Over the years since Ninja Gaiden’s Xbox revival the public and critical reception that series has received has been somewhat like a yo-yo. Initially finding acclaim thanks to its’ harsh learning curve and dynamic, violent action sequences it wasn’t long until the tendency to readdress and repackage existing software was criticised as little being more than an effort to spin a quick buck. The comprehensive quality of the PlayStation 3’s revision of Ninja Gaiden 2 soon hushed those naysayers, but then came Ninja Gaiden 3 and the unfairly harsh commentary of Team NINJA following the departure of a key figure from their team.
Since then the series has been concentrating on drawing the most out of new hardware, with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge finding a welcoming audience on Wii U and now, following the remake of Ninja Gaiden Sigma as a launch title for the PlayStation Vita, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus arrives in Europe. With so many reiterations of existing Ninja Gaiden titles coming from Temco Koei Europe it could be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they’re all much the same, but in reality it’s the constant improvement, additional gameplay modes and opening up for new audiences that keep Ninja Gaiden relevant more than a decade after its revival.
Beginning with the core campaign, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a very familiar experience. A direct port of the PlayStation 3’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which in itself is only a slightly renovated version of the Xbox 360’s Ninja Gaiden 2, there’s no denying that the experience has aged in an unflattering manner. Regardless of your opinion of Ninja Gaiden 3 it’d be difficult to argue that it was anything less than a thoroughly modern experience. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus however, is the same videogame we were playing back in 2009. That may not sound all too long ago, but in an industry where the top tier of production moves as quickly as it does in videogames four years can easily mean the birth and death of a convention, technique, or even an entire format. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus feels much stricter than modern designs, limited in its structure even, including that of its successor.
That being said, the moments of action that punctuate the aging linear template are truly high class in every facet. So few videogames manage to provide a real challenge whilst retaining the feeling of being fair; camera issues aside, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus’ fast-paced blow-for-blow combat is second to none, Each button press offers an equal opportunity to build your combo or fall to the enemy’s blade, and which way the tide turns is entirely dependant on the players’ ability to read the warning signs and plan two or three strikes ahead.
This is never more evident than in the Tag Missions, where the player takes two characters into a structured challenge in a single area with the option of switching between them with a simple button press. Four a full cast of characters available – series protagonist Ryu, heavy hitting Rachel, the swift Ayane and the forward strike range of Momiji – players are given the opportunity to out their skills to the test in a lengthy series of increasingly difficult combat situations. The subtle flexibility of the fighting system and the vast selection of manoeuvres available in Ninja Gaiden 2 have never been out to better use than they are in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus’ Tag Missions, and for fans of the series this alone will be reason enough to invest in that same videogame once again.
There are a number of technical issues with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, most notably the loading times. Exiting menus and entering gameplay can be an annoyingly lengthy process – only by a few seconds, but enough to be noticeable – and the texture quality on the in-game characters models is significantly weaker than those of their PlayStation 3 equivalents. The cutscenes in the campaign are also simple ports and do not take into account changes of costume; a small issue perhaps, but one that could have easily been overcome nonetheless.
Despite its aging campaign design Ninja Gaiden 2 manages to stay relevant thanks to the dense and expertly crafted combat system. Even in these times of PlatinumGames’ string of critically acclaimed releases and DmC: Devil May Cry proving that the fans are wrong, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus never fails to impress when it comes to consecutive strings of button presses and the fluidity of the resulying on-screen action. And so the PlayStation Vita now benefits from one of the best Ninja Gaiden experiences currently available, and given this success along with that of its predecessor, hopes are high that the third title in the series may one day find its way to the handheld format also.