In 2004, Ninja Gaiden released on the original Xbox. A year later, it was re-released as Ninja Gaiden Black on the Xbox 360. Yet again, it was re-released as Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3 in 2007. And here we are in 2012, and Ninja Gaiden is releasing once again, on a brand new platform, as Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. Can one of the greatest action games ever still be viable after nearly a decade?
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a port of an old game, and it’s a launch title. But despite having two strikes against it right off the bat, is a mostly polished experience. The combat is as fluid and as rewarding as it ever has been, and graphically, it’s decent. Textures aren’t the best I’ve seen for Ninja Gaiden, nor the Vita, but cutscenes are remarkable. Foliage is done poorly, looking more like cardboard cut-outs than trees.
At its heart, it’s that same game – the same satisfying, lengthy game it’s always been, and a game that has been well-received across all of its releases. It’s hard to knock a game that has historically been praised as a great title, but here goes.
The entire formula just feels far too dated at this point. The storyline is laughable. Seriously, it’s embarrassing. The camera feels archaic – a lot older feeling than it really is. You and the game itself may be focused on the intense action, but the camera sure as hell ain’t. Depending on the level’s layout, worst in narrow corridors, the camera can get stuck or circle around your back, taking your eye off the prize and leaving you vulnerable to attacks. And in Ninja Gaiden, being vulnerable for even mere seconds could spell death for Ryu Hayabusa.
Dying is a real bitch. Nobody likes to lose. But adding insult to injury, game-saves haven’t changed since 2004, so if you die, you could end up being sent back to the beginning of a stage, or worse, depending on when you last manually saved at the game’s sparsely located save points. This may have been forgivable on a console in 2004-2007. But on a handheld? It’s just plain stupid. Get used to putting your Vita in standby, otherwise if you shut it off and haven’t saved the very second you’re ready to call it quits, you can kiss any progress you made goodbye. C’mon, how difficult would it have been to add some sort of autosave feature? In this day and age, and how important an autosave is to a portable, this is an unforgivable stain on the game.
Maybe the lack of autosave wouldn’t have been so bad if this weren’t Ninja Gaiden Sigma – one of the most notoriously difficult games…ever. The difficulty is both a charm and a curse. Games just don’t feature this degree of toughness anymore. The challenge is deeply satisfying, as is the combat once you’ve reached the skill level required to decimate the more deadly foes later in the game. But at the same time it is off-putting. I know; as much as I enjoyed Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PlayStation 3, I didn’t finish it, I gave up near the end of the game. I got sick of losing to regular enemies and having to back track so far because of the save system. In fact, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus’ new Hero mode is half the reason I wanted to play it – because I could finally finish what I had started all those years ago. The other half is because I have always been a fan of the franchise. Too bad all of these flaws have also become that much more visible due to advances in game design over the years, and now, I didn’t want to finish, not because of how hard it is, but because there are better games to play for the PlayStation Vita, and in general.
It’s really too bad, too. If only this wasn’t rushed out of the gate to make it as a launch title, it could have improved upon an already solid formula.
There are some “improvements” for Vita, still. For example, first-person touch controls have been added for projectiles. Unfortunately, this is full of fail, too, as the game is too difficult for you to ever learn how to do this correctly. And the tilt-to-aim mechanism is too jerky for accuracy. Also new in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a Ninja Trials mode, which puts Ryu Hayabusa, or because this is Sigma, Rachel, up against a range of tasks. Most aren’t unique or exciting, having you defeating enemies within a time-limit. But because of the arenas the enemies will engage you in are wide and open, the camera is much less of an issue, actually allowing you to enjoy the combat – which is truly second-to-none.
Also taking advantage of the Vita’s rear touch panel are the game’s Ninpo techniques. Once a Ninpo is initiated, it is completed or powered up by tapping the on-screen seals through the rear panel. I like it personally, but if you’re not yet familiar with Vita’s rear touch panel, I can see it being more of a hindrance than a saving grace during combat. You’ll use Ninpo often, especially if you’re choosing Hero mode, which automatically restores Ninpo the second your health is low enough.
There are missed opportunities, albeit very minor, for implementation of touch controls. Items are the best example – they’re right there on the left-hand side of the screen, easily within reach of your left thumb. Instead, like the past versions of the game, you toggle between items and select them using the D-pad. There’s no major benefit in using touch over the D-pad here, but it’s right there, just waiting for that subtle thumb-swipe.
The actual meat and potatoes of the game also feels dated, but much less so than the save system or horrid camera. There are still hours of great gaming to be had with Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. And the combat still reigns supreme as some of the best, if not the best, in the action genre. A skillful mix of guarding, dashing, jumps and well-timed attacks are necessary for success. But unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is far too much Ninja Gaiden Sigma and not enough Plus, and it just doesn’t fly all these years later. Only purists will truly appreciate what’s in-store. Simply put, there are better games to spend your money on at the Vita’s launch, to the point where I don’t at all feel comfortable recommending this game. If anything, you’d be better suited to buy the 2007 PS3 release, which is probably under $20 in the bargain bin.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
– Dated camera and game saving ruins the experience.
– Vita-specific features aren’t executed well.