Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Reader Review
Although I reviewed the 360 version of Ninja Gaiden II a 6/10 as a piece of gaming design, from a personal stand-point I actually enjoyed the game a lot. Obviously it lacked the greatest and well developed elements of Ninja Gaiden and NG: Black, and somehow managed to be broken mess instead, but it still ultimately offered one of the most deep, enjoyable and stylish action gaming experiences to be had in modern gaming.
I'm not quite sure why Team Ninja went so wrong on the 360 version, I mean, I know not all sequels are up-to everyone's expectations, but it's almost as-though the developers deliberately tried to mess things up. But let's not dwell on it too much, my original Ninja Gaiden II review is available on the website somewhere, so check that for full details. Anyway, moving onwards, we're back in the insane world of ninjas, fiends and ladies with large boobs with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on the PS3 - another stab for Team Ninja.
Return to Sky City Tokyo
With Sigma 2 comes a new perspective, since the lead designer (Tomonobu Itagaki) from previous games has since left Team Ninja, and the new guy (Yosuke Hayashi) has decided that things - sensibly, I might add - need altering. Gone are the ridiculous amount of enemies on-screen at once, over-the-top gore, and sections of the game that really don't do anyone any favours (more specifically, underwater sections and an encounter with a giant worm that is best forgotten by everyone involved). With the removal of enemies and gore comes a smoother experience, since the framerate is now stable enough that the game can be comfortably be played in 1080p for the most part (where-as I remember having to set my console to 720p on the 360 to get the game to run semi-decently).
The visuals are slighter sharper, too, though I still stand by my original opinion that the game doesn't shine as a memorable visual experience for current technology. The art-style is nice though, with enemies and bosses looking unique, and environments that offer plenty of variation (Tokyo, New York and Venice are particularly nice, while some of the later levels alter bizarrely in design, but in a good way). The game is, overall, technically more proficient than that of the 360 effort; the reduction in tearing, smoother framerate and slightly sharper look are a sign of improved design.
The core-gameplay, or, more specifically, the combat remain mostly unchanged, fortunately. Where-as God of War may have the more admirable plot and setting, or Devil May Cry offers more glamorous characters, Ninja Gaiden still manages to be the most skill-reliant, deep, challenging and rewarding hack 'n' slash experience of modern gaming. Where other games will offer new weapons as a short-lived novelty, every weapon available in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 offers something new while allowing a vast amount of moves and techniques. It's considered a sign of good skill to master each weapon, since it's more a case of learning to use a weapon, rather than switch to it and hammer a few buttons. Indeed, approaching Sigma 2 as a button basher is not wise, since learning when to attack, link combos, pull off powerful techniques, block, dodge and counter are all basic requirements to succeed at the game. It's fair to say the Ninja Gaiden series shares more in common with the likes of Street Figther or Virtua Figther, in regards to combat, than its action game competition.
However, for the very reason that the game almost demands effort it subsequently gains equal amounts of praise and criticism. I personally applaud the current rarity in a game taunting me to get better to succeed, as opposed to being hand-held and patronised, but it seems Team Ninja ultimately gave in to whiners and scaled two difficulty modes to better accommodate people who may have found the original games, or even the 360 version too hard. To be fair, NG2 on the 360 did push things too far - while the original Ninja Gaiden managed to stay fair (you die and its your own fault; not the game's), it wasn't uncommon to die due to a laughable amount of explosive shurikens ending up in your spine (and thrown at you by off-screen enemies, no less). Indeed, there was even a boss that would kill you on its death if you didn't press block in time; that's not clever design, that's just downright ridiculous. Sigma 2 massively reduces the unfair methods used by most standard enemies (explosive shuriken spammage is no more) while far fewer bosses are able to overwhelm you before you even know what's going on. The game is a lot more comfortable on the two default difficulties to the extent that new players shouldn't feel so hated anymore, while experienced players will still find plenty of challenge in the harder modes. That said, don't expect the game to be completely fixed - there are still bosses that are unfair (vampire chick Elizabet can jump out of any attack and be immune to most damage when the situation suits), that explosive giant armadillo is still there, and there's no-doubt countless small areas in combat where common foes take an unfair advantage (and, as ever, the camera is no use at all).
Wiggle the controller!
