The modern Ninja Gaiden series featured what were widely regarded to be some of the most difficult series around upon their original release. Of course, when first game came out for Xbox in 2004 and its enhanced Sigma edition for PS3 in 2007, the series predates and overlaps the earliest games in the Soulslike genre. The games found in Ninja Gaiden Master Collection have got a very different interpretation of high difficulty.
They’ve also got a different interpretation of what makes for a great PC port. Bringing together Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, it adds the three games to your Steam collection individually, each entry preceded by ‘[NINJA GAIDEN: Master Collection]’. If you’re strangely OK with seeing that in your Steam library, then that’s great, but it makes my skin itch.
More universally accepted as “not great for PC players” was the lack of in-game options for resolution and graphics. You can change the resolution, but this is done by going into the Properties section of the games and then entering some “720p”, “1080p” or “4K” into the Launch Options field. Even the way you enter and exit full-screen is only explained in the game’s Steam page details. I sure hope people buying the game spot them.
Right, with those two weird technical niggles out of the way, let’s actually talk about how the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection holds up as a series of games.
Hack, slash, blood spurt
Ninja Gaiden is to the Souls series what the hare is to the tortoise. You’re not going to be slowly considering your attacks and planning ahead here. Instead, you’re going to be twitching and reacting your way through wave after wave of enemies, trying to figure out if you’ve got enough time to hit the enemy in front of you before the ones behind you cut open your hamstrings.
While I’d say that most of the collection is fair with this, it doesn’t always feel like that when you’re being swarmed by enemy ninjas trying and are struggling to figure out when you can actually attack. There are also a lot of moments where you’ll be going around a corner before getting jumped by multiple opponents. Unlike Souls, you can’t hold a shield up to be cautious here, so you just have to be ready to react. The good news though, is that your character, Ryu Hayabusa, is still offering free decapitations and limb removals, and that does make the vast majority of the fights you get thrown into rather satisfying.
Ninjas, robots, and demons
The story of the series is absolutely absurd. While you start off trying to track down a demon and stop an evil sword from causing havoc, things quickly become intensely erratic when robots get involved and you end facing off against men with rocket launchers and spider-tanks. The chances are that you’re not here for a coherent time, but a good one, and the collection manages that.
However, while it is fun, each of the games does now show its age. Movement is a little bit clunky in places, and the camera angles, with their strange mix of both fixed views and skittish unfixed cameras, makes certain sections hard to parse. I know it’s something the developers are likely aware of too, because there’s a button you can press to help show you the correct path forwards.
The trilogy is fascinating to view in the context of how games have evolved since the first game debuted. On the one side of things you have the rise of PlatinumGames, picking up the mantle for the fast-paced action hack and slash gaming with the likes of Bayonetta and Nier: Automata, not to mention Capcom’s excellent Devil May Cry 5. It’s the Soulslike that has become synonymous with unforgivingly difficult challenges though, gamers now turning to Nioh 2 or Sekiro. Ninja Gaiden feels like a fork in the road between those paths.