In 2008, Xbox 360 owners got their hands on a highly anticipated sequel to one of the greatest action games, Ninja Gaiden II. Almost a year and a half later, the sequel received the “Sigma” treatment, coming exclusively to the PS3 with better visuals, an online co-op mission mode and other tweaks. When the Vita released, Team Ninja created a portable version of the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma (NGS+ for the Vita) for launch day. One year since the PS Vita’s launch and we see Sigma 2 coming to the Vita. However, is this port better than Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus?
Ninja Gaiden’s story for the sequel remains unchanged from what was released on the 360, in addition to the scenes added in Sigma 2 for PS3. The game starts off in Sky City Tokyo, where CIA agent Sonia is speaking with Muramasa of the whereabouts of Ryu Hayabusa. She mentions that she needs to speak with him of a matter concerning the archfiend. Immediately, Muramasa’s shop is attacked by the Black Spider Clan with Sonia being captured (although she does attempt to fight back). Enter Hayabusa, coming in secretly, stylishly and deadly as hell. From here, Hayabusa will soon rescue Sonia and be brought in on the details of why he is needed. Elizébet, the Greater Fiend of Blood, is looking to resurrect the Archfiend and bring the world into chaos, being overrun and ruled by fiends. Hayabusa will find himself returning to the iconic Hayabusa Village, New York City, Venice and other key locales to try and prevent Elizébet and her group of greater fiends from this catastrophic resurrection.
Ninja Gaiden’s story is entertaining, but nothing great by any means. It serves the purpose of the player understanding why Hayabusa is going to each location, but never gives the feel of wanting to advance to see where the plot goes. In the NES era, Ninja Gaiden was synonymous for its story, whereas the newer ones (except for Ninja Gaiden 3 / NG3:Razor’s Edge) seemed to step away from that a good amount. What’s here is decent, but certainly the weakest element of the game.
If you’ve never played Ninja Gaiden II / Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, but played the first game, let’s quickly touch up on how the gameplay evolved. First off, the combat is faster, slicker and more visceral than its predecessor. Also, while the original was more of an adventure, the sequel is set on a more linear path, with some exploration and platforming to be found. Combat is handled with light and strong attacks, while emphasizing the blocking mechanic if you want to have any chance of success. Combat has always been one of the key components as to what made the recent Ninja Gaiden series what it is, as well as its menacing difficulty. This sequel introduced the ability to dismember your foe, while also introducing Obliteration Techniques, which allow you to decimate your enemy for good. When you dismember an enemy, they’re not quite down yet, as they’ll do anything they can to grab onto you and inflict severe damage on Ryu. If anything, they’re more deadly dismembered than fully intact. When defeating enemies, they’ll leave essence orbs behind: Yellow for currency, Red for ki and Blue for health. They’ll automatically come to you when they hover in the air but if you block and attack, they remain there. The reason? You can charge up your strong attack to initiate an Ultimate Technique, a devastating move that will allow Ryu to pull off anywhere from 20-60 hit combos easily. If there are essence orbs in the area when charging up this attack, they’ll all absorb directly to you to immediately grant you the highest charge, at the expense of the essence effects. It helps make the combat a bit more complex by making you think if you’re willing to sacrifice the essence effect for a quick charge UT to help make it out of a tough battle.
While playing through the 17 chapter campaign, you’ll also take control of Momiji, Rachel and Ayane in their own exclusive chapters from Sigma 2. Each character plays entirely different from each other. Momiji dishes out some serious damage while also being agile and being able to double jump. Rachel wields a war hammer that’ll crush anything in her way, while also taking out foes with her semi-auto rifle. In return, she also handles combat the slowest of the characters. Ayane’s light, yet deadly, blades make her the fastest to handle but not the strongest. These characters all play to their advantages and help keep the gameplay fresh when giving Hayabusa a break. When taking control of Hayabusa, you’ll have a plethora of weaponry that he can wield. From the signature Dragon Sword, the vicious Vigorian Flail, deadly Lunar Staff, Dual Katanas, Kusari-gama, Tonfas, Enma’s Fang (which was new for Sigma 2), and the Eclipse Scythe, Hayabusa has a deadly arsenal. As you advance through the campaign, you’ll be able to upgrade these weapons whenever you reach Muramasa’s Blue Lantern shop. As you upgrade them, the move sets will become more diverse and they’ll also change cosmetically. You’ll also be able to upgrade your Ninpo when you find a Jewel of the Demon Seal that are hidden in boxes/chests.
When it comes to the Vita edition of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, there are a few things that were added into the game. First thing that’s worth mentioning are the touch screen controls. In the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, if you even slightly touched the screen, it would go into first-person mode. That has been removed here thankfully. When you want to use your bow or cannon (yeah, Ryu gets a beast of a gun in the first half of the game), you’ll simply tap the icon on the bottom left of the screen and go into the over-the-shoulder perspective to aim (without Sixaxis motion aiming). You can assign the aim and projectile weapons to be triggered with the game’s rear touchpad, but it’s completely optional. Also, there’s no Ninpo enhancing rear touchpad feature like in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. However, the one addition I did like that was brought back from Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword was the ability to double-tap the screen to fire off a projectile weapon. If there’s a hovering enemy on the top-right corner of the screen, you can double-tap on him and your character will fire a projectile at him. I found myself doing this often and it came in handy. The one negative element that actually hurts the gameplay a bit in the Vita version is the framerate. When the framerate chugs at times, the input responses lags and just ruins the game’s fluidity that it has been known for. While it doesn’t happen the entire time you’re playing, there are times it will kick in and it’s noticeable. Although, even when the framerate slows down a bit, the game is still more than playable.
