Here's the thing about Ninja Gaiden 3: I can't play it for any longer than 30-minute stints. There are a number of reasons why that is, all of which I'll explain over the course of this write-up, but if I was to sum up this game into a convenient package, I'd say Ninja Gaiden 3 is just boring and monotonous. A 30-minute session is all you need to know everything about this title. And after that point, you might as well go do something else with your day.
It begins with the game's story. Team Ninja set out to tell a personal story this time around for their main protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa. To date, we've learned little about the ninja we control. Team Ninja wanted to correct that. However, something went horribly wrong. In trying to humanize the character, Team Ninja managed to make Ryu a contradiction, an oxymoron. How can the player possibly sympathize with a character who in the first level alone brutally massacres nearly all of London? Yes, these foes Ryu is slicing and dicing are technically terrorists, but the brutality displayed makes it hard to feel any empathy for our lead character. Even when a few enemies beg for mercy, you're forced down a guided path to cut them in twain regardless. Team Ninja's valiant attempt to give Ryu a richer backstory and narrative arc with Ninja Gaiden 3 winds up being one of the game's biggest demerits.
That is if you don't count the soulless gameplay found within. One of the biggest reasons why Ninja Gaiden has been so popular since it's relaunch on the original Xbox in 2003 is because of the challenge it provided gamers. Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II were damn hard games. Ninja Gaiden 3… not so much. Team Ninja put the kiddie gloves on for this game, removing the heart and soul of the combat experience to make Ninja Gaiden 3 an easier experience for newcomers to pick up and play.
Specifically, Ninja Gaiden 3's gameplay is more focused on cinematic flair than methodical and precise reactions. Every encounter essentially boils down to hammering on the light attack/heavy attack buttons until your enemy has slouched over in a pool of his/her own blood. There's no finesse required, and that's in stark contrast to how the Ninja Gaiden games were handled previously under the leadership of director Tomonobu Itagaki. Furthermore, enemy variety is lacking, as well as your inventory (no upgrading or healing items). Remember all those wonderful toys in Ninja Gaiden II? Yup, gone. In Ninja Gaiden 3 you'll be using your sword and a bow. That's pretty much it. In an attempt to streamline, Team Ninja instead raped and pillaged the soul of Ninja Gaiden.
Speaking of rape… what's the deal with all the quick-time events found in Ninja Gaiden 3? They're everywhere. Wanna climb a wall? Quick-time event. Wanna dodge a rocket? Quick-time event. Wanna to finish a combo? You guessed it… quick-time event! It gets old very quickly. It's one thing to have these crop up during moments where it's impossible to display the gravity of a situation within the limitations of your gameplay structure (the game's opening moments are a good example), but it's another thing entirely to force them into every facet of a game that didn't need them in the first place. Again, Team Ninja probably thought the inclusion of quick-time events made Ninja Gaiden 3 more cinematic. They're wrong. Quick-time events made Ninja Gaiden 3 more obnoxious.
Finally, Ninja Gaiden 3 comes with a multiplayer component. If by some divine miracle you still have an itch to play Ninja Gaiden 3 after you've slogged through the game's repetitive campaign, then "Shadows of the World" mode is for you. However, much like the single player campaign, multiplayer is shallow. There's a customization aspect to your character, but it shouldn't keep you enthralled for very long. You'll go into the mode thinking, "What's cooler than one ninja? How about a billion ninjas!" But that mentality only gets you through the door so far. You soon discover the party isn't what you had build up in your head and it's time to move on.
To put it bluntly, Ninja Gaiden 3 is a husk of what this series used to be. The tactical, methodical gameplay has been stripped; the story is a contradiction of biblical proportions; and those damn quick-time events do their absolute best to ruin every remaining aspect of combat like a cancer. The added multiplayer mode gives Ninja Gaiden 3 legs, but they aren't very long nor are they meaty. I think Team Ninja needs to go back to the drawing board and figure out what made Ninja Gaiden so much fun in the first place, because I can tell you for a fact this isn't it.
Full Disclosure: We were sent a retail copy of Ninja Gaiden 3 from Tecmo. We were held to the embargo date of March 19, 2012. Before writing this review, we played through the single player story completely and played multiplayer for a handful of hours. It wasn't an enjoyable experience.