Game: Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Available On: PlayStation Vita Only
For the most part, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus feels like a copy of a copy. Mostly because it is. This particular outing of traditionally garbed super ninja, Ryu Hayabusa, has already seen the dream filled insides of retail stores everywhere. Three times. Generally speaking, a commercial push that strong usually indicates a strong following of the game. The indiscriminate whoring of Final Fantasy VII comes to mind.
Originally released on Microsoft’s first Xbox and later released in an upgraded form on the PlayStation 3, one would assume that another release wouldn’t be entirely necessary. There was also Ninja Gaiden Black in the timeline somewhere, but you more than get my point. Still, it’s nice to see the Vita have so much support right out of the gate even if its launch titles aren’t wholly original.
Out of a sense of professionalism, this review is predicated on the notion that you’ve never played either of those games. For all intents and purposes, they never even existed. That said, allow me to tell you about this brand new portable game that you can no way, no how, find cheaper on a less portable console.
STORY: The game starts off memorably, quickly introducing you to skill based gameplay that punishes hastiness. The very first boss fight, a sparring match against Ryu’s uncle, serves as a brilliant tutorial, demonstrating the value of memorizing attack patterns, evasion and counter-attacks. By making this portion of the game take place in a dojo, your immersion in the absurd story is hardly obscured in the manner reminiscent of more common tutorials.
What an absurd story it is. After the bout with his uncle, Ryu learns that his village is under attack; a village that harbors the magnificently powerful Dark Dragon Blade. He rushes off towards his home, knowing that it is his clan’s duty to guard the weapon. What immediately follows is relatively forseeable, assuming you have seen any action movie. Ever.
His quest for revenge and his search for the Dark Dragon Blade is aided by his own upgradeable Dragon Blade and hindered by overly militarized factions, zombie dragons, ninjas and every other over-the-top ingredient you could conjure up if your goal was to create the world’s nerdiest cocktail.
GRAPHICS: Ninja Gaiden is an older game now and this port doesn’t do much to polish off the dust. This game is showing its age, certainly, but the graphics are nonetheless impressive for a handheld. Some of the locales still feel as breathtaking as they did 8 years ago albeit with slightly less impressive textures. While it won’t be the most impressive looking Vita game you’ll ever play, I can promise that it won’t be too ugly to enjoy either.
I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever see a port of Ninja Gaiden II. For those that haven’t played it, that game is beauty incarnate.
SOUND: Cutscenes look terrific on the OLED screen and are fully voiced with top-notch acting. The rest of the sound design essentially amounts to the clashing of swords, shurikens and a mostly forgettable sound track. The music doesn’t detract from the game, but it doesn’t do much in terms of improving it either.
GAMEPLAY: Ninja Gaiden is, for a lack of a better term, a hack-and-slash. You definitely hack and/or slash, anyway. The term typically has this implication of a sort of mindless fun and that is precisely where Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus breaks the mold. Notoriously famed for its difficulty, all enemies require a careful and thought out approach. You have to take into account enemy numbers and how often they attack before letting down your guard. Unlike a lot of other hack and slash titles, Ryu is committed to each move he makes and cannot simply stop full hault and pull a miraculous guard out of a forward lunge. Timing and careful planning is quite literally everything. Play smart and look like a badass doing so seems to be the philosophy at the heart of Ninja Gaiden.
Furthermore, play well and you’ll be rewarded with over the top bloodspray and rolling heads. Even if you’re not a huge fan of gore, the visual treat serves as confirmation of a job well done. Pat yourself on the back. You most likely deserve it.
The Vita specific additions are cute, though not particularly useful. For one, a first person view can be initiated by tapping the screen. At this point, the player can use the Vita’s gyroscope to manipulate the camera. Ninpo attacks can now be strengthened by utilizing the rear touch screen and projectile attacks can be launched using the gyroscope as well. Personally, the motion controls slowed me down and cost me seconds that are all too precious in a game like this.
Perhaps the biggest Vita exclusive feature is the addition of Ninja Trials. These trials boil down to bite sized servings of gameplay that are a great inclusion on a portable system. Instead of a couple of rounds of Angry Birds, you can now try to take on a trial or two during your “bathroom break.” Team Ninja knows what’s up.
LONGEVITY: The difficulty alone makes Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus a game that you’re going to be playing for a long time to come, and that’s before you start talking about all the Golden Scarabs that are dotted around and available to collect. The PlayStation Vita prides itself on being a console that people can drop in and drop out of and, if that’s how you’re going to be playing Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, then you’ll have that card in your console for a very long time indeed.
VERDICT: The game is iconic and stands tall among the best titles the hack-and-slash genre has to offer. It’s a bit hard to justify the 40 dollar price tag if you already own one of the other iterations of the game. Sigma owners in particular will not find much new content here for them, though the Vita exclusive trophies will be a draw for some. The game in and of itself is a great experience and one that all gamers should visit at some point. If you haven’t yet, this launch title could be just the excuse you’re waiting for because, as of now, this is the definitive version of this legendary title.