The Ninja Gaiden series has always been known for its insane difficulty and relentless action. Director Tomonobu Itagaki has become notorious for creating games that challenge players to have lightning quick reflexes and plenty of patience. When the original Sigma hit the PS3 it was considered by most to be the definitive version of the game. Now that Itagaki has left Tecmo the remaining members of Team Ninja have delivered once again the ultimate version of his baby. With new playable characters, an online co-op mode and a tweaked campaign mode Sigma 2 delivers all of what made the original game so great as well as enough content to appease fans both new and old. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is without a doubt, one of the greatest action games available on the current generation of consoles.
Let’s start with what has been changed, both for better or worse. Right out of the gate you will notice the lengthy (and sizeable) install that accompanies the opening credits. What I find most disturbing about this is that it does nothing for the stage load times, and in fact when you obtain a new item it or learn a new move it actually hesitates longer than the 360 version. None of this will be noticeable to anyone who has not experienced the Xbox version, but veterans will detect it right away. The other big difference is the toned-down spray of the lovely red stuff. That’s right the gallons and gallons of human go-juice have been replaced with lovely purple sprays of demon souls. Interestingly enough if you are coming into this from the original Sigma or even the first Xbox outing nothing will feel different as it is comparable, but anyone who played the 360 version will undoubtedly take note.
I for one didn’t notice it until it was pointed out, but that is probably because the blood sprays were not a selling point for the original game. What I did appreciate though is all the things Sigma 2 has added to make this version the one to own, and better yet worth double-dipping for those that have already played through it. For starters the campaign feels much more lenient in enemy placement and cheap tactics. No more will you feel frustrated by exploding shurikens and canines with daggers in their mouths. Don’t take this the wrong way though; enemies are still relentless, and the challenge is still higher than just about any other action game on the system.
The bow and arrow mechanic has also been adjusted. No longer are you tethered by a limited supply of arrows. Ryu has access to unlimited projectiles making some of the more frustrating enemy and boss encounters that require the bow less of an ordeal. Ryu can also now move while aiming the bow. This really benefits some of the later boss fights, and makes more sense as a ninja could certainly handle sidestepping and pulling back a bow at the same time. The levels are nearly identical in layout and enemy placement, but keen-eyed veterans will notice some things removed or added. There are also a number of new boss encounters that feel well placed, but not always of the same caliber as the originals. For instance in the first level you now face a towering statue twice during the level, but it ends up being a battle with his hands, which is a bit disappointing.
The biggest additions to the game come from the three lovely ladies that are playable throughout the campaign and in the new mission mode. As you progress through the story mode the action will be broken up at various times and give you control of one of these three new playable characters. Ayane moves with quickness and her blades are deadly, not to mention she launches exploding shurikens as she bounces around the environment. Momiji comes from the DS exclusive Dragon Sword and while not quite as quick as Ayane, she packs a mean punch with her weapon of choice. Impaling enemies is pure delight and the nod to the handheld version will delight fans. The final character will be familiar to anyone who played the original Sigma. Rachel wields a giant hammer that deals more damage than almost any other weapon in the game, but she pays for it with speed. Overall these three missions add a much needed break from the traditional action, and play a welcome addition to the lengthy campaign.
The final piece to the new features puzzle is the team challenge mode. Here you can opt to play with a computer-controlled partner, or take the action online with a friend and deal massive ninpo damage together. The challenges are separated by difficulty, and you can enlist any of the four playable characters or costumes you have unlocked during the course of the main game. This mode is an absolute blast when played online with another player. Dealing damage together and uploading your scores to the leaderboards really ups the replay value of an already outstanding action game. If there is any doubt in your mind that Sigma 2 is worth the price tag you can let it rest, this game packs more than enough content to keep you occupied for months.
Spending so much time comparing the game I feel like I haven’t delved enough to talking about the core experience on its own. Ninja Gaiden 2 is considered not quite as polished as the original, and the same can be said of Sigma 2. Even with all the additions the game still feels a bit less elegant than the original. The action is fast, the enemies are tough, but some of the boss encounters still feel cheap, and the level designs really show their age when compared to the current crop of titles. Still if you want balls-to-the-wall action there is little that can hold a candle to Team Ninja’s masterpiece. I also want to mention that the developers have added in the ability to jiggle the female’s “assets” with the Sixaxis controller throughout the game, which adds just about as much to the overall appeal as you would imagine. I leave that open because some people are bound to consider it a selling point, while others consider it ridiculous. I for one, stand in the latter camp, but to each their own.
Visually Sigma 2 retains the same polished, shiny look that the original game delivered. The PS3 version has added in some sharper textures, but also hints of slowdown that plague the more action-intense moments. The camera has been improved slightly, but the action still moves too swiftly for it to keep up most of the time. You can of course center your view by tapping the R1 button, but doing so is often the last thing on your list when surrounded by enemies. The voice work and overall story are still terrible, I suggest switching to the Japanese voices as they are much better. The plot is absolutely ridiculous and feels again like just a catalyst to move Ryu from one area to the next to slice enemies into pieces.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is easily the best version of the game, but it still lags behind the sheer polish and quality of the original. That said this is still one of the best action games of this generation, and PS3 owners should definitely not hesitate to lay down the sixty bucks for this amazing package. The amount of content squeezed into this Blu-Ray is astonishing. The campaign is long, the challenge is addictive and the online mode is an absolute blast. Team Ninja has delivered an incredible director’s cut of the game without the actual director at the helm. This gives me hope for the future of the developers sans Itagaki.