This is a weird review to tackle, because by now this game has been around for eight long years and been re-released numerous times. The obvious thing to do would be to just focus on the Vita specific features of this latest packaging, but that’s pretty boring. I’ve never personally reviewed Ninja Gaiden, so I’m going to give this a solid review that will hopefully appeal to Vita owners who have (somehow) never actually played this game.
So let’s start with a bold statement: I think (the original) Ninja Gaiden deserves the title as one of the best action-adventure games to ever grace a console. It’s not perfect, and time has caused its flaws to be magnified, but the combat system is as tight as ever. Every sword fight is fast and intense, and every battle you participate in could be your last. You absolutely must master (at the very least) the basic techniques, since as you have probably heard, this game is notoriously difficult.
And it is difficult, especially by modern standards, but Ninja Gaiden’s difficulty is discussed much like Demon/Dark Souls’ difficulty: as an exercise in hyperbole. Like those games, Ninja Gaiden is significantly challenging, but with patience and experience the game can be bested. A quick tip: learn how to block and dodge. These combat techniques are non-negotiable.
The combat plays with precision and finesse, like it was stripped right out of a fighting game, but the platforming doesn’t follow suit. Sure, you can run along and flip off of walls like a true ninja, and it’s cool once you get the hang of it, but the movement is very sensitive, so oftentimes it’s easy to miss your mark. Luckily, that rarely leads to instant death, unlike the old school NES games (which ironically had arguably tighter platforming).
The story that unfolds is of Ryu Hayabusa from those very same NES games, whose ninja clan is mercilessly slaughtered by an evil spirit called Doku, who dresses in samurai armor and talks like Darth Vader (which is in fact awesome). Doku steals the Dark Dragon Blade, and murders Ryu with ease. And so his (and your own) tale of vengeance begins.
It’s all fairly cookie cutter stuff, only made slightly cooler by ninjas and swords. The voice acting falls flat and is fairly bad, and save one cool plot twist near the end, it’s all fluff. It is all forgivable though, as the story only exists to propel the action. This is a game that people fondly remember for its gameplay and difficulty, and hopefully not its story. That said, the plot is not the worse I have ever seen, by a longshot (and from what I have heard, it is way better than Ninja Gaiden III.)
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a linear game. Sure, you can explore formerly visited areas and search out some secrets, but you are mostly moving from point A to point B. During your travels, you will cut down all manner of man and demon in a variety of locations: a ninja village, a blimp, a bar, and a military base, to name a few. The variety works well for the story; the game is pretty long, and the diversity of locations makes you feel like your taking on a real journey.
The dragon sword is not the only weapon you will cut through your opposition with, as you will come to earn many new weapons and skills. In fact, the amount of weapons is impressive, and they mostly play differently, rather than just looking different. For example, the nunchaku are fast and relentless, but a giant sword carries the momentum of a small car. There’s something for everyone here, but if you’re like me, you’ll fall in love with the dual swords and never look back.
Speaking of “something for everyone”, since the release of Ninja Gaiden Sigma on the PS3 in 2007, you can play as the female warrior from the story, Rachel. She plays like a tank in contrast to the nimble Ryu, wielding a gigantic hammer that smashes it’s foes to putty. While I feel these segments are a nice break from Ryu’s story, they don’t really add anything (save a boss fight) and eventually, you just want to get back to what feels like the real game, because ultimately Ryu is more fun to control, as well as carries the weight of the story. Then again, perhaps this is just a result of my having played through the game before Rachel’s missions were included.
On the Vita, the game boasts a few new features, but they are all really just gimmicks. You can touch the screen to enter first-person view, and look around by moving the device, which is neat but entirely useless. However, when aiming a bow and arrow, you can fine tune your shot by moving the Vita slightly, until the target is lined up in your crosshairs. This was a great feature in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and its useful here.
When you activate your Ninpo magic to attack enemies, you can strengthen it with a minigame that requires you to touch certain areas of the rear touchpad. While it’s fun the first ten times, as you get deeper into the game, it just gets annoying.
Finally, the game has numerous bonus missions, where you are tasked with defeating a bunch of enemies in an arena, sometimes with a particular twist, like one-hit kills. These missions tend to be pretty addictive as they purely focus on the combat engine, and they become much more difficult than the main game. If you’re looking to get mileage out of your purchase, this is where it’s at.
I will say this; watching this game, once a full-fledged console adventure, run on the Vita, is nothing short of marvelous. When combined with the fact that this is a great classic that has aged fairly well, it’s a no-brainer if you’ve yet to play it. That being said, if you have played Ninja Gaiden before, it’s probably not worth it. This was my third time playing through Ryu’s vengeful tale, and although it was enjoyable enough, it felt like one dragon sword too many.