Get Ready to Flip Out! – Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.
Have you been finding that games are too easy? Can you run through an average hack n’ slash title in no time flat? Do you just want a game to slap you around and insult your ability? If you answered yes to any of these questions and own a PlayStation Vita, then Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus might just be your next purchase. While this remake of the 2004 game may have been hiding in the shadows of other big-name launch titles, it has been sharpening its blade in anticipation, waiting to hack away at your self-esteem.
If you’ve yet to play through one (either the original Ninja Gaiden or one of its many other remakes) the game follows the story of young ninja Ryu Hayabusa and his quest for vengeance. While visiting his uncle Murai, Ryu’s village is attacked and destroyed by the greater fiend Doku, who seeks a powerful and evil weapon called the Dark Dragon Blade. After killing the shrine maiden Kureha and taking the sword, Doku kills Ryu and sets off into the night.
However, death was not the destiny of the young ninja, as he is resurrected by his family’s spirit animal: a falcon. Ryu then embarks on a journey for revenge, and to reseal the evil sword. Not everything is as it seems though, and many gamers will eventually wonder who the real culprit behind the attack was. While it may be an older tale, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus’ story still holds up pretty well in this day and age, considering this is the third remake of the game. Whether you’re a first time player or a returning veteran, you’re sure to enjoy watching the events of the title unfold before you.
In terms of gameplay, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus really isn’t all that different from other hack n’ slash titles out there. Players are able to string together lavish, fast-paced combos using two buttons: one for light/quick hits, and the other for hard/slow attacks. The style and power behind your assaults are based on which weapon you currently wield, and many different types are available, including your basic sword, dual katanas, a staff, long swords, and nunchaku. Every weapon has its own combo style, strengths, and weaknesses, and more attack strings are unlocked as they are improved at the blacksmiths’ shop.
However, Ryu is capable of much more than simply hacking away; he is a ninja after all. Gamers can use his agility to run across or flip off of walls, hop across water, dodge around enemies, and block most attacks. Mixing these ninja skills with offensive strikes results in crazy, fast-paced action scenes, that keep all characters in the brawl moving and dodging.
Our young hero has a wide array of projectiles at his disposal as well, which players can use to add a little spice to their attack strategy. Starting only with basic shurikens, Ryu eventually gathers tools like bows, explosive throwing knives, and a spear gun. While these weapons won’t be delivering many killing blows, their addition enables to player to always remain on the offensive, which is key to a quick victory.
To top off combat, there are two other abilities for gamers to use to bring death to their foes: the Ultimate Technique and Ninpo. The dull named former of the two is a powerful attack the player must charge up before unleashing. While it may leave Ryu vulnerable for a few seconds, the damage possible is absolutely devastating. When landed, a violent and powerful strike or combo is delivered which tears the enemy apart. Ninpo, on the other hand, is Ryu’s form of magic. Using these powers, he may summon things like a shield of fireballs, a chilly snowstorm, or a blast of lightning strikes. However, players can only use Ninpo so many times before needing to recharge, so the ability should be used sparingly. Knowing where and when to use these skills will be crucial, as wasting them or leaving yourself open too long will lead to a lot of pain.
Everything in gameplay makes for some amazing action scenes that should otherwise be a blast, but something players will note very early in is just how freaking hard the title is. While slightly lenient at first during tutorials, enemies will quickly eat the gamer alive for the slightest flaw in their attack/defense strategy. Don’t get the wrong idea though, the game is beatable, it just simply demands exceptional skill and perseverance – even on easier difficulties. This is something the series is known for, however, and the game has been designed around this difficulty. If you’ve got the chops and patience to ninja-flip your way through the game, you’re going to feel a massive sense of accomplishment.
For us mere mortals, there are some options to make play a little less painful. For newer players (or those who know what’s in store, and don’t wish to be beat down and spit on constantly) there is Hero Mode. This setting not only dumbs down enemy AI a fair bit, but when Ryu loses a certain amount of health he enters an enhanced state. Here, he automatically blocks all attacks and can use as much Ninpo skills as he sees fit, making gamers near invincible. This form only lasts for a short time though, so death is still possible if you don’t heal quickly enough.
