Review: Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is the sequel to Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, which hit the Vita right around this time last year. It is also a portable adaptation of this game, which is a PS3 port of Ninja Gaiden 2. Sigma 2 Plus is probably the better experience when compared to Sigma Plus, but this game rests on its laurels a bit and by its own merits isn’t a wonderful title. It also can’t hold a flame to the PS3 version of the game. Let’s talk more about this.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus draws all of its strength from the promise of being able to experience the fabulous Sigma 2 on the go. It does a decent enough job of delivering on this promise, but is bogged down by several issues and a gaping lack of new content. These things combined really drag the game down some, but like in all Ninja Gaiden games, there is still some bloody fun hacking and slashing to be done.
Visually, this game isn’t very impressive. I never expected it to look as good as Sigma 2, but in some spots the game looks very dated. The environments look pretty scaled back and some of the more distant structures like buildings look quite bland. Ryu himself and most of the enemies have been rendered with a greater level of polish though. Decapitating and dismembering enemies still looks as bloody and exciting as ever. The cutscenes still look great and the large scale bosses are translated over quite well too.
For the most part, the visual focus seems set squarely on Ryu and his foes, while the environments have a kind of blandness to them. I haven’t played several Vita games, but I get the feeling that an original game could muster more impressive environments. This isn’t a big deal since your focus will be on the action or task at hand most of the time anyways, but it really stands out after playing Sigma 2.
The music and sound effects have remained the same and are still pretty awesome. The “whoosh” of a limb or head sliding off of your enemy is as addictive as ever. I also enjoyed the up tempo music, which stays upbeat and exciting without always leaning on rock or metal hues, like action game soundtracks so frequently tend to. The voice acting isn’t particularly impressive and I can say without doubt that the lip-synching is worse here than it has ever been. Characters’ lips move multiple seconds before or after they’ve actually said anything and it’s almost comical.
There are no options to access Japanese voicing or even subtitles here, so it’s clear that not much focus was placed on narrative presentation here.
Speaking of narrative, the story of ninja, demons and the resurrection of the archfiend is still intact. It isn’t particularly deep and Ryu has about ten lines of dialogue throughout the entire game, but narrative was never the series’ strong point. All the hubbub about greater fiends and ninja factions makes way for some awesome cutscenes, but I wouldn’t say the game has good writing.
Marred visuals aside, the game-play is what takes the biggest hit from this Vita adaptation. Unlocking and upgrading the various weapons, devastating foes with dozens of flashy combos and using the izuna drop on everything is still fun, but technically the game suffers. When several enemies arrive on the screen at once or when there are several different things happening at once (which is often) the game suffers from a severe slowdown. There are even instances when everything comes to a halt – right in the middle of a heated battle – and the game loads.
That’s spontaneous instances of loading in the middle of battles. Very bad.
Everything on screen gets very fuzzy and blurry whenever Ryu does one his big ultimate techniques. I use ultimate techniques quite frequently, so this slowdown and blur haunted most of my game-play. You get the general idea that either the hardware here simply can’t handle this game or that the developers were lazy, careless and in a big hurry when they were porting it. If you can see past these very significant technical flaws, the fast action game-play can be a joy. Red blood and gore is back (unlike in Sigma 2) and Ryu hacks through everything with a nonchalant brutality that you can’t help but love.
Ninja Gaiden games tend to be very challenging, which causes frustration for a lot of players. However, you don’t want to put quite the strain on your $300 console as you would on one of your controllers once the game has pissed you off. I think Team Ninja knew this, so as a countermeasure the game’s difficulty level is much, much lower than it is in any Ninja Gaiden game I’ve played. I went in on normal mode to get back in the habit of things before upping the difficulty and I was amazed at how easy the game was.
Most of the enemies are still aggressive and clever, but they go down faster than ever before. Limbs fly off the enemies almost instantly, allowing you to spam the obliteration technique. The bosses especially are cake walks. They go down with so little effort that it’s crazy. I’m sure the difficulty ramps up on the harder settings, but please be aware that the “normal mode” is no longer the “hard mode”, it’s the “easy mode”.
The new additions to this game are the ninja race and tag missions modes. The tag missions themselves actually aren’t new, but the option to switch between the two fighters during the mission is. This mode grants you a distraction from the campaign and lets you fight with whichever character you want, but it loses its allure because the game-play itself is wrought with so many issues. The ninja race mode truly is new. In this mode your ninja of choice must make it to the end of stage in a certain amount of time. You can slow the timer by killing enemies, and the ultimate goal is to make through the stage in as little time as possible.
As the only true new mode, ninja race is a fun distraction for a couple of minutes, but the lack of a leaderboard means that you’re only repeatedly challenging yourself, which is only fun for a limited amount of time in this sort of game. Also, the game touts new “touch screen features”s, but in reality you can only navigate the menus and fire your projectiles with the touch screen. The menu selecting is nice, but the touch screen shooting actually doesn’t seem to work very well.
My biggest issues with this game aside from the technical issues are the lack of any substantial new content and the lack of any online functionality. In Sigma 2 you could go online and team up with other players to complete the tag missions, and that was a lot more fun than switching between characters to complete them alone. This feature was pretty much expected here, especially after all the online fun there was to be had in Ninja Gaiden 3. Unfortunately, you’ll be going it alone here. There’s also no leaderboard, which is terrible since you would have at least been motivated to outdo your friends on the races and tag missions.
Aside from cutting away all of the online content that Sigma 2 had, Sigma 2 Plus also offers almost no new content for players who’ve already played some form of Ninja Gaiden 2. The ninja races and handful of new costumes are nice but they’re kind of throwaway. As it stands, the only reason anyone who already played NG2 would get this is if they really wanted to play a totally inferior and technically flawed yet portable version of the game. If you’re looking for an action game on the Vita, the pickings are quite slim, and that makes this title a bit more attractive. It really seems like the game has staggering wasted potential, though.
At the end of the day, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus isn’t terrible. It’s offers a bloody, intense action experience that you can put in your pocket and take with you. For all the issues this port has, the source material is one of the finest action games ever released and it’s still very much enjoyable here even if it is mired by an array of issues. Yet, unfortunately, the game is plagued by a lack of new content, a lack of online functionality and some very noteworthy technical issues.
I can only truly recommend this game if you can’t play Ninja Gaiden 2 or Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 or if you must carry an inferior version of these games around with you. Either of those games would also cost less than Sigma 2 Plus today. As a portable version of this game, Sigma 2 Plus passes, but understand that it’s far from the best version of the game and it offers almost nothing new to those who’ve already enjoyed the source material.