We’ve all had that desire to be a ninja. There’s something incredibly badass about being a silent assassin able to clean a room at the drop of a hat. Team NINJA has allowed us to live this fantasy time and again since the reboot of the legendary fast-action franchise with 2004’s Ninja Gaiden. Over the next several years, this single game would see a re-release so many times that you’d think it was a Nintendo franchise. With good reason, as Ninja Gaiden is still regarded as one of the best action games of all time. So after the fourth consecutive re-release, is it time to finally put this one to rest?
Enter Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, a re-release of a PS3 game, which was a re-release of an Xbox game, which was a re-release of another Xbox game, which was a reboot of an NES franchise. You follow the exploits of Ryu Hayabusa, the youngest in the legendary Dragon Clan, and a master of all things death and destruction. Despite being a ninja, you’re not very stealthy. Instead, Ryu’s battle skills are unmatched, and known for being incredibly brutal. Similar to Shinobi, the “other” long-running ninja franchise, Ninja Gaiden takes the ancient fighting techniques of the shadow warriors and places it in more modern environments. Of course you’ll have levels inside ancient Japanese temples and fortresses, but some of the most enjoyable parts of the game are slashing your way through hordes of enemies on an airship, in brightly lit city streets, on an army base, etc.
Ninja Gaiden behaves precisely as an action game should. You’ve got your light and heavy attacks, magic attacks (called Ninpo,) and projectiles. Of course, these vary based on your equipment. You can choose from a variety of famous ninja weapons such as katanas, shurikens, nunchuks, bo staffs, and even some incredibly unique weapons, like the infamous Vigoorian Flail, which you will learn to love later on in the game. Of course there are also accessories to equip which will enhance certain abilities. It sounds like the game might actually be more of an action RPG than a hack ‘n’ slash, but it isn’t. The only RPG elements here are the ability to upgrade and change your weapons. None of it should ever be overwhelming by any means.
Ninja Gaiden previously was famous for being infuriatingly difficult. With each subsequent re-release, the game gained an easier option in order to be more accessible to more people. The original game on the Xbox was considered a high achievement if you ever saw the credits screen. Ninja Gaiden Black was specifically made in order to ease our feeble gamer minds. Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3 had the AI dumbed down a bit and made it even more accessible. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus retains this tradition with the inclusion of Hero Mode. This mode, which isn’t a difficulty so much as it is a check box to check when you start the game, makes Ryu automatically block and dodge enemy attacks for a limited time if your health runs low. I was worried at first about this mode because it initially sounded like it would be impossible to take damage, thereby eliminating any danger at all save for the odd jump off a cliff. However, the abilities only activate during dangerously low health and only for a limited time, or unless you gain enough health back to deactivate it.
If you’re looking for an intricately woven story that deserves to win awards, you won’t quite find it here. A slew of baddies decide to attack the Hayabusa village with a desire for the Dark Dragon Sword, a sword told to have immeasurable power that the Hayabusa clan has been protecting for generations. Ryu is defeated by a dark, faceless samurai named Doku, who steals the sword. Ryu takes it upon himself to defeat Doku and his evil forces, and remove the sword from his dangerous hands. The story is awfully cliche, but it fits well. It’s just not very deep. Sure, there are more details to it, and a few of the plot twists are expertly well done, but Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus doesn’t get any points for being terribly original in its narrative.
Exclusive to the Vita version are a few touch and motion controls used in combat. In order to cast Ninpo this time around, the player will have to follow a set of instructions for casting it successfully. For example, the Art of the Inferno magic, which casts a powerful fireball towards your enemies, has the player tap a magical seal on the rear touch pad when it overlaps with another seal. If you do well, you’ll cause a bit more damage. You can also tap the screen in order to go into a first-person view to have a look around, or to aim certain projectiles. You physically move the Vita around in order to aim, or you could do it the old fashioned way with the sticks if you’re more of an old-schooler.
The game is solid. There’s really nothing overly bad to say about the game as a whole aside from the occasional framerate drop. However if you weren’t a fan of the numerous other times this game has been available, unless you were REALLY holding out for a portable version (which admittedly didn’t seem terribly likely,) there’s really not much reason to look into yet-another version. If you really want to carry a ninja around in your pocket, never got a chance to play the other games, or really, REALLY like Ninja Gaiden, then Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a great choice. However, if you’re hoping to find something drastically new than the other four versions of this game, you won’t find it here.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us for review purposes.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a great game, and probably one of the best launch titles on the Vita. However, unless you're really craving portable ninja action, there's really no reason to pick this up if you're sick of the many other versions of the game.