Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

The kinder cut.

Perhaps it's the signature moments that separate great games from good. The classics are brave enough to linger over that single, defining action, while merely decent games let their competent mechanics blur together in a friendly muddle. That's why the killer bounce-and-rebound in Mario is a thousand times more satisfying than bottom-stomping baddies in a dozen other platformers, and why slicing enemies into chunks in Ninja Gaiden, screaming down out of the sky, dragon sword glinting in the neon and cherry blossom, is just more effective and exhilarating than chopping up chumps in other fighting games. Signature moments separate the great from the good, and Team Ninja's signature moments separate limbs from torsos and heads from necks at the same time. It's kind of beautiful, really.

This is dismembering to remember, then, and no one understands that better than the people who actually make the games. Brand expression goes deep, too: at a recent press event for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - PS3's inevitable rebalancing of last year's Ninja Gaiden II - every executive's name flashed up on the PowerPoint accompanied by a concise shriek of tempered blade over the sound system, suggesting, perhaps, that the role-call of mild-mannered corner-office types announcing the merger of Tecmo and Koei might possess secret double-dangerous ninja skills alongside MBAs from the world's finest business schools. It certainly added an air of unpredictable danger to the ensuing Q&A session.

Mostly, however, the Q&A was about what people can expect from the latest Sigma - what NGII has picked up or sacrificed in the transition between platforms and the space of a year's extra consideration. Those of a technical disposition will already be aware of the key differences, the trade-off between memory and vertex shaders which the shift to PS3 has brought about, while, on a more hyperbolic bent, Team Ninja itself is suggesting that this will be the culmination not just of the Ninja Gaiden series to this point, but all action games in general. That sounds lovely! But alongside the hype and the specs, there's a handful of more obvious differences too.

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Levels are still beautiful but empty: anything that moves, other than a particle effect, is probably going to do you harm, and some of the particle effects are a bit tricky too, actually.

Chief amongst them is the expanded cast, as Ryu Hayabusa is joined by a trio of new playable characters. Typically for Team Ninja, these characters are all ladies, and even more typically, they're the kind of ladies you rarely see when you're pottering about in Superdrug looking for eardrops. Ayane, the butterfly-bowed lilac death-doll from Dead or Alive, makes an appearance - a faster character for a game that was hardly slow in the first place, built for close-up knifings and blasts of knock-down spells. Backing her up is Momiji, first spotted in the DS's Dragon Sword, and a bit trickier to get to grips with initially, for us at least: a technically-skilled fighter with a much longer reach due to her mastery of the naginata.

Finally, just announced is Rachel, from the original Ninja Gaiden. She wasn't available in the demo, but apparently she wields an axe and a machinegun. Alongside offering a different approach to the combat, the new characters also have their own storylines - divergent rambles that fold in and out of Ryu's tale as a kind of sub-plot system, suggesting each narrative will probably have a handful of new areas sprinkled into the main campaign, and a few different cut-scenes.

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Blood no longer fills the air, but it still ends up on the streets. And on the tracks, according to Bob Dylan.

Sigma 2 also has new online features. The focus is on co-op, rather than versus modes, in keeping with the strengths of the series, but it's not full-on campaign multiplayer - at least not yet. Instead, two players will be able to join together to take on a series of challenge rooms, with online leaderboard support and four different difficulty levels, the hardest of which, if Team Ninja's staying true to sadistic form, will probably cut the controller out completely, fusing your television, lighting your house on fire, and framing you for a real-world murder.

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