Go ninja, go ninja, go!
After several years of remixing Ninja Gaiden II with different tweaks, Tecmo Koei finally deliver a third proper entry in the saga of shinobi supreme, Ryu Hayabusa. The series has long been praised and damned in equal measure for its unflinching, even brutal, level of difficulty so the fact that Ninja Gaiden III is far more approachable is likely to divide players all over again.
The difference in tone following original series director Tomonobu Itagakis departure is almost palpable, with new head Yosuke Hayashi bringing a more fantastic air to the games globetrotting plot. Ryus supernatural Ninpo abilities return, notably in the form of an impressive fire dragon, but his moveset also sees some new additions. A freshly-cursed arm absorbs enemy life force, channelling it into devastating special attacks, while sliding and a high-tech bow offer new ways to fight. Throw in occasional reflex-testing quick-time events and Ninja Gaiden III feels a lot more fanciful than anything the series has offered up before.
Combat comes sandwiched between jumping, wall running and climbing through areas, with swarms of enemies appearing in waves to meet your blade. Dodging, blocking and countering attacks offer as much strategy as you want them to, though most battles can be won with a degree of well-timed button bashing. While this is likely to infuriate players longing for the testing nature of earlier outings, a hardcore mode demands precise reactions and ups the challenge considerably. Whatever difficulty is chosen, mastering all of Ryus moves brings with it a graceful fluidity. Darting between enemies at speed, making use of the environment and mixing in ranged and melee attacks can lead to some beautiful carnage.
While some will lament the games concessions to a less masochistic audience, those who prefer playing games to smashing controllers in frustration will find Ninja Gaiden III a far more enjoyable offering than its predecessors.