Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is the most content-complete version of the game, for what it’s worth.
Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a bit of an amalgamation of ports. First came Ninja Gaiden II (Xbox 360) in 2008. Then, something that then-series producer Tomonobu Itagaki claimed would never happen, happened. The game was ported to PlayStation 3 in the form of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which apparently made Itagaki want to commit seppuku, and he left the company. I purchased and played through Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 when it released in 2009 on PS3, and it really felt like a more complete version of the game, despite a questionable decision to remove all the gore. Now we have a port of that port, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus – exclusive to PlayStation Vita – taking what was essentially an enhanced director’s cut of NG2 and re-integrating the dismemberment and blood.
All this tinkering around could spell disaster for a game, but luckily Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus remains a fun action title, even if its age is beginning to show a bit. Games have certainly evolved since the original’s 2008 debut, but Ryu Hayabusa’s tale of vengeance against the Black Spider ninja clan still packs plenty of fast and furious swordplay. However, drab environments, some framerate issues, and extremely linear maps that overstay their welcome hold the game back a bit.
Of course, no one expected the PlayStation Vita to pull off PlayStation 3-level visuals without a hitch, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus has a much-lower resolution and pared-down textures and models. Still, it looks pretty damned good when the action is happening. You’ll see lots of enemies running around on-screen, with limbs, plasma and Ninpo flying everywhere. Gigantic bosses fill the entirety of the screen. It all looks great on the Vita’s beautiful OLED screen, but once you’ve slaughtered everyone in the room, you’ll definitely notice how sparse the level design is. With Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus being the game’s third revision, one would hope such things would be addressed by now.
Having recently reviewed Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the similarities between the games are highlighted. Both games feature fast, fluid ninja swordplay mixing light and heavy attack buttons, involving quite literally slicing and dicing opponents. MGR managed to pack in some great features such as the parry and Blade Mode, and jumping into Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus after that experience definitely made me wish the developers had added some new combat features to freshen up the aging gameplay. While we’re on the subject of MGR, it should be noted that one of the reasons that game worked at all was that it never took itself too seriously. NGS2+, on the other hand, does just the opposite, with its ridiculous story and hammy dialogue often overshadowing the gameplay. The combat still holds up quite well, and I loved the game’s newly added levels starring the female characters where fighting is the main focus. The main game also does a great job of introducing new weapons and Ninpo abilities at a steady clip, helping to keep the gameplay somewhat fresh throughout.
While some may criticize Metal Gear Rising’s short length (most players completed the game in a brisk five hours), that game was action-packed from beginning to end; it was truly all killer, no filler. Once, again, in comparing the two titles, it’s obvious that Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus could have benefited from cutting off a substantial amount of fat. Some levels are stretched much too thin, with similar environments and re-used assets aplenty. Similarly, save points are still few and far between, making it difficult for Vita owners to play bite-size portions of the game and pick it back up later. Especially seeing as this reiteration is exclusive to a handheld gaming device, the developers really should have kept this in mind.
There are two Vita-exclusive modes built into Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus. The first is Ninja Race, a bit of a throwaway time challenge mode where killing enemies earns you extra time. Putting enemies down expediently is the order of the day here. Tag Battle mode, however, is much more fun. It’s a pared-down version of Sigma 2’s co-op mode, where you pick two characters and fight in a horde-type battle against an army of opponents, switching characters on the fly and using combined Ninpo attacks. It’s a fast and fun slice of gameplay, much more suited to a handheld than the main campaign.
During Tag Battles, the game’s tendency to drop the resolution to keep frame rate drops at bay is quite noticeable. Since the game has to render multiple highly-detailed character models alongside hordes of enemies, it’s forgivable, but the grainy, washed-out look that takes over makes the action a bit indecipherable.
Despite its shortcomings, there can be no doubt that Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is the most complete version of the game to date. Sure, the PlayStation 3 version was much prettier, but the difficulty was extremely unbalanced and it lacked the essential dismemberment component. This is a full console-quality game in the palm of your hands, something that the Vita has been short on as of late. With Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, Dead or Alive 5 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, Team Ninja feels like it’s on the right track again, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.