Along with one new weapon, and some welcome tweaks/fixes, Sigma 2 also brings with it three new chapters that extend the story mode. Each of these chapters offers you the chance to play as Rachel from Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1, Ayane from Dead or Alive, and Momiji from the DS Ninja Gaiden. These aren't completely new levels, but rather re-visits to places Ryu Hayabusa has already sliced through and so the experience isn't exactly fresh despite playing someone new. Rachel is the most well rounded of the three, Ayane is terrible, and Momiji is somewhere in-between, and although I don't mind using Rachel so much, Sigma 2 would still be enjoyable enough without these add-ons.
The appearance of these three ladies isn't restricted to the somewhat dull extra chapters, though, since they can also be used in Sigma 2's other new feature - Team Missions. These missions play out similarly to those available in Ninja Gaiden: Black and the arena-like fights in NG2 on the 360, and later in download content (it's worth noting that the aforementioned arena arena fights have been completely removed from Sigma 2's story mode). There's five sections of missions to attempt, with each section having different difficulties. You can choose to play these missions by yourself with AI help, or online via PSN. For the first three sections of missions the AI is competent enough, but beyond that it is entirely impossible to complete much more missions without online help - I'm not sure if that's a flaw, since the missions are designed with human co-op in mind, but not being able to complete each mission offline will cause some to be annoyed, no doubt.
My experience of Sigma 2 online leaves an unbalanced picture, since at times the lag would make the game run in almost slow-motion, while other times the latency wasn't too far off what I would expect when I play offline. The whole integration of online isn't handled masterfully and the game is still clearly better suited to single player focus, however, some of the most difficult missions require team-work akin to what one would expect from a 25-man hard-mode raid in World of Warcraft, and this is just for 2 people. As of writing there are missions posted on the scoreboards that less than 100 people have beaten, which is both impressive and ridiculous at the same time.
The story and characters in Sigma 2 are ridiculous too, but I'm sure that's part of the appeal. The plot remains unchanged from the 360 version (apart from the three extra chapters, but there's not much going on there either) - some supposed CIA chick ("supposed" since she's wearing a latex black outfit, unless that's the new get-up for undercover guys, I dunno) wants to find Ryu and tell him that an Archfiend is going to come and kill everyone, so Ryu runs around the globe killing monsters and bumping into a ninja called Genshin about 27 times before finally taking the fight to the biggest and most powerful monster the world has ever seen. That probably sounds like I'm over-simplifying, but what I've just wrote is almost exactly the entire plot in as much detail as you can get. However, the story never was the draw here, so criticising it would be to miss the point completely, although it's amusing to wonder whether Team Ninja actually take their story-telling seriously, or if they're - hopefully - intending for its tongue-in-cheek demeanour.
The music and sound-effects are mostly above-average, with only a few tunes sticking out in my head. Mind you, the voice acting is surprisingly good despite the fact that the characters are talking complete rubbish. I guess all that matters, though, is that the game ultimately sounds cool when you cut someone's head off with your Dragon Sword, or when you Izuna Drop a fiend into the abyss.
It's probably a lot more accurate to call Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - Ninja Gaiden 2 'Fixed', since that's essentially what it is. I mean, yeah, there's still some broken boss encounters, a few glitches, a lack of general polish here and there, but compared to the 360 version Team Ninja have managed to scale, balance and mend a lot of the bad stuff. Ryu Hayabusa can cut through Spider Ninjas smoothly, swim through water without having to shoot a lever-rotated cannon for 10 minutes, and take down the Archfiend without putting the player through 10 hours of frustration.
If the countless fixes alone aren't enough to convince 360 Ninja Gaiden II owners (and really, it should be), then new enemies, a few new bosses, a new weapon, new missions, new costumes, and improved visuals should be ample justification. And for players whom the world of ninja fighting seemed too daunting - know that Sigma 2 is the most approachable Ninja Gaiden on a console yet.
I'm surprised I'm not in more shock over the fact that Team Ninja managed to take the 6/10 effort of the original NGII, and make it into what it is now. It's still by no means near what was achieved in the fantastic Ninja Gaiden: Black, but heck, at least it's back in the same ball-park now.
Maybe I'm not yet in shock because I'm still trying to get over the fact that I killed the Statue of Liberty...
8 / 10