Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus Review: Closing the book on Team Ninja’s darkest chapter

ninja gaiden sigma 2 review

Ninja Gaiden 2 will forever be Team Ninja’s albatross. It’s the game that halted the franchise’s incredible momentum that spanned four original games and an almost equal number of modified iterations of those games between 2000 and 2005. Tomonobu Itagaki’s group of funny, pervy game makers stumbled onto something truly special when they made Dead Or Alive 2 for the Dreamcast, and they polished their talent for fluid animation and thick, physical video game martial arts to near perfection with 2004’s Ninja Gaiden. Something broke between that game and Ninja Gaiden 2 though, and you can see how Team Ninja was set adrift after finishing it. It’s a listless, muddled game that reflects the turmoil that nearly broke the band up for good

Always refining its work—only a few of the games in its catalogue haven’t been remade or repurposed in some way—Team Ninja Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus (or Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2+ if you prefer) for PS Vita is its second attempt to make Ninja Gaiden 2 the game it might have been. It’s not as dramatic a remake as Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on PlayStation 3, nor as daring and comprehensive as Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge on Wii U. But while it struggles under the technological limitations of the Vita itself, it’s an admirable work by director Yosuke Hayashi, even though the inherent flaws of the original still hold the game back.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 review 3

Are They Making Fun Of Ninjas?

Ninja Gaiden for Xbox was always a weird game, but its relative quiet gave it an air of mystery that bellied its silly story of ninja families and demon lords. Dialogue scenes were infrequent so when something as ridiculous as lead character Ryu Hayabusa riding a gondola onto a giant blimp to fight a morbidly obese cyborg happened, you just kind of took it in stride. Ninja Gaiden 2, unfortunately, throws that balance out of whack. From the start, there’s a greater emphasis on story, with ridiculous anime bad guys aplenty posturing in front of Ryu. Evil spider ninjas are trying to resurrect the Archfiend, the big king of demons, and doing so involves tearing about the Dragon Ninja clan Ryu belongs to. It’s personal too, and the game culminates with Ryu alongside his lady pals, like demon hunter Rachel and Dead or Alive’s Ayane, descending into the underworld to save Ryu’s CIA girlfriend.

It’s aggressively silly. The first game mitigated that silliness by not explaining itself, but the characters don’t keep their traps shut for too long in Sigma 2+. Take the Greater Fiends Ryu throws down with, like Lightning god Alexei and werewolf-Incredible-Hulk-hybrid Volf. These guys need to boast about their crazy demon lives before getting to the fisticuffs. If Alexei just sat on top of the Statue of Liberty in New York looking scary, it might be more intimidating, but instead he drones on and on before beating down Ryu. Sigma 2+’s extra scenarios that let you play as Rachel, Momiji, and Ayane actually do a good job of keeping things to the point.

Sigma 2+ also doesn’t remember how silly it can be. In the original Ninja Gaiden, there’s a scene where Ryu is trying to break into a control room, and the badly broken window is duct taped together. Examining it brings up the message, “Are they making fun of ninjas?” It’s a moment of humor, the sort that’s especially frequent in the Dead or Alive games, that reminds the player to not take the game too seriously. Sigma 2+ is painfully serious and it can make the game a slog. It’s amazing that a game that forces you to fight a possessed Statue of Liberty and sword-wielding dogs is too somber.

ninja gaiden sigma 2 review 1 

Razor’s Edge

Heavy handedness isn’t the only thing that hampers Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2+. The game’s levels are simply too long. The original Ninja Gaiden had a fair number of adventure elements. Sometimes Ryu needed to find a key for a door, and so the levels would have him circling back to locations he’d already visited. As a result, the stages were more contained, like loops. In Ninja Gaiden 2, Team Ninja opted instead for wholly linear levels that send you down a straight path, tackling scripted encounters as you go and searching for hidden items in the corners of each section. Instead of making for a more exciting, roller coaster of a game, the levels are drab and stretched too thin. What’s more, it repeats itself incessantly, forcing you through identical looking stages and boss fights again and again.

There are some grand scenes, especially in the middle of the game when Ryu scales the inside of a giant clock tower, but that’s a few minutes out of a level through dull city streets that lasts around half an hour. Had Team Ninja spent time editing these levels, slicing off the fat, the game would be as nimble as its lead character. Again, the added levels with the female stars do a good job of showing what could have been had Hayashi directed the game in the first place.

The combat is proof of the game’s potential. Even in its first release, the flow of fighting Gaiden 2’s monsters and ninjas with Ryu’s expansive arsenal is a velvety pleasure. No other character, not Kratos, Dante, or Bayonetta, moves quite like Ryu and his friends. Sigma 2+’s normal difficulty mode provides a perfect equilibrium between challenge and accessibility too, further improving on the balance seen in the original version of Sigma 2. The fighting just plain feels good. Pulling off a huge combo with Rachel’s ridiculously large hammer or Ryu’s razor flails comes close to giving the game that good feeling of trashy, pulpy action inherent in Team Ninja’s best work. The other parts of the game, like its story and its levels, don’t support the combat though, and combat alone is just not enough to carry the game.

