They say if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with typewriters for all eternity the hairy tykes will eventually pen the entire works of Shakespeare, word for word. I propose if you put one monkey in a room with a typewriter for just three hours the cosmos’ natural comedian will write Ninja Gaiden 3 in its entirety with at least 65% less MacGuffins. Not that anybody would approach a Ninja Gaiden game expecting a tale well spun of course – lest we forget Ninja Gaiden 2 – but it’s telling that, having pawed through my notes, this ranks as the kindest thing I have to say about Razor’s Edge. An impossibly muddled yarn about pantomime terrorists punching earth into submission Godzilla-style while cloning belligerent, robotic T-Rex to sell as pets to kiddies is unintentionally worthy of a few giggles. It’s all downhill from there.
Like Ninja Gaiden 3, Razor’s Edge is made up of a series of button-mashing playpens interspersed with awkward cutscenes, a few boss tussles and, at one point, a turret section. All but a couple of the chapters play out through claustrophobic city streets or dreary caves, forests and science labs, each of which boast the personality of week-old roadkill. Within these confined arenas you indulge in wave-based skirmishes for upward of 5 minutes at a time before you’re chaperoned off to the next thinly veiled videogame arena where you dance the same merry jig with the same merry band of cretins. Terrorist with sword. Terrorist with gun. Terrorist with rocket launcher. They’re all present and accounted for.
The game spits these wicked foes at you with gay abandon, which is dandy when enemies are of the standard melee-meatbag variety, but it has the tendency to beset you with a dozen meatbags who then prevent you from shooting at the obnoxious rocket-wielding chumps dotted about the periphery. These bivouacking douchebags rain death from afar while you attempt to venture out of the scrum of terrorists playing pinata party with your character so that you can find time to wing off an arrow or two. There’s very little to punctuate this soporific beat besides the odd cutscene, excruciating forced-walk or insta-death QTE. It’s arena after arena staged in levels hauled from the dusty tome of videogame clichés: snow level, city level, desert level, jungle level, science lab and so on.
And yet combat is so much the lifeblood of Ninja Gaiden that all other faults could be overlooked if only the simple act of transforming bad guys into a family pack of human Fabs was an act of fun (see: Ninja Gaiden 2). But though it’s been tightened since Ninja Gaiden 3, the changes to the core combat aren’t nearly enough to rival anything Platinum Games have put out recently, let alone Team Ninja’s own imposing repertoire of games starring dudes with swords.
Button-bashing will grant you safe passage through all but the toughest of ruckuses, with bosses asking a little more brainpower and some of the more resilient enemies demanding savvy use of the dodge mechanic. One of the more gnawing criticisms directed at Ninja Gaiden 3 from most angles was the fact Ryu was unresponsive in combat while the focus on whiz-pew drama and up-close-and-personal cameras robbed the game of the sense that it was you – absolutely you – jamming a sharpened sword up the collective bunghole of all evil. Every evisceration, every decapitation and every divorced limb sent a clear message from screen to controller to thumb to brain: sir, you are a badass.
That’s still gone. Instead you’ve got a camera operated by a nine-year-old on a pogo-stick and a truck-load of snazzy sound effects, neither of which hammer home that irresistible sense of control and power, the unmistakable gravity that made earlier games best-in-class. Battlefields are chaotic in an undecipherable way and combos near impossible to track (not that Ryu controls better than in 3). It’s all a bit baffling, like sticking an armchair on top of a Bugatti Veyron because, hell, more people might be inclined to buy one with an extra seat packaged in.
Sure, there are skill trees now and more than one weapon, there are challenges and collectibles plus additional story levels played out from the perspective of lady-ninja Ayane. But more wasn’t what was required of this second-stab, and the subtle tweaks Team Ninja have implemented don’t come close to remedying the inherent ills of Ninja Gaiden 3.
This review was originally published on BeefJack.