Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Review for PS Vita

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Review for PS Vita

Ninja Dog Ugly

You are pissing me off, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, and it isn’t just your over-long name doing it. I don’t know whether to love you or hate you, and maybe, in the end, that puts me somewhere in the middle of the road, shaking my head incredulously at your hodgepodge nature.

I’m confused about your frame rate, still at the 30 frames per second that made your predecessor, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, so painful to play. I’d figured Team Ninja would pull some technical magic out of their behinds, seeing as they’ve had a year to tool around with the Vita since their first game and have promised 60FPS for the upcoming Dead or Alive 5 Plus, but performance this time out is arguably worse. At least the previous game managed to maintain a constant frame rate, rather than plaguing me with the frequent slowdown that NGS2P offers. It’s particularly frustrating when Ryu is reacting to button presses full seconds after they’ve been entered.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Screenshot

This slowdown occurs regardless of whether “gore” is turned on or off, the distinction being in the number of body parts strewn about during a match, the ability to behead foes, and whether their severed extremities part ways in clouds of purple mist or sprays of crimson blood. It occurs despite a resolution that seems suspiciously low, with obvious aliasing along the edges of the game’s lower-detail character models, especially obvious when held up against the cinematics that so frequently play. These were originally in-engine, but are clearly pre-recorded in the Vita release. Ryu’s costume does not change to match his in-game appearance (it did in the original Ninja Gaiden 2), the other characters are far more intricately modeled, and the frame rate is smoother.

But, despite all that, this is still Ninja Gaiden (Sigma) 2, and it generally plays like it. The rebalancing from the PlayStation 3 version is intact, with many of the changes (such as infinite arrows, third-person lock-on targeting for the bow, and the removal of end-of-level ratings) serving as hints of what was to come in Ninja Gaiden 3. Enemies are less aggressive, particularly with explosive projectiles, than they were in the Xbox 360 original, attack in lower numbers (though with increased health), and the essence they drop goes exclusively toward health and ninpo refills. Upgrades are handled by specific, easily distinguished Muramasa statues and handed out sparingly. I really like this change, since it encourages players to avail themselves of Ryu’s entire armory, rather than rely on one or two core weapons that they upgrade at the expense of all else. Even the additional missions in which one stars as Momiji, Rachel, or Ayane are all enjoyably constructed.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Screenshot

In the realm of entirely new, NGS2P introduces Tag Missions and a Ninja Race mode. These are, perhaps, a response to the exclusion of online co-op missions, which had originally been added into the PlayStation 3 version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Tag Missions are more or less the player and an A.I.-controlled companion against a few waves of enemies, though the player can switch which character they control at any time. There isn’t a whole lot to this mode and the score you receive for completing it is functionally void since there aren’t any online leaderboards of which to brag.

Ninja Race is a bit more interesting, since it tasks the player with navigating entire levels of the game under a strict time limit. The player begins with only a short time on the clock, which can be extended by picking up green essence. That same essence, however, must be consumed if one is to use Ultimate Techniques in the midst of combat, forcing the player to make split-second decisions as to whether it’s faster to slay their enemies immediately with a powerful ultimate or put more time on the clock and hope that they can defeat their foes in less time than that in a protracted battle. There is also a power-up in this mode that temporarily increases the speed of the game, adding yet another layer of strategy since one must choose when to use it. Again, though, the lack of online leaderboards really stings.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Screenshot

Other changes and additions to Sigma 2 Plus are fairly minor. The Hero mode returns, providing a crutch for inexperienced or unskilled players, as does touchscreen aiming. The latter is vastly improved over its implementation in the first game, no longer forcing the player into first-person mode, but firing their equipped projectile weapon immediately. It can also be used during over-the-shoulder aiming, and feels far more accurate. There are back-touch control options as well, but they can blessedly be turned off, and gyroscopic aiming appears to be a thing of the past.

This is all well and good for those who have played a version of Ninja Gaiden 2 before, but what of those who haven’t? How does NGS2P stand on its own merits as a game, and not as an entry in the Ninja Gaiden franchise?

Discounting the slowdown, this is a very attractive game. Even with a reduced resolution, many of the levels feature complex architecture (sometimes to the point of obfuscating objectives) and appealing arenas in which to do battle with one’s foes. The combat itself flows beautifully when the game does, forcing the player to shift seamlessly between attack and defense as the enemy aggressively pursues them, even the lowest of the low providing a credible threat if left unchecked. The wealth of weapons on display and precise controls further serve the action, ensure that one does not want for variety and that Ryu is able to react with split-second timing to changing circumstances.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Screenshot

That said, the plot is still a near non-entity, the platforming that occasionally breaks up the combat ranges from inoffensive-but-dull to controller-chucking-annoying. Ryu’s movement has a fair amount of inertia, which is fine for launching him into combat, but not so great for precise jumping action.

In comparison to what’s out there today, though, NGS2P feels like a relic. While the combat is fun, it’s the only real hook in the game, and enemies don’t really provide enough variety to remain engaging for the entire length of the campaign. Their placement, too, is somewhat haphazard, with them sometimes popping up as you enter narrow hallways only to be totally absent from large, perfectly outfitted rooms. It also feels very “flat,” since foes will mostly be attacking you in straight lines long the ground, rarely availing themselves of terrain or altitude (not that Ryu’s controls or abilities would lend themselves to such a combat system). Maybe I’ve been spoiled by DmC, with its extremely mobile, multi-tiered combat and quick-swapping of weapons, or Metal Gear Rising and its meticulous placement of enemies to make its levels actual scenarios, rather than slash-and-smash galleries of foes.

This game’s very existence perplexes me. It smacks of having been produced by committee, with anything that might have provided a technical challenge either altered, excised, or ignored. It is visually appealing, but its performance is lacking. At least one of the additional modes is engaging, but the online functionality that could have given it lasting appeal is absent. And the gameplay itself, the core of the experience, is faithful to the original, but lacks value in the face of advances in the genre. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a sub-par port of a game that was impressive when it launched, but has since been overshadowed.

Still appealing, but the lower resolution and less-detailed characters hurt it. Not as much as the unavoidable slowdown, though. 4.5 Control
Still the same core as Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, but the Vita version gets bonus points for smart use of the touchscreen aiming and accommodating those of us whose awkward hands are in constant contact with the back touch panel. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent, meaty sound effects ensure that combat is viscerally satisfying. The music, though, is forgettable and the voice acting is nothing to write home about. No option for Japanese voices, either. 1.5 Play Value
It’s the same Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 that hit the PS3 four years ago. Even if you missed it, the game pales before the other action options out there today. The lack of online modes is a further blow to its replayability, though the Ninja Races are a lot of fun. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • The ultimate ninja action game.
  • Ayane, Momiji, and Rachel as playable characters.
  • All-new Ninja Race and Tag Mission gameplay modes.

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