Defense Force - acting, I would think, slightly outside their remit - send Hayabusa in to sort everything out with the end of his pokey stick. Apparently originating in England, all the soldiers of the evil organization have broad Cockney accents, which I can now declare is officially the worst possible accent with which to repeatedly use the word, "ninja." It soon transpires that this terrorist group has plans that reach a lot wider than postponing Prime Minister's question time, and after giving Hayabusa the world's worst sleeve tattoo, they start taking over the world and all that.
And now that one bloke from Team Ninja who put women in the same column as furniture polish and dog grooming implements (allegedly) has been given the heave-ho, the main female character is actually a sensibly dressed spunky professional single mother, rather than a big lump of Play-Doh in about one-quarter of a leather fetish outfit. There is another female character whose top half is constantly making escape attempts, but baby steps, people.
But that's not the only significant change Ninja Gaiden has undergone. I'd swear it's starting to take a few cues from Call of Duty, of all things. You fight terrorists in ski masks through a major international city, then there's a bit in the Middle East as well. It even does that thing on the loading screen where it indicates our next location on the world map like a diligent scrapbooker preparing to bore people shitless about their last holiday. After a while, though, it starts losing interest and moves on to taking cues from Resident Evil instead, and Ryu has to slash through giant laboratories full of mutated human monsters and a bunch of cloned dinosaurs of all Michael Crichton legal action-tempting things. It's like the series feels like it's lost so much identity from cutting out the leather-clad titty monsters that it's grabbing scripts and scraps from anything that it thinks people seem to like these days, trying to find a new niche, before it throws up its hands, gives ups, explodes all over the bedspread, and you spend the last few moments fighting a giant city-destroying naked woman clutching a broadsword. Well, good try, Team Ninja. You almost held out.
Call of Duty is the gaming equivalent of a row of cut-out paper men with massive guns and tiny flaccid cocks. The combination of regenerating health and gameplay that never significantly evolves beyond an unnecessarily flashy and racist update of Space Invaders turns it into essentially a string of dull, identical battles virtually unconnected to each other. And while it was borrowing terrorists and loading screens, Ninja Gaiden 3 noticed this and said to itself, "Gonna get me some o' dat!" And so, of course, your health regenerates, and of course you never acquire any other weapons besides the sword, nor can you upgrade it or acquire new abilities with it. So you could conceivably figure out the dash uppercut aerial combo piledriver move in the very first level and basically it's all over bar five or six hours of watching the same somersault over and over again, hearing Ryu going, "Huah!" like an insecure man at the gym, and setting off the same four or five one-liners from the enemies with such regularity that on several occasions they were taunting in almost perfect unison like a murderous a cappella troupe. Oh sure, you might be hacking limbs off with a ninja sword, but repetition makes it just as bland as pop-up shooting galleries, and Ninja Gaiden 3 fails to take the only lesson it should have taken from Call of Duty, which is to portray people with British accents even-handedly.
In other circumstances, I might have praised a game for effectively streamlining itself like this. Lord knows I thought Ninja Gaiden II's shopping cart approach to weaponry was a bit much. And it's refreshing for a game like this to not have RPG elements for once. There's a lot to be said for a hack-and-slash game that gives you all the abilities at the very start and lets you figure them out naturally. But that only works if you have more abilities than "hit with sword", "hit with sword again", and two cop-out "fuck you" attacks.
For example, when your power bar gets full, you can make a big fire dragon appear and chomp everyone. The game establishes that you regenerate more health back if your power bar is still full after fights, and I assumed this was meant to encourage you to not be a massive cheapskate asshole who has to call his dragon friend to beat up the school bullies. But then I noticed that doing the dragon thing also makes all your health come back. I guess he tosses you a couple of Nutri-Grains while he's sorting out the baddies for you. So an attack that was once merely cheap is now actively paying you money to use it. And this isn't even mentioning the other cop-out "fuck you" attack where Ryu just automatically kills five lads, if you're bored of the whole "game" thing and want to take a break and eat some chips while violence happens in baffling extreme close-up.
Okay, before the pedantry brigade mount up, it's not all exactly the same thing. Sometimes you have to climb a wall by mashing the shoulder buttons like you're playing a miniature accordion. And sometimes the game rather laughably pretends to have a stealth mechanic by spawning one bloke facing the wrong way that you can instakill if you don't nod off while sneaking up. And there's the odd colourful boss fight, including one memorable encounter with a cloned T-Rex whose vulnerable moment comes when he trips over his own feet and falls over with no input required on your part. God forbid this unstoppable bioweapon be unleashed. How could it possibly be defeated except by locking it in a room by itself with a sharp object?
Which leads me to my final point: Ninja Gaiden 3 is too easy. This is like a Final Fantasy game being too short. Actually, scratch that. It's like a Final Fantasy game being too good. It's the sky falling in on our heads. Stun lock an enemy by mashing quick attack, and if he breaks your combo, dash out of the way until he's done embarrassing himself. What was one of the last bastions of actual challenge has succumbed to the greasy ever-expanding ovarian cyst that AAA gaming has left untreated for so long that it now has to buy an extra seat for it when it travels economy class.
- He can fly for no discernable (sic) reason: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- You know there's a pretty broad line between efficient combat skills and blatant showing off
- My name's John Weaver and here's my friend Bill Nindger