Following in the footsteps of Ninja Gaiden’s PS Vita debut last year, Sigma 2 (Σ2) Plus serves up an “enhanced” version of the acclaimed sequel which launched exclusively on Xbox 360 back in 2008. After its original release (which also marked the departure of series’ visionary, Tomobobu Itagaki) Ninja Gaiden 2 was then re-launched almost a year later for the PlayStation 3 with its familiar “Sigma” suffix and a slew of changes.
Though it tries to make a few adjustments of its own, Plus is more akin to a straightforward port of Sigma 2 rather than a comprehensive revision of Team Ninja’s swansong. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for those in dire need of a decent handheld action game, but for returning fans there’s little on offer to tempt them away from previous versions.
Churning together a cocktail of fantasy and modern themes, the setting that underpins Team Ninja’s action sequel is unapologetically bizarre yet strangely refreshing. Picking up one year after the events of Ninja Gaiden, series protagonist Ryu Hayabusa is called upon to dispel an attack from a rival ninja clan. There are murmurs of an ancient power rising and before the Dragon Ninja has time to react a demonic horde is set upon the earth.
With impossible odds stacked against them, Ryu and his foursome of femme fatales must find the source of the threat before the Black Spiders’ hellish ritual can be completed.
Though well-presented through an amalgam of cut-scenes and on-the-fly set pieces, Ninja Gaiden’s plot comes across as a little bloated and ultimately takes a back seat to the gore-soaked action. Contributing to this dearth in narrative substance is the game’s cast of characters who are, for the most part, one-dimensional and develop very little. Ayane, Momiji, and Rachel simply serve as a bit of eye candy, while Sonia has an even more minor role and isn’t playable. Ryu fair little better, standing in as a borderline mute avatar for the player to control.
However, after spending several minutes with Ninja Gaiden 2’s combat makes it fairly easy to overlook the plot’s shortcomings, with the game’s narrative focus playing second fiddle to its fluid, visceral gameplay. Though there are platforming and exploration sections these are merely stop-gaps, brief moments of downtime in between the relentless bouts of combat.
In a similar fashion to Devil May Cry, most enemy encounters are cordoned off, forcing the player to slash and maim their way through hordes of demons, machines, and ninjas in order to progress. Such use of invisible walls may come across as a little archaic, especially in comparison to recent genre innovations, but they help to contain the series’ brand of chaotic action.
As for the combat itself, things can seem a little mindless at first. Ryu’s attacks are often delivered with lightning speed and can slice through opponents with gratifying ease.
However, as more advanced enemy types slowly start to emerge, the difficulty begins to ramp. Learning how to master the game’s finicky block and parry mechanic is near essential as is a sense of creativity and, of course, a tolerance for Ninja Gaiden’s often-obstructive camera.
Adding to the player’s repertoire of techniques, Ryu has the ability to wall-run and throw enemies, his bow allowing players to pick enemies off from afar, either by using the default controls or simply tapping on them using the touch-screen.
Ninpo abilities also make a return; available in four flavours, these magical attacks help turn the odds in a player’s favour and can be upgraded throughout the campaign.
Part of the reason why Ninja Gaiden’s combat feels so fresh and engaging at times is mainly thanks to the wide array of deathly instruments at the player’s disposal, all of which can be upgraded.
Tonfas, gauntlets, scythes, and greatswords are but a few of the weapons tucked away in Ryu’s arsenal, each one with its own list of combos. However, despite the varied selection, you’ll likely settle for two or three mainstays, especially when facing off against the game’s healthy stock of boss battles.
Although some follow tight, predictable attack patterns, many of the game’s bosses simply flurry from point to point whilst dishing out heavy, almost unfair, amounts of damage. They aren’t impossible to overcome, yet require a lot more patience and determination to defeat compared to those in similar games such as a latest Devil May Cry or God of War.
Luckily, as players begin to amass in-game currency and upgrade their weapons, these encounters get easier. Instead of relying on my prowess in combat during the latter stages of the game I would usually outlast bosses simply due to the pile of restorative items sitting in my inventory.
Outside the campaign, players can partake in Sigma’s two additional game modes, the most substantive of which is Tag Missions. As the name suggests, this mode pits two of the game’s protagonists against waves of enemies in a selection of pre-determined scenarios. Both challenging and fun, Tag Missions help to extend Ninja Gaiden’s lifespan considerably, though they can become soulless and grinding due to the game’s lack of online and local co-op.
The other mode, Ninja Race, also lacks flare and suffers from being tailored towards more experienced players. This mode sees you blitzing your way through a gauntlet of enemies with an ever-present timer continually counting down. With time at a premium, much of enjoyment found in Ninja Gaiden’s combat is sapped away, forcing the player to continually spam buttons whilst keeping their fingers crossed.
As a handheld port, Plus manages to cram in plenty of content and even looks the part too. Despite a few washed out textures and grainy outlines, it holds up nicely but is ultimately let down by a poor, inconsistent frame-rate. Despite there being half a decade between Plus and its the original game, Team Ninja still haven’t sorted this problem, which is particularly prevalent both towards the end of the game and during any of the available Tag Missions.
It may not ruin the experience entirely, but continual stutters break down the seamless illusion of Ninja Gaiden’s combat, momentarily bringing the game to snail’s pace.
- Fluid, visceral combat system.
- A variety of weapons to experiment with.
- Diverse settings, complimented by ever-changing enemy types.
- Campaign is at least ten hours long.
- Bonus missions, two new modes.
- Slightly easier compared to previous version.
- No co-op.
- Characters are flat and mostly uninteresting.
- Frame-rate issues will annoy from time to time.
- Lack of Vita-specific functionality.
Frame-rate aside, Sigma 2 Plus is still one of the PlayStation Vita’s more recommendable titles. The story is nonsensical and there are a couple of minor issues orbiting the game’s presentation but it still plays well, and features a fair amount of content both in and out of the single player campaign. With that said, fans of the series should approach Plus with caution, unless they are desperate for their Ninja Gaiden fix whilst on the go.