If you’ve decided to actually attempt the game on normal settings, and are finding yourself dying constantly, the title gives you the option to switch to the otherwise unavailable easy difficulty. At this point, Ninja Gaiden will still step on the player, though considerably less-so, and gamers should be able to get through the game without the stigma of needing Hero Mode.
Of course, Ninja Gaiden wouldn’t be a decent Vita title if it didn’t make use of the system’s special features. When the gamer wishes to use the bow, he has the option of tapping the front screen to enter first-person mode. From here, aiming can be done using the gyro controls, with players able to touch the specific spot they want to shoot on screen. Using this input method is incredibly simple, and is actually easier to snap to a target quickly compared to using thumbsticks (which players can use instead should they prefer it).
While using Ninpo, players take part in a brief mini-game to power up the ability using the rear pad. Tasks can range from rapidly tapping one spot, hitting specific areas all around the pad, or dragging a symbol across the screen to a certain area. Regardless of your task, the faster you accomplish it the more powerful the skill becomes. Both these features make NG feel right at home on the Vita, and are great implementations of the system’s unique aspects.
Should you grow tired of the main story after you finish it (or get sick of being whipped across the room) there are a series of smaller missions to undertake, called the Ninja Trials. In these tests, players are tasked with simple goals like killing everything in sight, beating a set amount of foes in a certain timeframe, or battling a boss from the storyline. Each task has five sub-trials within it, along with their own difficulty; the farther you get, the harder they become, making them a great challenge to overcome and a good way to add some replayability to the title.
Moving on from gameplay to graphics, NG sports some pretty nice visuals. What’s most surprising is animation, which is incredibly smooth for a remake. Ryu’s movements are captured fluidly and without error, making the face-paced combat a spectacle to behold. Also worth note is the lack of texture-pop in environments and character, or frame-rate loss across the entire game. Add in some simply beautiful CG cutscene work, and you’ve got a visually splendid title that your eyes are going to thank you for.
One issue does present itself, however, and it’s down to movement. Sometimes Ryu doesn’t exactly follow movement command properly, and while the gamer may have their thumbstick at hard-left, the character won’t turn nearly as fast as he should, or simply not turning at all after a point. This causes for some jittery movement, and frustrating navigation. While it’s obvious that momentum needs to be overcome, Ryu just doesn’t seem to want to go where you direct him at times, and thanks to the brutal nature of the game’s difficulty players will curse when this issue gets them killed yet again.
If there is anywhere that’s hit-and-miss with NG though, it’s the audio. The title’s voice cast is neither spectacular nor terrible, delivering an unmemorable experience. There is also apparently a bit of confusion on how to pronounce “Ryu”, with each character saying it his/her own way (including with a silent D: “ree-do”). While this bland, vanilla performance doesn’t necessarily take away from the title’s quality, it definitely doesn’t add to it either.
Thankfully, the same cannot be said for the soundtrack, which delivers in strides. Tracks in the title rely heavily on the percussion sections, namely with larger taiko drums and auxiliary sounds like cymbals and chimes. On top of this rhythmic foundation are instrumental riffs as opposed to straight melodies, which are usually covered by strings, wooden flutes, or other oriental sounding instruments. Overall, the score has a great suspenseful, eastern sound to it, and while it may not have you humming along, it will definitely set the mood.
Should you pick up your sword and actually come out of this alive, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a fantastic addition to your Vita library. Although it may ask too much of some players, it still sports a lot of content and some fun (if not stupidly difficult) gameplay. Add in great graphics and a nice soundtrack, and you’ve got a title you’ll wonder why you’ve missed. Just be careful though, it will take your head off if you let your guard down!
Final Score 4.5 / 5.0 and a request to stop being such a bully.
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