Ninja Gaiden 2 review

Vita-lity 

There are two Vita specific modes Team Ninja built into this version. The Ninja Race time attacks, where you have to blitz through portions of levels on a time limit killing enemies as fast as possible to keep the clock running, is an entertaining diversion for obsessives, but not a huge lure on its own. The game’s Tag Battles, however, are more special. Tag Battle is Sigma 2+’s version of horde mode, throwing you into fights against waves of enemies in closed arenas taken from the game’s full levels. The treat is that you get to pick two characters from the roster, letting you trade between them on the fly. Being able to fire up a fast fight with Rachel and Momiji for five minutes is an instant, if somewhat empty, gratification. Team Ninja could sell this mode on its own as a budget downloadable and have something pretty great.

By comparison, Tag Battle demonstrates one of the big drawbacks of Sigma 2+. In order to get the combat as smooth as possible, the game’s visuals often take a hit, becoming blurry and indistinct as though the screen is covered in Vaseline. It’s especially noticeable when the screen is full of highly detailed characters in Tag Battles, but it happens regularly in the main game too. Making the sacrifice for the combat was the right call, but the ugliness of these moments is hard to ignore.

ninja-gaiden2-game-score-graphic

Conclusion

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2+ is the closest Team Ninja can come to making Ninja Gaiden 2 a good game. It plays very well, and the game shines in its most inspired moments, but nothing changes the fact that Ninja Gaiden 2 wasn’t a good game to start with. In the five years since its first go around on Xbox 360, Team Ninja has had a hard recovery. The excellent Dead or Alive 5 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge show that the developer has finally found its feet again. Here’s hoping that with Sigma 2+ behind them, they can let go of the past and forge a new future for themselves free of old failures.

Score: 6 out of 10

(This game was reviewed on the PS Vita using a code provided by the publisher)

Product Review

Anybody seen my grenades? ‘Battlefield V’ shows up late and unprepared

Battlefield V’s War Stories give us a new perspective on World War II, but the game’s lack of polish across both its campaign and multiplayer modes are almost impossible to ignore.
Gaming

What games were nominated for the The Game Awards 2018? Find out here

The Game Awards returns to Los Angeles for its fifth show this December. Here is everything we know about the event, including its location, where you can watch it, and games that were nominated.
Gaming

Feeling nostalgic? Here are the 25 best Sega Genesis games

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.
Deals

The best cheap-but-awesome PS4 game deals under $20

The PlayStation 4 has hit its stride in recent years and is now more affordable than ever. If you have a PS4 or are thinking of buying one, we’ve collected some must-have games. The best part? Each of these is just $20 or less.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.
Gaming

‘Final Fantasy XV’ mod remembers the RPG’s canceled DLC and features

A Final Fantasy XV mod pays homage to the content canceled by Square Enix. Episodes Aranea, Luna, and Noctis will no longer happen, while the promised level-building tool and Mod Organizer improvements for the PC version were also shelved.
Gaming

Owners of ROM sites ordered to pay Nintendo more than $12 million

An federal court judge in Arizona has awarded Nintendo more than $12 million in damages in its lawsuit with the owners of two popular ROM websites. The sites must also be transferred to Nintendo's control.
Gaming

‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ parachutes onto PlayStation 4 on December 7

Following months of speculation, PUBG Corp. has announced that PUBG is coming to PS4 on December 7. The PS4 version includes all three maps and major features, and you can get some PlayStation-themed apparel items by pre-ordering.
Gaming

Struggling to survive 'Battlefield 5?' Our boot camp will keep you in the fight

Battlefield V's multiplayer component can be overwhelming, but you can succeed against the enemy with a little help. These are the tips and tricks you need to know to win in Battlefield V.
Gaming

How to Install an SSD in a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro

SSDs are much faster than mechanical hard drives, which is what the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro come with. Here, we show you how to replace it with an SSD, which will allow you to boot to the OS faster and load games quicker.
Gaming

Faction-based PvP, new Vault openings coming to ‘Fallout 76’ after launch

Bethesda is already hard at work on post-launch content for Fallout 76, which launches November 14 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Faction-based PvP is in the works, and new vaults will open over time.
Gaming

Everything we know about 'Anthem', including new details on Javelin classes

BioWare announced an upcoming action role-playing game called 'Anthem' at EA Play 2017. Here's everything we know about the game so far, including gameplay, DLC, and when you'll be able to play it.
Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.