Action Review

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 – Review

The first Ninja Gaiden, whether that be base, Black, or Sigma, is one of the all-time greats. Stellar (for the time) visuals, unrivaled gameplay, and chock full of ninja goodness. The sequel certainly had a lot to live up to. Whilst the original’s various editions largely kept the core game intact, the same cannot be said for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which makes sweeping alterations – essentially making this a different game. But is this “definitive” version of Ninja Gaiden 2, tarted up with HD niceness, actually worth playing?

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - Ninja vs Statue

Guess Who’s Back?

As is to be expected, Ryu is back at it again, only this time, it’s personal. Well, more personal than last time. Sort of. Whilst wandering around a neo-futuristic Asian metropolis, his long-time friend and shopkeeper, Muramasa, comes under threat by some wily Spider Clan ninjas. Ryu pops in, pops off some limbs, and heads off to solve a mystery. One that, much like the first game is nonsensically over the top. His Dad’s involved, and there’s a handy prequel comic that explains why everything is going down the way it is. With that said, none of it really matters. It’s essentially set dressing for the action.

What does matter, naturally, is the combat. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 makes some wonderful changes to the game’s core mechanics that build upon the foundation set by its older brother. Ryu’s combos are flashier than before, with his light attack spam going from a three-hit combo to a much more satisfying five-hit one. In addition, his base move set has been radically expanded to include most, if not all, of his advanced techniques from Ninja Gaiden 1. This makes the starting chapters feel like a continuation of the original, as opposed to a Metroid-esque soft reset.

Ninpo and alternate weapons also make their return. Ninpo remains mostly unchanged, granting Ryo temporary invulnerability and dishing out massive AOE damage, whilst weapons have undergone quite the upgrade. The first game had loads of weapons, but many were just reskins. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 cuts out all of the fluff and replaces it with a selection of tools that all feel unique and powerful. Whether you are crushing skulls with the Lunar Staff or eviscerating enemies with the Talons, there is plenty of depth and fun to be had. The game even has a quick-select menu, allowing you to change weapons and Ninpo on the fly. Bow combat has also seen changes, coming with a degree to auto-targeting and the ability to move. You can also have both shurikens and bow equipped at the same time. These are all welcome additions.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - Cleavage Shot

Upping The Ante

Everything about Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is trying to one-up the game that came before it. There are more enemies on screen, and those enemies are much more aggressive than before. The game starts with an enemy literally swinging at you, and there is little downtime from that moment, to the end. Enemy variety is higher, with basic Ninja packing different weapons, as well as more demon varieties and encounters in general. Stages are also longer and jam-packed with encounters from start to finish.

This philosophy is exemplified with the addition of the Obliteration system. As Ryu damages his enemies, there is a chance a well-placed blow will lop off a limb or two. Slightly dismembered enemies can be instantly finished off by slapping the heavy attack button.

This system is not only visually stunning as some of the best animations in the game take place during these finishing moves, but they also grant Ryu invincibility frames. This gives the player a brief moment of rest. The most interesting aspect of this technique, however, is how dangerous enemies become if you don’t finish them off swiftly. Enemies enter a desperation state which typically results in a grappling attack. A Ninja, for example, will flat out suicide bomb you for massive damage. Target priority was always a key component of Ninja Gaiden’s core philosophy, but now it is even more so, and it’s awesome.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 also dials the insanity to roughly 13. Ryu can go from killing ninjas to demons to puppies to the Statue of Liberty, before taking a stroll through Venice and accidentally bumping into fricken werewolves. All without breaking a sweat and only the faintest narrative reasoning behind it. Unfortunately, this excess comes at a price, which is the level design. The game is a totally linear progression of mostly unrelated levels. There is no interconnectivity like in the first game, although each level does have its fair share of hidden tidbits. This also means there is less platforming, relegating most of Ryu’s acrobatics to combat.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - Combat

Here Come The Negatives…

Bosses are also pretty damn pants – again. Sure fighting the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Buddha form is visually interesting, as is krumping a pair of Tengu or a scythe-wielding Lycan, but mechanically, they don’t feel great. Once again, the combat in Ninja Gaiden shines in group encounters, and it struggles to find a balance in a one-on-one scenario. This is especially true against any humanoid, as these just boil down to blocking and dodging a basic attack string before slapping a couple of times and retreating. I found them boring and tedious.

