Stab, Slice, and Be Merry!
The last two entries in the Ninja Gaiden franchise have released late on the PS3. Bringing with them a lot more than just the Sigma moniker, many Sony owners will likely feel that their patience has been richly rewarded with a bunch of improvements and extra content.
While both Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2 are the quintessential versions of their respective installments, I wouldn’t say they are entirely worth the wait, as players fortunate enough to own both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 won’t find enough great new bells and whistles to warrant another purchase. Still, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is an action-packed, well-polished, and content-heavy game that any action buff that has not played the Xbox 360 version simply must pick up.
Lots of tweaks and improvements make this title shine. Everything has been slightly modified in the PS3 version to maximize its appeal. Rather than feeling like a hurried port, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has been lovingly optimized for the system. For example, the game has a lengthy initial install. Rather than forcing players to watch an aging hero smoke a cigarette or read repetitive game tips, the developers have included a digital comic prologue entitled “The Vampire War” that recounts the events immediately preceding those of Sigma 2. This comic is not only an informative time-filler, it’s also quite well drawn and engaging.
While most PS3 titles out there are output in 720p, the crew at Team Ninja were able to maintain the 1080p resolution of Ninja Gaiden II. There are also new cinematics, playable characters, enemies, and bosses, many more unlockable costumes (some of which we can’t reveal), additional, character-specific chapters, and a wildly compelling co-op mode. What’s more, the extensive, hardcore-minded Trophy support and increased combat challenge means there is a lot of substance to be found for those who seek to hoist this game’s Platinum Trophy. It seems that the extra time afforded to the developers allowed them to make the game they wanted to in the first place.
This time, rather than just playing as Ryu Hyabusa, gamers will also be able to take on three other characters. Rachel, Ayane, and Momiji are all sexy ass-kickers who have their own techniques and fighting styles, and they even get their own chapters in the story. Rachel is a busty, blond demon slayer from The Vigoor Empire that uses a rune-inscribed machinegun, fiery warhammer, and arcane sorcery to wade through fiends. Ayane is a fresh-faced, ninja acolyte gamers in the know may recognize from Tecmo’s Dead or Alive franchise. She wields dual short swords and twirls around in the Tenshin fighting style, unleashing explosive thrown daggers. Momiji is Ryu’s pupil. She is the last Dragon Shrine Maiden in Hyabusa village and uses her polearm Naginata and Heavensong Bow to great effect. She was last seen in Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword on the DS.
Not only do these three new characters get cameos in the story, they can also be selected for the Sigma 2-exclusive Team Missions mode. This is the vaunted co-op offering that allows players to play with a friend locally or online, or even alone with an A.I. companion while pursuing a specific mission objective. Players are tasked with goals such as hunting and destroying all fiends in an area, defeating the fallen ninja, Genshin, or even taking out all greater fiends. In fact, there are over 30 missions of differing objectives to complete across five different challenge categories: Acolyte, Warrior, Mentor, Master Ninja, and Ultimate Ninja.
Power-up items cannot be used during Team Missions, so it is imperative that players work together to excel at the mission. Cool, teamwork-based skills such as Critical Save and Ultimate Ninpo help to reinforce the cooperative nature of the mode. In addition to working together to complete the objectives, players will also have to try and get the highest Karma score they can. Karma is awarded for style and ruthless efficiency. The higher the Karma, the better you will rank on worldwide leaderboards. I really liked how the Karma is divided between participants. While both players will work together to resolve the mission and accrue a common pool of Karma, each combatant gets a share of the Karma commensurate with their actions. This adds a competitive element that mixes nicely with the mostly co-op feature.
All in all, the Team Missions mode is great fun. It is the defining and truly distinguishing feature of this title. Not only does it provide a lot of replay value, it amplifies the challenge factor immensely. Unfortunately, I can’t attest to the stability of the mode in terms of online play, as we were given review code for the debug unit. As such, we were unable to get online with other reviewers or developers. Nevertheless, we’re sure that playing Sigma 2’s Team Missions, both locally and online, will be the highlight of the game, especially for those who have already played through the story in Ninja Gaiden II.
After beating the story on any difficulty setting, PS3 owners will be treated to some other unmentionable exclusives, but they’ll also get their hands on the Chapter Challenge mode. Much like Team Missions, players will try and accrue as much Karma as possible in order to leave their legacy on the leaderboards. After the chapter is complete, you’ll be given a ranking – from Ninja Dog to Ninja Master – that encapsulates your mastery of that portion of the story. If you want to up the ante even further, you’ll have to go back through the game on the highest difficulty setting in order to unlock the next set of Chapter Challenges.
Gameplay and control in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, unlike most other aspects of the title, are identical to what was found in Ninja Gaiden II. Sigma 2 is the same, tight action-ninja-brawler that makes you feel like a deadly weapon. Starting off as an accessible, forgiving button-masher, the game’s difficulty and complexity steadily ramp up, forcing players to get comfortable with the combos and master new ninja techniques by finding scrolls and upgrading the weaponry. The biggest difference between the controls on either console’s version is simply the hardware-specific controllers – for longtime DualShock users, you’ll be happy with the comfortable, perfectly mapped actions and combos.
Visually, though attention was paid to make the game look even better than the previous version, it is imperceptibly so. All of the textures are equally shiny, and the character animations are every bit as smooth. What does stand out slightly is the solidity and stability of the framerate. Shifting the camera around the environments quickly reveals very limited seaming and screen-tearing, and other CheatCC staff mentioned that previously permeable walls seem to be impervious. These graphical changes may be limited but, needless to say, the game looks awesome. However, environments are still quite sterile. Aurally, the game is also identical. The voice acting and sound effects are still top-notch, and the funky bass line whilst in Muramasa’s shop is solid gold.
Players expecting a wildly different experience from what was featured in Ninja Gaiden II will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you’ve been holding out to play this game on the PS3, you’ll be happy to know that your patience has been rewarded. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has enough extra content and polish to make it the hands down, definitive version of the game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
The textures, animations, and character designs are fantastic. The frame rate seems to have improved slightly. Unfortunately, environments are still quite bland. 4.0 Control
The game starts out as a button-masher, but you’ll quickly start pulling off more complex combos. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice over work is great, and the sound effects are perfectly brutal. I really enjoyed the bass-laden tune inside Muramasa’s shop. 4.4 Play Value
While the gameplay during the story can begin to get tedious, the heightened difficulty and addition of cooperative Team Missions give this title more to love. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.