Ninja Gaiden 3 is the first game in the series that really wants to explore the story around its mainstay hero Ryu Hayabusa and his wipe-clean latex bodysuit. This is quite a tall order, actually, seeing as this is a developer who spent its last game trying to squish a four-armed werewolf into the narrative.
Still, you'll sit through a few aggrandising cutscenes as long as the action is good, right? In doing so, however, Team Ninja strays from the series' true calling. It certainly doesn't help that cutscenes - and there's loads of the bloody things - are riddled with the kind of nonsensical twaddle that does little other than make you want to slide your phone out your pocket and check Twitter, and the game's hyperactive aesthetic has you bouncing around increasingly bizarre environments that reads like the kind of story I doodled in the back of my maths book at primary school.
I can only imagine the meeting where the development team worked out the game's middle section: "So, yeah, you're in like a Japanese ninja anti-terrorist squad and you've been cursed and absorbed your sword into your arm, and it'll kill you eventually, and, uh, you're fighting a T-Rex with LED eyes and it falls over, and then becomes metal, and then it chases you and you blow him up with a rocket, sort of like in Jaws, and then you're in a virtual reality simulator but the simulator is real, and can also kill you, and you're fighting monsters made out of the real virtual reality once it's possessed dead people who live in big tanks like something from Resident Evil."
All of that actually happens.
And, sure, the iconic 2004 Ninja Gaiden was occasionally equally preposterous - the jarring and guff battle against Ghost Doku comes to mind - but there was an elegance of purity to its studious combat and precise strikes. Battling the reanimated bones of a dead dinosaur in the original made some kind of weird sense, whereas the third game feels like the game has come off the boil completely. It's just too much. But at least the main new female sidekick, Mizuki, doesn't have her massive ladybaps hanging out for the world to see - she's going for the motherly trope, you see, as opposed to the sex object stereotype.
But it's the combat, rather than the fact Ryu Hayabusa now occasionally puts his finger to his ear (of all the Western tropes to take...), that keeps the game ticking on. Ninja Gaiden has always been a famously difficult series, with the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden Black still standing firm as the series' high point. Harsh but fair, Team Ninja's opus asks that you learn its mechanics inside out and then tests you with enemies that'll easily break through any remaining weaknesses. There's a cautious consideration to your combat, as Hayabusa can't stop his attacks mid-swing, which goes hand-in-hand with a need for careful and diligent dodging. Get it right and you'll take your enemies to pieces - quite literally, in the case of Ninja Gaiden 2.
The third game isn't quite as violent as the second, though there are times when it likes to think it is - one of the game's opening gambits is having you hack down a grunt as he pleads for his life, for instance. There's no gory eviscerations in Ninja Gaiden 3, and enemies no longer burst into body parts like crash test dummies, but in its stead is a new suite of 'steel on bone' finishing moves marked by Hayabusa wedging his sword into an enemy, a close-quarters camera angle and an occasional QTE prompt. These tend to lead into one another, too, allowing you to see off an entire fleet of enemies with your devastating flurries.