Ninja Gaiden Sigma
Ninja Gaiden was one of the hardest, most beautiful and all-round best games for the original Xbox. Ninja Gaiden Black -basically the same game, but with some new additions- was even better and even more challenging. Now, the game is having yet another makeover, in the form of Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PlayStation 3. And guess what: third time’s the charm!
Ninja Gaiden Sigma lets you play with Ryu Hayabusa, a ninja from the Dragon Clan. After the dark samurai Doku slaughters the population of Ryu’s home village and steals the powerful Dark Dragon Blade, he goes after Doku seeking revenge.
The story is told through some bland-looking CGI cutscenes and average voice-overs. The game takes you through a lot of different levels (a traditional Japanese village, an airship, a Byzantine monastery, a pyramid…) that have very little to do with each other. This hurts the story’s continuity, but let’s be frank: Ninja Gaiden has never been about offering a deep and captivating storyline.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma does, however, offer an excellent fighting engine to power the deep slashing mechanics. Ryu has a wide variety of melee weapons at his disposal (swords, heavy swords, a war hammer, flails,…), all with a broad range of unique combos.
Though I hardly used anything other than the standard Dragon Sword or the dual katanas -named Dragon’s Claw and Tiger Fang, a brand-new and very useful addition to Ninja Gaiden Sigma-, it’s good to have the option of switching to a slower, but more powerful playing style. Weapons can also be upgraded at a blacksmith, which makes them more powerful and unlocks more combos. What separates this from most action games is the fact you’ll need to fight defensively, constantly blocking and rolling away from harm. Simply slashing away at foes will quickly get you killed. Blocking, and then attacking when an enemy drops his guard is the key to success. Ryu also has some some ultimate techniques (charged attacks) and countermoves, but those two require some practice.
Nevertheless, using them correctly can quickly change the tide of battle. Next to your melee arsenal, Ryu also has some ranged weapons (shurikens, bow and arrow,…) and magic attacks. By shaking the Sixaxis while casting magic (or ninpo as it’s called here), you increase the power of your spell. Not that it matters though, as slicing your way through opponents is way quicker and more effective than throwing a fireball or ice shard.
In NGS, you can also play three short levels as Rachel, the busty, shiny leather-clad demon hunter from the original game. Rachel uses a slow but mighty war hammer to dish out damage, which requiers you to switch styles.
Rachel has to be more careful than Ryu and use more counter blows. If your hits connect, the high damage rate causes foes to go down quickly. Rachel’s levels blend in nicely with the main storyline, though Ryu’s levels are genuinely more enjoyable. Still, Rachel is easier on the eye (at least for a male audience), thanks to her blonde hair and double-D sized breasts. And if you were wondering (don’t deny it); yes, Team Ninja has implemented the same wacky, unnatural boob physics from Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
The game contains some of the best bossfights you’ve ever played. There are dozens of bosses, for instance a horse-mounted samurai, the electricity-toting Alternator/Dyanamo, a huge skeletal dragon or the gunslinging trickster Gamov. They all have multiple attacks, for both close and longer ranges. To defeat them, you’ll have to be constantly on the move and attack their weak spot when they stop attacking for a second.
Some bosses are relatively easy, but some have such a high number of different attacks that they provide a huge challenge. Speaking of challenge, NGS is definitely not an easy game. Beating the normal mode isn’t for everyone, let alone the hard, very hard and master ninja difficulties. Those last three are only intended for the most gifted gamers. Ninja Gaiden is extremely satisfying in normal mode, but the lower ninja dog setting is still a lot of fun. Ninja dog isn’t eligible by default, but when you die three times in a row, you can choose to ‘abandon the way of the ninja’ and thus have an easier time. The game may seem a little easier to Ninja Gaiden Black aficionados, but that’s largely due to some level tweaks. After finishing the game, you also unlock a mission mode, basically a challenge mode that really pushes your skills to the limits.
The most noticeable change from the original games is of course the updated graphical presentation. The game now plays in high definition graphics (1080p max, all the while maintaining a high 60FPS framerate) and looks stunning.
Ryu, Rachel and all the other characters are perfectly animated: their over-the-top moves look exremely smooth and impressive. The levels are varied (as said), but they lack interactivity. The music is decent and the clashing swords sound good to, but overall, the audio can’t keep up with the visuals.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma also has some nasty traits. Even after copying game files to the PS3′s hard drive, the loading times in the game are still abundant (albeit short). It’s also annoying that the interaction button is the same as the attack button, which can lead to you accidentally leaving a room and then returning, only to find your enemies having respawned.
The constant spawning can also prove tedious in combination with the frequent backtracking. And the fact that this games lacks a load option is also something we shouldn’t be seeing in a modern-day game. If you want to quickly load a game (e.g. because you made a stupid error immediately after a save point), you have to resort to a soft reset (press and hold select and start) to return to the main menu and then load your game.
But those flaws are forgiveable, compared to the game’s many strengths. Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a graphically stunning update to a true action classic. The game’s fighting system is still one of the best ever in the action genre. If you haven’t played Ninja Gaiden until now, buying this version is almost a no-brainer. Even die–hard fans of the previous games will probably feel the urge to try out the new content.