Next to Resident Evil 4, Ninja Gaiden is one of those fairly current games that has been re-released more than a few times. Like Resident Evil 4, many players hold this game to be one of those timeless action titles that anyone interested must try. Hitting the original Xbox twice, the PS3, and now the Vita, Tecmo just can’t let its critical darling linger in the dark for more than a few years. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus has strong enough combat and looks good enough to remain relevant, even if it tosses a small amount of dust on its pedestal during its trip to a new home.
Can I tell you what happened during the story of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus? Not really, but I’m not even sure Team Ninja could either. Ryu Hayabusa, our traditional ninja, sees his village attacked by Doku (read: the purple fire guy) and must get vengeance on those responsible along with some side issues with the jiggly Rachel. It’s a wafer-thin story with all the characteristics that a group of twelve year old boys would inject: no characterization, no shocking twists, blood, violence, and a lot of gigantic, bouncy breasts. Ryu gains badass points just on the fact that he is a classic ninja, but that’s where the praise begins and ends.
It is painfully obvious that gameplay comes first with this series. Ninja Gaiden carved out its own niche with the original title because of how fast and difficult the combat was. Most of that still holds true within this version. Ninjas don’t exactly hold up a reputation for being slow, making every fight a duel to the death. Almost a dozen weapons are available, upping the choice for slicing in every battle. Each is upgradeable and lets the combat breathe with variety if (somehow) the standard sword play gets even the slightest bit stale. Very few games move at the extreme pace that Ninja Gaiden moves at, making it different, fresh, and enjoyable all around.
The difficulty hasn’t changed at all either and to some, this could be good or bad. On Normal or any of the harder modes, if you snooze on the blocking or just plain suck, the ruthless AI will destroy and have you reloading a save. Contrary to the abysmal Ninja Gaiden 3, the foes make up for their lower quantity by being smart and agile. One enemy can easily destroy your health bar, ensuring that you can never rest easy within this game.
Especially boss fights, of which there are a lot. Most are pretty random and don’t make sense within the story, but they retain the game’s standard of gameplay over narrative. These titanic monstrosities can annihilate most players within seconds, due to their strong attacks, various patterns, and borderline cheap grapple moves. Plenty of these fights are frustrating at first, but once you learn the patterns and best them in a fight, the sense of accomplishment is rewarding beyond what most games yield today. A few of them are bad (the helicopter and Skull Monster at the end come to mind), but most are a test in memorization and muscle memory that few games can hold a candle to.
Boss fights can be artificially more frustrating due to the checkpoint system or lack of one. Dying comes as naturally as living in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, which sends you all the back to your last save. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some fights have multiple rooms leading up to a boss fight, meaning you’ll have to gruel through the same grunt fights just to get to the big kahuna. It can take a few minutes just to get to the boss in some instances. A system such as this should have been tedious at the time, but now it’s inexcusable. This is a 2012 release and priced as such, it should get with the times and streamline its difficulty. There really is no excuse.
For a 2012 release, it does look rather sharp. Ninja Gaiden games have always had dreadfully boring looking art, but have looked technically sharp. I guess this would have been the game to start that. All of that holds true here. Environments and characters may be flat and uninspired, but they are incredibly clean and pristine looking. What appeared in 2004 as an Xbox game still looks great in 2012 on the smaller screen of the Vita.
However, it may be apparent why it looks as good as it does. Hardcore fans will notice right away that the framerate has been halved to thirty frames per second, freeing up processing power for the visuals. Fluidity has always stemmed from the instant response of a game that runs at sixty frames per second and it is immediately noticeable here. Of course, if you don’t have a frame (no pun intended) of reference, you probably won’t notice, but it is a tad slower than the other games in the series (except NG3). Yes, it is immediately noticeable but it doesn’t mean it is a huge problem that instantly renders the game null. The game is sure very much playable, it just isn’t running at its optimal speed. Mortal Kombat plays the exact same as its console brethren, but had to take a hit graphically to do so, a choice I fully stand behind. Team Ninja did the opposite, which wasn’t the right decision to make for the game.
While that is a new problem, old ones haven’t been alleviated either. In Ninja Gaiden Sigma, loading would constantly interrupt levels, sometimes in the middle of an intense duel. The same issue holds true in this version, something that should have been taken care of. A feature such as this feels so antagonistic for a game that wishes to move at breakneck speeds. Constant load screens in levels, after deaths, and going through doors can make immersion levels screech to a halt.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus does have a lot of content to keep the player engaged. In addition to the long campaign that can last over a dozen hours, harder difficulties and a mission mode encourage replayability. Sadists will love these because of the skill required to best these challenges. Harder modes are no joke, requiring near perfection for a whole new slew of enemies designed on taking you down with the utmost prejudice. Mastering Ninja Gaiden is entirely possible and it would take dedication, but replayability rooted in skill progression is one of the best kinds.
It’s not breaking news that Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a good game. Honestly, I saw it coming. Ninja Gaiden is a hallmark game of its genre, even if this rendition isn’t the best iteration of it. The Vita doesn’t have any sort of game like it at the moment, making Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus an easy purchase if you are interested in fast combat and difficult swordplay on the go, despite its new and old flaws. That and we need something wash out the sewage-like taste of Ninja Gaiden 3.
+Despite being a tad slower, combat is still fast fun with an array of solid weapons
+Even though it is bland, it looks gorgeous
+Plenty of challenging, yet rewarding boss fights
-Having no traditional checkpoints is a terrible oversight
-Halving the framerate is inexcusable
-Load times interrupt gameplay far too often
Final Score: 8/10