It's a massive shame, though, that Ninja Gaiden 3 does away with the series' traditional upgrade system and limits players to a single weapon (though Ninja Gaiden 2's falcon talons and scythe are reportedly being made available down the line as free DLC). Thankfully the game's Dragon Sword is a potent combination of speed, flexibility and power, and plenty of swish combos are available. These include reliable series stalwarts like the Izuna Drop and the Flying Swallow, and dozens more that you might accidentally come across if you mess up the string of inputs required for Izuna Drop or Flying Swallow.
And what of the challenge? You can pretty much get through most of the game's standard normal difficulty by just mashing your regular attack button over and over. While Ninja Gaiden's option for precise, reflexive play is still available, it's certainly not required. Higher difficulties are still there to really put you to the test, but Ninja Gaiden 3's greatest failing is that it's balanced and constructed in such a way that it never incentivises players to tackle these more challenging modes. It's an especially tragic realisation when compared to the heyday of the original, where I immediately started a second playthrough on a higher difficulty as soon as the credits stopped rolling.
Instead you get a bevy of QTEs, from the regular occurrence of having to climb walls using your kunai to the occasional upset of having to finish off a boss with the occasional tap of the face buttons. These sequences drag on and on, effortlessly proving that Team Ninja understands the intricacies of the QTE about as much as I do computational mechanics.
In many areas it feels like a continuation of some of Ninja Gaiden 2's missteps. There's nothing here as agonising as the dual tengu or the fiery armadillo, which is a huge relief, and your new bow makes short work of faraway grunts with rocket launchers. But Ninja Gaiden 3's response to these frustrations has been to just chop parts out wholesale rather than address them properly - bosses are now watered down scripted sequences, and enemy variety has been vastly reduced. So while Ninja Gaiden 3 never sinks to the lows of the second game, it also never matches its highs. Any hope of excitement has been stripped out, leaving little more than a threadbare, by-the-numbers campaign; the video game equivalent of an unsatisfying fast food meal.
Locked behind an online pass are also a 4v4 competitive mode and a series of solo and co-op Ninja trials, none of which was available for consideration on the pre-release code provided to me by Tecmo Koei.
You can probably wring out a decent afternoon with Ninja Gaiden 3 providing you're not expecting it to be as good as its predecessors. There are the origins of a fast, exciting new combat system buried underneath all the mess, and the gorgeous animations and zippy takedowns provide an immediate buzz. Yet its problems vastly outweigh its positives, and it's hard to come away feeling anything other than disappointed. This was supposed to be a bold new beginning for the series, but ultimately Ninja Gaiden 3 feels like a false start.
Version Tested: PlayStation 3