After talks with a friend about how uncomfortable I feel supporting Team Ninja and their brand of “male-oriented” game design, I feel like I should elaborate on this topic in writing. The inverted commas highlight the (hopefully axiomatic) lunacy of such a concept, where “male-oriented” in fact refers more to a male power fantasy. Here are just a few of the issues present:
Hyper-sexualised female character design and pervy camera work
Either aggressive or stoic male characters
Repeated use of “damsel in distress” trope, even when characters are depicted as strong/capable,they become victims merely because they are female
Woman-in-refrigerator trope (abuse and death of female character to progress male character’s story)
After that short and by no means complete list, someone unfamiliar with the series would question its value at all. Let me enlighten you.
Team Ninja’s reboot of the Ninja Gaiden franchise has given us some of the best action gameplay we’ve ever seen. The action is fluid and responsive and the combos are diverse and varied. Each weapon has a separate combo list, with tens of different moves, and as the weapons are leveled up, further techniques are unlocked. Here’s an example, from just one weapon in the game. This kind of gameplay that offers such variety to the combat (there is little beyond the combat in fact, apart from the odd fetch quest and key hunt) is rarely seen outside of 1v1 fighting games. The enemy designs are creative, inspired by Eastern and Western fantasy (dragons, ghost piranhas, every type of demon, faux-jedi, the Statue of Liberty, various military vehicles, dinosaurs, robot dinosaurs, the list goes on) and the levels are beautiful, if slightly void of life. The “game” elements are what give the series something special; the mechanics are the most satisfying you’ll come across, and multiple play-throughs on different difficulty settings often result in entirely new enemy encounters.
Since Itagaki’s departure from Team Ninja, we’ve only seen a downhill trend. The problematic design continues, but the gameplay has suffered. Team Ninja was forced to re-release Ninja Gaiden 3 and supply free DLC after the design choice was made to offer only a single weapon to play with and to slow the combat with cinematic pauses. For a reflex-based combat game, famed for its variety of genuinely (functionally and aesthetically) diverse weapons, this was a death sentence. Fans and critics hated it, so they undid the damage and released a better-than-serviceable game in the form of the updated Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge.
Team Ninja also famously destroyed the potential of the beloved Samus Aran in their take on the series, Metroid: Other M. Although, to be fair, many of the story and design problems were written into the tale by the previous care-taker.
Therein lies my problem. I’ve purchased Ninja Gaiden (Xbox), Ninja Gaiden Black (Xbox), Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3), which all tell the one story. I’ve purchased Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (Ps3), and Ninja Gaiden 3 (Ps3), along with its re-release, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge (Xbox 360). And I bought Metroid: Other M (Wii). If protesting these character designs and story problems starts with the wallet, then I’ve failed. I’ve thrown my money at them – I’ve even purchased limited edition versions, just to get statues! The root of the issue is this: There is no alternative. I could pirate them (difficult for console games) or simply go without, but I want designers to look at these games and incorporate a system even half as responsive and mechanically sound. After trialing Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, I was disapointed with how slow everything felt. No other dev team has come close.
So what’s the fix?