That’s not all, however. Like Sigma 1, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has pacing issues. This is specific to the Sigma version of the game as well. Once again, Ryu is not the only playable character, and his levels are interrupted by mechanically inferior side characters. Heck, even their levels are worse. One of them is literally 90% elevator sequence, which was a total drag and did nothing but pull the experience down. If these were optional, then the game would be much better for it.

Sigma 2 also introduces some incredibly questionable alterations to the original that fundamentally changes how the game was meant to be played. Whole levels have been removed, bosses have been added or changed, and the enemy count has been drastically reduced. The base game was famous for having a ludicrous number of enemies on screen, ramping up the difficulty and visual spectacle. This change is very noticeable to anyone who has played the Xbox 360 original, and the game is worse for it.

Archery

The Great Depression

In addition, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 butchers the economy system that made Sigma 1 so damn good. Once again enemies drop essence that provides health and money. These can be absorbed to perform Ryu’s Ultimate Technique. There is nothing to spend your money on, however. Sigma 2 removes the option to purchase upgrades for your weapons and instead drip feeds you them automatically. This in turn means the only things you can purchase are healing items. This change takes away a layer of strategy from the core combat as there is no reason not to gamble the essence on an Ultimate Technique.

This also impacts the health economy. Because you can just purchase healing items without needing to worry about future costs, brute-forcing your way through the game is significantly easier. It also diminishes the value of healing essence, once again, tipping combat scales towards Ultimate Technique spam. A final nail in this coffin is the damage nerf enemies have undergone. Ryu is much hardier in Sigma 2 than in any other version of Ninja Gaiden, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when taken into consideration with everything else that has been changed surrounding health, it devalues one of the core pillars of the experience.

Finally, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is censored. Heavily, heavily censored. The original on the XBox 360 was caked in blood, limbs, severed heads, and gore. It was everywhere. Obliteration techniques, as mechanically awesome as they are, were really just a way to shower the environments with viscera. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has blood, it has gore. It was just noticeably dialed back. This isn’t just in this release but on the PlayStation 3 before it, however, its removal makes the combat feel less impactful than the original release, making it less satisfying to play.

Not all of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2’s issues are linked to that pesky ‘Sigma’ subtitle. The game just runs like crap on Switch. Performance struggles to remain steady at any point, frequently going into slow motion if too many things are happening at once. For a game about high-speed action combat, this is a huge letdown. The game is also hideous to look at, although this is on a stage-by-stage basis. There are jagged edges on everything, which makes looking at the game incredibly difficult. It got so bad that in some stages I could barely tell what it was I was looking at. Between Ryu resembling an Atari 2600 reject, and the stage looking as if it had been put in a blender, I couldn’t help but think they upscaled the Vita port in some stages. Thankfully the sound design still holds up with macaroni levels of cheese in the voice acting, great music, and sound effects that sell the action – even if the visuals don’t. 

Grainy

Verdict

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is overburdened with issues. Between sweeping gameplay alterations and censorship, this is far from the best way to experience Ninja Gaiden 2. It’s basically its own game at this point. The Switch port, however, takes this one step further. Where you could still have fun with Sigma 2 as a remix of sorts, the Switch version looks and performs so badly during some levels, that any fun I had was swiftly erased from memory. 

WAIT FOR SALE ON NINJA GAIDEN SIGMA 2

Platforms: Steam (PC), PlayStation 4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch

Want to see our detailed reviews of Ninja Gaiden Sigma? Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge? Or how about our overview of the whole Master Collection?

Many thanks go to Koei Tecmo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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