|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Team Ninja|
|Pub: Tecmo Koei|
|Release: February 22, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox was a sublime experience. Standing as my personal favorite game of that generation, it melded a fast-paced, intricate combat engine with what were, at the time, some of the best visuals yet to grace a home console. The game was hectic, beautiful, and silky smooth. These attributes were carried through to both of its re-releases—the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden Black and the PlayStation 3's Ninja Gaiden Sigma—which also added new enemies, weapons, and level arrangements to the base game. It's unfortunate, then, that Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, the first handheld iteration of the game, drops the ball, providing a sub-par experience and a smattering of new features that offer little for series fans.
That isn't to say that the experience is all bad. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a gorgeous game; its level, character design, and effects are all based on the PlayStation 3's high-definition update. All of the animations prior players will remember are in there, including Sigma's updated rolling. In the U.S. version, at least, all of its blood and gore are intact, enemy heads flying after a particularly brutal slash. It sounds like Ninja Gaiden too, with satisfying hit effects and the game's familiar soundtrack. It's a shame there's no option for Japanese audio, but that's a minor quibble at worst, as the game's English voice acting isn't that bad.
The only real downside to the presentation, and one of the primary issues with the game, is that it runs at 30 frames per second, whereas its prior incarnations all held a constant 60. The visuals appear sluggish, though still relatively smooth, and it absolutely throws off a seasoned player's timing. While it's great to see Ninja Gaiden at its visual peak, this is a game where individual still shots matter far less than consistently smooth motion.
There are more general control issues as well. Response to the analog stick feels imprecise and slow, which is odd considering how well other games on the Vita use the stick, and may still be tied to the frame rate. This, combined with the apparent "buffering" of one's inputs to compensate for the slower pace of the game, results in combat that feels frustratingly imprecise in a game that has always demanded absolute precision. Along those lines, the game's use of the Vita's unique control features is suspect at best.
Gyroscopic aiming in first-person is not necessary (the sticks can still be used), yet cannot be turned off—entering into first-person mode involves tapping the touch screen anywhere, which is easy to do accidentally just while moving one of the sticks or pressing a button. While one can set the game to fire on a button press in first-person, it defaults to a touch-based mode that requires one to tap the screen where one wishes to shoot, but this method does not provide anywhere near the degree of precision necessary for Ninja Gaiden. These factors combined make the bow a pain to use, especially since one can no longer transition from drawing the string in third-person to aiming in first-person, meaning that one must position oneself manually, first, if one hopes to strike with any degree of speed.
The back touch panel sees some use as well, though it's extremely limited. It's mostly this version's means of powering up ninpo (a concept first introduced in Sigma), with short minigames anytime someone uses the ninja magic. They don't break the flow of the game, or cause any undue frustration, but they don't really add anything to the game, either. That can be said, though, about most of the additions the developers made this time out.
Besides the new controls, Sigma Plus introduces a new accessory slot for Ryu, with stat-boosting items that actually show up on Ryu's character model and a new difficulty level called "Hero Mode." The enhancements one receives from these new accessories aren't anything game-breaking, but they do add a little something both behind the scenes and visually. Hero Mode, however, is one part of Team Ninja's new design philosophy, which seems to center on making games that are more accessible to everyone. The only individuals who will want to play in Hero Mode, which goes so far as to automate defense and provide unlimited ninpo for a short time when one's health gets low, are those who were either frustrated by previous versions of the game or have never played Ninja Gaiden before. Both are relatively small markets, as Ninja Gaiden is old enough, at this point, that its fan base has sort of crystallized. Almost everyone with an interest in the title has already played some version of it, and, if they found it frustrating enough that they'd need Hero Mode, it's likely that they've already lost interest in the game and written it off. It's an addition that doesn't do any real harm, but helps almost no one.