Taking up the way of the ninja is to accept a life of constant challenge and sacrifice, as death dealing is a ninja’s foremost priority. While many will try, very few will ever hold the necessary skills it takes to walk this path alone. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus has slashed its way onto PlayStation Vita as a launch title and puts the skills of the ninja right into the palm of your hands, but staying true to its form, few will have what it takes to survive.
Back in 2004, Ninja Gaiden released on the Xbox and unleashed the famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa and his hardcore gameplay into the third dimension for the first time. Heralded as one of the best action titles of all time, it’s no surprise that the game has been revamped and remade several times over. While the game shows its age in a few areas, the intensity of the action-packed gameplay is wonderfully executed and is still as engaging today as it was back in 2004, making this a perfect entry for those who might’ve missed out on the deadly action throughout the years.
Near inhuman reflexes and impeccable timing are only the basics in a ninja’s skillset and Ryu performs these basic traits with ease. With death-defying speeds and an almost graceful style, he removes limbs like a hot knife through butter, quickly slicing and dicing through enemies exactly as he’s prompted with quick (precise) button presses. The fighting engine is as deep as the best fighting games on the market: delving deeply into combat manoeuvres available to gain the skills equivalent to a master ninja is an absolute necessity, because every single enemy encountered could very well be the last. Whether it’s a standard grunt, demon fiend or one of the massive bosses, the challenge is as high as Ryu’s Dragon Blade is sharp and only those who master his many skills will place his revenge where it’s due. Throughout the quest, you'll also acquire multiple weapons, skills and powers that grant Ryu god-like powers, and each weapon brings its own unique fighting style to master as well. From the up close and personal nunchaku to the slow swinging, but über powerful war hammer, the wide weapon and play style variety keeps the constant action from becoming stagnant, and the Trophy assembly ensures that each weapon is mastered by anyone attempting to acquire the game’s platinum Trophy. As the enemies grow ever stronger and your skills continually evolve, overcoming the seemingly innumerable impossible segments of the game is not only furiously fun in its intensity, but immensely rewarding as well.
Not to be a straight port of the PS3 game, Ninja Gaiden Sigma, there are a few Vita exclusives sheathed in with mixed results. Firing off Ninpo (magic) in the PS3 version required shaking the DualShock 3 controller furiously to build its strength. Thankfully, there’s no unnecessary shaking of the Vita console required – Vigoor forbid it should slip – replaced by quick touch sequences on the rear touch pad. Also, a quick tap on the touch screen will instantly snap you into first person mode for quick-touch projectile shots. While this may seem like an ingenious addition, often during combat the thumbs have a tendency to graze the screen, swapping the camera at the worst possible times. You can turn this option off via the main menu, though.
Sigma’s Mission Mode makes its return and this time around packs in even more trials put your skills to the ultimate test. These straightforward action segments stripped from the game are great way to land a quick ninja slashing fix when on-the-go and are a perfect fit on Vita. Lastly, Team Ninja’s controversial Hero Mode offers a significantly easier way to play through the game with auto-blocking and dodging when closing in on death's door, as well as offering unlimited ninpo use. Dropping the challenge that is the game’s backbone dulls the experience for those trained in the ninja arts and this mode should only be used by beginners.
The upgrade to HD in Sigma on PS3 was a visual tour de force and it’s even more so on Vita’s beautiful OLED screen. Ryu’s fluid attack animations are simply beautiful to behold in action and, when grasped in the palms of your hands, pack a new up close and personal punch. The lovely fiend hunter Rachael makes her return, with her Sigma-exclusive levels. These bring a different feel to the gameplay: she’s not nearly as nimble as Ryu and wields a massive war hammer that, while devastatingly powerful, is slow to land a hit. These stunningly beautiful levels are welcome additions that help build upon the back story, but most importantly, they never overstay their welcome.
A few low-resolution backdrops do appear here and there, but they’re easily overshadowed by the cut scenes that resonate off the screen brilliantly. While Sigma’s upgraded camera from the original Xbox release is present and correct, it’s still far from perfect and Ryu’s speeds can easily outmanoeuvre it, requiring a constant need for adjustment. Centring the camera is easily accomplished with the right shoulder button and it’s quite easy to adjust to, but it’d have been nice to see the main misstep of the title finally ironed out this go around.
The power of PlayStation Vita can put a home console gaming experience right into the palms of your hands and Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus brings the blazingly fast hardcore action that we’ve come to expect from the series onto Sony’s new portable powerhouse. Whether you’re new to the series or training for Ninja Gaiden III, NGSP challenges you to journey down the deadly path of the ninja.