Can Ninja Gaiden 3 cut it without Itagaki? We played it to find out

Tomonobu Itagaki made quite an impact with Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox, pushing gamers beyond their limits. Now Ryu Hayabusa returns without Itagaki at the helm, will his third modern outing retain the series’ famous difficulty - and more importantly, will it be any good? I got some hands-on time with Ninja Gaiden 3 to find out.

The opening of the demo shows London under siege as terrorists slaughter innocent civilians and take the Prime Minister hostage. Inexplicably, Ryu is called in to put an end to the threat, while a mysterious masked man lurks in the shadows (Julian Assange? Adam Doree? Who knows) and takes a special interest in our hero.

London's an unusual choice for the game setting

On the darkened London streets, we use the analog stick and the A button to glide Ryu from a high point towards an enemy below, at which point the action hits slow-motion and enters a QTE prompt. Wait - QTE prompt?!

A quick double take confirmed that we were indeed playing Gaiden and not Blade, as in Ninja Blade, From Software’s QTE-heavy ninja action game that some would say was heavily influenced by Itagaki’s opus, while others would say it was a blatant rip-off. So is the original is biting off of the copy this time?

I don’t mind if it is - I liked Ninja Blade and actually enjoyed it a little more than the previous Ninja Gaiden games for its balance and accessibility. Ninja Gaiden 3 has a lot of QTE moments in the heat of battle, prompting players to quickly press a button to perform a devastating finishing blow that’ll have the enemies rethinking their career choice.

QTE successful, Ryu takes the first terrorist soldier out in spectacular fashion by hooking his arm around his neck and flipping him downward into a backbreaker-like move right onto Ryu’s sword; the blade pierces his spine and blood sprays everywhere, and Ryu tosses the body aside and goes looking for more. Like its predecessors, the world of Ninja Gaiden 3 remains a violently gruesome one.

A variety of stationary vehicles litter the streets, providing cover for enemies who emerge from hiding and come at you full throttle. The action remains true to form with intensive gameplay that had us fighting off enemies dual-wielding knives, machineguns and bazookas firing an endless supply of rockets. Ryu remains an agile warrior, with the classic control scheme allowing players to quickly perform a variety of offensive and defensive moves.

Ryu’s also quite the acrobat with the ability to perform wall jumps to navigate hard to reach areas as well as the flying swallow attack, another fan favorite that’s effective against enemy clusters. And as with previous Ninja Gaiden games, enemies may be down but not completely out, and often remain quite dangerous despite missing a few limbs.

Genji all over again...

While the developers have stated that they plan to make the game more accessible, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to tone the difficulty way down. In fact, the demo was plenty tough with just the basic front line enemies, never mind the bosses. Even the most basic enemies still present a challenge if you’re careless in your attacks.

Boss battles in Ninja Gaiden 3 remain as entertaining as ever. We capped off the demo by taking on a giant mechanized spider with rockets and machine guns positioned all over its body. Constantly on the move, we hacked away at its legs while trying to avoid getting trampled. Imaginatively, it’s defeated by revealing weak spots, then doing some more QTEs for massive damage.

Ninja Gaiden 3 looks at least as good as the series ever did, with incredibly detailed and expansive environments and nice lighting effects, solid character designs and animations, and what appeared to be a solid 60fps frame rate.

In addition to the game’s main story, Ninja Gaiden 3 will feature a set of online modes for multiplayer co-op or competitive play, and there’ll also supposedly be downloadable missions, characters and challenges.

From the preview I played, Ninja Gaiden 3 looks like another solid hit for the series. With a new producer at the helm, it’ll be interesting to see what surprises are in store. Release is set for early 2012 release on 360 and PS3, and a Wii U version subtitled Razor’s Edge is also in the works.

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