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Ninja Gaiden 3 review: Less brutal, less sadistic - and better for it

Cutting down on excessive difficulty

Finishing a Ninja Gaiden game was a sadistic test of prowess. Notoriously unforgiving and unwelcoming, previous iterations were happy to kick you to the floor right at the start and continue pounding away until you gave up crying like a baby, or, after a torrid few weeks, completed them almost out of spite or bloody-minded perseverance. Until now.

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Ninja Gaiden 3 is all about accessibility. It isn't necessarily about dumbing down; it's about choosing how you want to play. The game no longer wants to kick your ass - horror of horrors - it wants you to enjoy the ride. Accessibility runs through everything, from the action (which now features more emphasis on one-button kill moves), to the plot (good, old fashioned world-domination nonsense) to the characters (Ryuremoves his mask, revealing himself to be human after all). It's fair to say long-time fans - and the famously outspoken NG creator Tomonobu Itagaki - will be spitting chips, but the reality is that Ninja Gaiden needs to broaden its appeal or it will die in obscurity.

The story is glorious nonsense, every cut-scene loaded with overblown acting and giant plot-holes. It exists purely to give context to the imagination of the developers. Game Designer X says: "We've built this genetic-mutant boss that can grow new limbs as Ryu chops them off. How do we explain that away?" Game Writer Y says: "No problem, we'll just have Ryu stumble into a bio-engineering lab." Game Designer X replies: "Brilliant! That way I can put in the fight with that dinosaur I've been planning too..." And so on.

SLICE OF LIFE

It's unlikely you'll care much about Ryu's single-handed scrap with a global criminal organisation called The Lords OfAnarchy, but it frames the butchery well. There are even ridiculous, completely unexplained scenes mid-game that let Team Ninja dine out on past Ninja Gaiden glories; contrived tips of the hat to long-time fans that will offend as much as they delight.

The action has changed more than anything, though. On the surface most familiar moves are there - wall-run, flying swallow, Izuna drop - but the combat system around it has changed dramatically. Much as shooters have ditched health packs, so Ninja Gaiden has dropped all items completely. Health refills fully after each fight, and you build up Ninpo (a devastating magical attack) as you land hits.

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Rather than being a smart addition to your tactical arsenal, Ninpo is now a get out of jail free card as it wipes out all enemies and refills your health. Obliteration moves are as simple as tapping light/strong attack on a wounded enemy, and the new 'steel on bone' moves are no more than quick-time finishers. Hammer RT/R2 to execute a horrific kill move. Limb removal is out, but brutal slashes from your sword always produce generous spouts of blood. On paper it sounds like Team Ninja have clumsily cut into the game and removed all that made it great, just leaving the stuff that superficially dazzles, but hands-on it feels... right.

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