Quick & Dirty with Meta: Ninja Gaiden 3
Team Ninja was obviously trying to make a more approachable Ninja Gaiden game here, as well as adding unexpected features like competitive multi-player, but the title ultimately feels rushed and unsatisfying.
The action here is definitely fun and fast but Ninja Gaiden as a franchise has been loved, hated and revered for its punishing-but-fair difficulties & precise fighting. In this latest game, many of the combos are simplified, canned animations. The various Ninpo spells have been confined to multiplayer and a single person playing Story Mode is left with one simple, screen-clearing "bomb" that is activated by a cumulative damage-dealt meter; similarly, the Ultimate Technique is just a "Rage Mode"/finisher now.
Platforming sections are brief & less clunky than previous entries but you have far fewer fun tools at your disposal. The Falcon Dive comes up as a scripted event in the levels, as does the falcon itself (it serves as a save point). Instead of the deranged butchery & dismemberment that starting going off in 2 when you were doing well, all you get for your efforts in NG3 is a bunch of whining thugs bleeding like stuck pigs. The sliding maneuver you are constantly prompted to use is so much more useful & easy to pull off than 2's Reverse Wind technique that it's almost overpowered.
Item management has been almost completely removed here, which is a positive change in most ways. Not having to juggle healing items & projectiles keeps the pace frenetic. The difficulty has been lowered on all but the hardest setting which remains quite homicidal. Instead of purchasing new weapons at shops and leveling them up, you are just given different swords and arrows as the story progresses.
The director had stated he intended players to delve in to the humanity of Ryu Hayabusa during the course of the game but this falls flat even in a series not known for its brilliant storytelling. Early enemies in the game beg for their lives and plead for mercy before you slice them up, and later ones just talk the same tame garbage repeatedly.
The multiplayer here defines "tacked-on" to me--who asked for 4v4 deathmatch in Ninja Gaiden? There is a leveling/xp system and some customizable appearance items but the mechanics are sloppy and quick to become stale. Again, it is fun, it's just not great and lacks that brutal, punishing feel that the series is known for. Also, the polish.
Overall, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a game worth playing if you enjoy bloody action games but it is hard to recommend as anything other than a rental even to hardcore fans of the first two NG games on 360. The presentation is cinematic & pretty though too-often dark, and they marginally improved the aggravating camera over 2's, but the quality is just not there.
I will admit that I did not play through the Ninja Trials because my copy did not have the requisite Online Pass included, but I watched my roommate going at them and they didn't impress me at all.