I think most of us have a gaming memory that never fades, no matter how many years pass. Mine is throwing a massive hissy fit whilst trying to defeat the Chapter 2 boss in Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3, so when Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (a port of the PS3 game) for the Vita dropped through my letter-box I nearly posted it back through. Has age dulled the franchise’s fabled difficulty?
A ‘hack and slash’ style game, Sigma Plus sees you take control of Ryu Hayabusa, wielder of the Dragon Sword. After the game’s (rather harsh) opening chapter, Ryu learns that his village is under attack, with the obvious objective being the theft of the Dark Dragon Blade; a weapon of immense power. The story is just as daft as ever, but in an enjoyable way. The cutscenes are almost a reprieve, allowing you to flex your fingers, which no doubt will be cramped from gripping the Vita so hard.[drop2]What isn’t daft, however, is the game’s fighting system. This is not a game you can simply run through, mashing the attack buttons at random intervals. The block button will become your best friend, as you need to study an opponent’s attack pattern before waiting for an opening to strike.
Moves can’t be cancelled, so when you do begin an attack make sure it’ll count. This is all made pretty clear in the Chapter 1 boss fight, as if you attack head-on you’ll be finished in a couple of hits. Evading is also an important part of your attack strategy, as tilting the left stick whilst blocking will see Ryu dart behind an opponent, or out of harm’s way.
The further into the game you go, the more attacks you unlock and soon you’ll be granted very useful counter attacks, and Ninpo. The counter attacks are so useful as they can be launched whilst you’re blocking, so if an enemy hits your block and you immediately press the correct button, some serious damage can be done. Ninpo is magic, and comes in a variety of flavours. Interestingly enough, the Vita’s rear touch-pad is used when releasing Ninpo, as you have to tap the relevant sections of the pad to match an on screen prompt.
To add even more depth, there are a myriad of weapons to collect throughout the game, which can be upgraded. Rather than just being purely cosmetic, each weapon makes a huge difference to how you play. Swords have decent range a speed, whilst the staff is quick but less damaging. The nunchucks are extremely cool, but require you to get dangerously close to the enemy. The only thing missing is the ability to change your weapons dynamically, rather than through the menu system.
It’s so gloriously done, and fights actually feel more like battles as you wear your opponents down. Unfortunately what’s also a battle is the game’s appalling camera. It’s slow, unresponsive, and will frequently fail to keep up with the action. Its default angle when entering a room is to look directly at Ryu, rather than show the player what’s in the room, so expect to have your health wiped out a few times when being attack by enemies you can’t see. It’s a known issue, and one I encountered all those years ago, so it’s disappointing that it hasn’t been looked at.[drop]I’m also not a fan of the new touchscreen first person view. By tapping the screen you automatically go into first person view, meaning you can either survey the area in more detail, or fire your bow. However, when wrestling with the camera controls, which are assigned to the right stick, the tip of my thumb would frequently brush the touchscreen, causing the game to switch views. Annoying when running through a level, extremely costly during a battle.
In terms of difficulty, an “easy” mode is available right from the start. Back in the days of Sigma, this wasn’t an option until you died several times on one level, and even then once selected you were made to feel like a right loser throughout the rest of the game! Played on normal, Sigma Plus seems a tad easier than Sigma. In fact, I only died three times from Chapter 1 to 4, and one of those times was because I accidently jumped to my death.
Don’t get me wrong though, the game isn’t a walk in the park and will certainly test your patience in places. I recommend getting insurance for your Vita, because there is a very real possibility of throwing it at the wall/TV/cat.
In terms of Vita specific content, as well as the touchscreen stuff already mentioned, the Ninja Trials have been upped from 56 to 76. The Ninja Trials is a mode separate from the main game, and it presents you with a number of challenges, such as “destroy 60 enemies in five minutes”. Don’t expect to ace it without some serious effort. Visually, despite being as old as the hills, the game fairs well. It doesn’t look particularly good in the screenshots, but on the Vita’s gorgeous screen the character models are nicely detailed, with the cutscenes just as good as ever. The only downside is the environments are a bit on the sparse side.
- Wonderful fighting system
- A good choice of weaponry
- A good amount of content
- Character models look great
- The Ninpo activation using the touchpad works well
- The camera is truly dreadful
- In places the difficulty can feel cheap
- Sparse environments
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a great game, despite the camera doing its best to spoil the party. However, this version is hard to recommend to those who have already ploughed through Sigma; there’s nowhere near enough new content to warrant that. If you’re new to the franchise and fancy a challenge, this will be right up your street.