Upon completing the game, there’s a great amount of replay value. First off, there’s Chapter Challenge, which lets you replay any of the game’s 17 chapters on a variety of difficulties. You’ll still be able to save at checkpoints when playing this mode and at the end of each chapter, you’ll be graded on your performance based on kills, time and karma score. Next is Tag Missions, which is basically the PS3 version’s online co-op mode. However, since the game turns off all network connections when playing, online co-op is now replaced with you and an AI co-oping the missions. The AI is actually pretty competent at holding their own but should they go down, you’ll need to head over to them quickly and revive them. A nice addition here is that you can switch between the two characters at anytime by simply pressing down on the D-Pad. Prior to starting these missions, you’ll have to choose the loadout for both you and your AI partner. This will include the character of choice, their main weapon, projectile weapon, ninpo and costume. You’ll be able to play on various modes here, which is new from the PS3 version. Normal mode will be like the PS3 experience. Practice mode will grant you and your partner unlimited revivals during missions. Then there’s a “Turbo” mode you’ll unlock, which increases the game’s speed 1.5 times faster.
The last mode that’s brand new and exclusive for the Vita version is Ninja Race. This mode has you trying to complete a course from the campaign as fast as possible, with a very limited amount of time. You’ll start with a set time but as you kill enemies, they may drop green essence orbs that increase your time by either 3.5 or 7 seconds. You’ll also need to chain kills together and you’ll have a meter that depletes in betweens kills. Should you take damage, the meter will deplete quicker. Some enemies may drop white essence orbs that add an additional combo bar to increase the meter’s time limit. If you lose the combo kill meter, you’ll be missing out on scoring some big points and the higher medals. Occasionally, enemies will drop purple essence orbs that you’ll collect. These will grant you the ability to trigger you and the enemies around you into “Turbo” mode. Like I mentioned in the Tag Missions section, “Turbo” will make the game run 1.5 times faster than before and due to the strict time limits, you’ll need this to reach the end of the course in time. Each course will contain checkpoints that increase your time limit dramatically. It’s an incredibly challenging yet addictive mode that I would love to see in future NG installments, especially with an online co-op buddy.
I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it again: The PS Vita cannot replicate exact PS3 quality graphics, but it can certainly come close. That being said, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus had to have some sacrifices made to fit onto Sony’s handheld device. The cutscenes are all pre-rendered from the console versions (360’s for most since the gore effects are intact for cutscenes, PS3’s for the additional exclusive scenes and/or you switch the gore off) which is fine…until it transitions to the gameplay. From here, you’ll notice the resolution isn’t as sharp but what’s here is still great. The environmental textures are still pretty sharp for the most part and character models, while scaled down, still look really good. However, the main element that hurt the score a bit in this department was the framerate. NGS+ ran at 30 fps, which fans weren’t too keen of since the NG series demands quick reflexes. NGS2+ also runs at 30 fps, however, can dip down to 20 fps depending on how many enemies are on-screen and how much is happening in the environment. Interestingly, the framerate can be a bit smoother if you switch the gore off to the infamous purple mist and increase the camera sensitivity to the highest settings. It’s a bizarre fix but helps the game maintain the 30 fps much more. On the flip side, the environments haven’t lost much detail at all, including the Temple of Sacrifice which has all the flying fiends in the background in full effect. The animations are still as smooth and fluid as ever before. They definitely packed as much visual content as they could into the game and it still looks great honestly. You just need to adjust to the framerate decrease from the console versions. If you’ve never played the console versions, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue for you.
If there’s one thing Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus has, it’s incredibly strong audio. The audio ported over really well, with the sounds of decapitations, swords clashing and environmental effects sounding superb. The voice acting is pretty good and helps carry the story along. However, the real knockout here is the phenomenal soundtrack. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus’s hi-energy, varied soundtrack really gets you pumped for the action on-screen, as well as the exploration involved. Every single track truly captures the game’s moments and immerses you into the game. Plug in your headphones and crank up the volume to the max, because this is one killer audio experience!
Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a much more ambitious port than last year’s original and is still a great game on its own merit. Compared to Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, this sequel has a much better “on-the-go” feel to it thanks to more frequent save spots and faster gameplay. However, if you own a PS3, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is best played on there. If not or just love the NG series, then Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus will do very well in your Vita collection (as it is still one of the best action games ever made). Framerate complaints aside, it’s still the great game it was on consoles. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus packs a ton of replay value that will keep you coming back for quite some time.
+ Intense combat system
+ Outstanding soundtrack
+ Plenty of replay value
+ Ninja Race is a great new mode
– Lower framerate
– Story was, and still isn’t, anything great
– Online Co-op removed from PS3’s NGS2