Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012
Available on: Playstation Vita
Another day, another re-release of Ninja Gaiden. Originally an exclusive to the original Xbox, and often seen as one of the reasons to own one, Ninja Gaiden has been reworked and re-released three times now. Sigma Plus, the most recent version of the game, was a launch game for the Playstation Vita. Can this rerelease of the 2004 classic still hold its own 8 years later, or should it have stayed buried?
To make a long answer shorter, no not everything that was fine in 2004 is still okay today. Ninja Gaiden excelled at one thing better than anything else and that was combat. Each fight was an action packed sequence, requiring you to time your moves and dodges perfectly. Each fight was also very difficult. Ninja Gaiden was not an easy game and it has no desire to hold your hand and help you through it. Even the most basic of enemies could kill you if you weren’t bringing your best to every fight, and that only made each one more thrilling than the last. Then you add in about ten different weapons to the game, each with their own special combos and movesets. It never felt overly complicated but it put a large amount of options at your disposal. This especially extends to the boss fights, each of which is an extremely challenging but well thought out set piece that pushes you to your limits. It’s exhilarating and every good thing I can say about this game comes from the combat.
It’s also good that the majority of the game focuses on it. Most of the game has you being led from fight to fight, which is totally okay with me. The world in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is sort of Metroid-esque, with you gaining new items that let you access new areas in one big map. The idea is fine and sometimes it doesn’t get in the way. Most of the times you’re stuck wandering around the world at random until you figure out what goes where. It can get frustrating sometimes since enemies respawn once you’re mere inches away from where you fought them. Sometimes the game will also require platforming. Ryu has the ability to run on and jump off of walls, but it’s so sloppy that it makes any kind of precision platforming very difficult. Adding to this is a problematic camera that often gets bored and goes off to do its own thing. You can switch to a first person view by tapping the screen, though unless you’re using it to precision-fire arrows then there’s no point to doing so.
The further I got in the game the more the problems piled on, and the more I found myself saying the phrase “god I forgot how much I hated this part.” Any segment that requires going underwater, for example, is pretty much guaranteed to make you hate the game. The awful camera and awkward swimming controls, combined with the low amount of breath you can hold and the lack of a way to efficiently defend yourself, makes each one a complete chore to get through. The lack of checkpoints also makes the game frustrating, and repeating 30 minutes of work because you haven’t run into a save point in that long is down right infuriating. Some of the items you pick up just feel useless (I’m still unsure what the point of the nunchucks are). On the other hand, essence (money) is in such large supply that I never had a problem keeping potions stocked. I honestly would recommend players gravitate to the mission mode. Here you just play one of 50 different missions where your only goal is to defeat all the enemies. It’s just a short and sweet cutout of the combat without all the problems in between.
I want to take a quick moment to mention the game’s paper-thin plot as well. Ryu’s village gets ransacked and destroyed so Ryu goes on a mission of revenge, and also has the goal of trying to retrieve a sword know as the Dark Dragon Blade. He teams up with Rachel, a supposed professional demon hunter who spends the entire game getting the shit kicked out of her and being captured by the villains. That’s about the extend of the plot really, so don’t think you’re getting some kind of well written narrative.
If you’re coming here from the Playstation 3’s Sigma release then you’ll note that there’s very few differences between the two versions. There’s a new difficulty called Hero that is made to be super easy so anyone can get into the game. When you use one of the ninpo spells in the game you can play a quick minigame using the back touchpad to make it stronger, but this is mostly negligible at best. Also mostly ignorable is that Ryu and Rachel have a new slot to equip an extra accessory in, though none of the items that go in that spot do anything worth mentioning. On the other hand something that’s not ignorable, and that does a good job ruining the game, is the gyroscopic aiming. While in first person to aim your bow you can instead tilt the Vita to adjust your aim. It’s awful and makes any sort of precision aiming (also known as: the only reason to fire the bow from first person) completely impossible. I’d recommend doing your best to ignore this one and just use the analogue sticks to aim.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a surprisingly competent port. I never experienced slowdowns and the game looks just fine for a handheld device. The action all fit on the screen and I got a lot out of playing the game. It’s just a shame that Ninja Gaiden’s issues from back in 2004 haven’t been cleaned up and brings down some of the best fighting that is around. If you can see past the issues and can really get into the combat then I highly recommend Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. If not, then you’ll find the sections between the combat ruining the game for you.