Originally reborn on the PlayStation 3 through the use of updated ports, Team Ninja has released Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus on the PlayStation Vita, which is essentially a port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which in itself is an enhanced port of Ninja Gaiden 2. Fancy monikers aside, Ryu is still in possession of the Dragon Sword and wields it to cut ninjas and demons to pieces.
The narrative being told in Sigma 2 Plus, involves the forces of evil trying to resurrect the all-powerful Archfiend with only the ninja master Ryu Hayabusa to put an end to the plan. In the original version, Ryu Hayabusa was the only playable character, but Sigma 2added three additional chapters involving Ayane, originally from the Dead or Alive series, Momiji, a female member of the Hayabusa clan, and Rachel, a fiend hunter from the original Ninja Gaiden (2004). Ryu however, must master various ninja skills in order to stop the evil ninja clan from invading the World, although the latter half of the game, pits you up against werewolves, a possessed Statue of Liberty – Ghostbusters II anyone? – and robotic demon hybrids. It wasn’t a strong narrative back in 2008 when Ninja Gaiden II was originally released, but does anyone actually play a Ninja Gaiden game for the narrative? The game could have no plot and I would still gladly play it – as long as the satisfying combat allowed me to slice and dice enemies to pieces with a plethora of combos, counters and special techniques.
Throughout the game Ryu will come across new weapons – both melee and projectile – that can be utilized to punish and rip the forces of evil to pieces…literally. Each one features various differences in speed and range ability. The Lunar Staff features area of effect attacks, making it the perfect weapon when dealing with large groups of enemies, while the Falcon Talons transforms Ryu into Wolverine, complete with razor sharp claws on not only his hands, but his feet. The action pauses as you switch weapons and you will be collecting so many, that you may not even use all of them during your playthrough. Each weapon can be upgraded to increase their power at the blacksmith, as well as featuring a slightly different visual flair. The shop allows you stock up on health items and ninpo items – basically the ninja equivalent for magic.
Every since the original Ninja Gaiden was released on the NES, the series has been known for it’s difficulty and relentless enemies. It’s quite easy to be overwhelmed by enemies that are constantly on offense, forcing the use of blocking and counter attacks. Cutting limbs off enemies almost feels random, except for the finishing move that brutally finishes off foes. The same attack one moment will slice and dice ninja demons to pieces and other times it only causes standard damage.
As much as I enjoyed the gameplay, the levels themselves feature major pacing issues revolving around terrible platforming sections that take you away from the action for far too long. If time was spent to streamline the levels the pacing would dramatically have been improved. Some chapters have plenty of platforming sections that overstay their welcome.
The visuals of the game, don’t hold up when compared to the satisfying gameplay in the game. The most noticeable downgrade,Sigma 2 Plus does not run at 60fps, resulting in a slower pace to the game. Enemies, which try and get the drop on Ryu end up looking as if they are gently floating down from the sky. When too many enemies appear on screen, an anti-aliasing filter disables in order to prevent the game from slowing down even further – resulting in very jagged looking visuals until the filter turns back on.
Near the latter half of the game, the game crawls along, you can literally count the frames in the animations. As for the environments, they are cluttered with blurry washed out textures. It becomes quite apparent during the cutscenes as they are pulled straight from the PlayStation 3 version of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comparing the game to the PS3 version, but the Vita is capable of better results, especially on the framerate front. One trick that helps the frame rate, involves setting the camera speeds to the max setting. The camera doesn’t always provide the best view of the action however, as you are frequently engaged by enemies offscreen.
Online multiplayer has been removed and replaced with a lackluster Tag Mode that features a competent AI partner, pitting both of you against waves of enemies, but having an extra ninja slicing enemies to pieces, doesn’t bode well for the engine that simply can’t handle it.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus brings almost all of the content from the PS3 version of the game to a portable device. The action can get quite intense, but the horrific frame rate makes the game downright unplayable at times. The included Hero Mode allows anyone that found the series too hard an easy way to get through the tougher bosses and frustration AI, providing a set amount of invulnerability along with super-charged attacks. The camera can be wonky at times and the pacing within the levels needs work, but if you enjoy the series, you will get some enjoyment having it in a portable size, but just be prepared for a slower pace to the action and the horrendous frame rate.Note: Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus was reviewed on PlayStation Vita. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.