Despite being on its fourth release, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus still feels like a brand new game, one that is both fun to play and difficult to master. The Hero Mode may alarm purists, but there's no denying that it creates a wider audience.
- After eight years, the high-flying ninja action still entertains
- Hero Mode opens the game up for a wider audience
- Ninja Trials keeps it real for purists on the go with its challenging bite-sized missions
- Touch controls aren't implemented very well
- This is still a remake of a last-gen game no matter how you slice it
NInja Gaiden Sigma Plus Review:
Ninja Gaiden made its first bow in a 3D world back in 2004 as an Xbox exclusive. It was re-released twice, as Ninja Gaiden Black and later as the PlayStation 3-exclusive Ninja Gaiden Sigma. Now the series has gotten yet another re-release, as the PlayStation Vita launch title Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. Ridiculous naming conventions aside, the most amazing thing about Plus is that, even eight years later, it is still an absolute(ly frustrating) joy to play.
Fourth Verse, Same As The First
Let's first make one thing abundantly clear: the core game in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is unchanged from what it was back in 2004. You'll still follow the same path, find the same secrets, take on the same bosses and be frustrated by the same moments that you were back then. The difficulty is right where it should be, though Plus adds the same Hero Mode setting that we'll be seeing next month in Ninja Gaiden 3. More on that later.
Visually, Plus looks pretty much the same as Sigma did on the PS3. It's easy to see that this is a much older game that's received an HD makeover, but it's an undeniably solid makeover. You won't find much to complain about on the graphics front unless you're incredibly picky about your eye candy.
It helps that the controls remain just as tight and responsive as they've always been. It's fortunate that Sony never pushed for Team Ninja to develop a PSP version of the game. As good as the camera is about auto-centering itself, having dual analog sticks is a necessity for this game.
Teaching A Ninja Dog New Tricks
While the flow of the actual game is unchanged from beginning to end, Team Ninja did its best to take advantage of the Vita's unique features. Popping into a first-person view is a simple matter of tapping on the screen. Once you're in that first-person view, you can tilt the Vita left/right and forward/backward to adjust the camera. Alternatively, you can just move it around with the analog stuck.
If your bow is armed, you'll actually be locked into the first-person perspective until either an enemy hits you or you tap a small X icon in the lower right corner. You don't need to line up a target to shoot it with your bow; simply tap your target on the screen and that's where the arrow will go.
While this is a great concept in theory, it ends up not working very well in practice. Ninja Gaiden is such a timing-intensive game that fumbling with your Vita as you shift to a one-handed grip is generally not an option. It wastes precious seconds and, more often than not, you'll get hit before you can line up the desired target.
Making matters worse is an overly sensitive touch screen. Brushing it lightly with one of your fingers will drop you into that first-person perspective, and I found as I played that it frequently happened at inopportune moments. It's a cool feature, but it's best to just turn it off (which you can do in the options menu).
Just like Sigma before it, Plus allows players to charge up their Ninpo attacks for increased damage. On the PS3, that meant shaking your SIXAXIS controller. The Vita instead requires you to tap a set of markings using the rear touchpad; the symbols appear on the screen and you simply tap the related locations on the back of the device to further charge your attack.
While there's no Ninja Dog difficulty like there was in Black, Plus instead offers the easier Hero Mode, also featured in next month's Ninja Gaiden 3. Instead of giving Ryu easier opponents to face, the game will instead automatically block or dodge most normal attacks. You can activate this mode when you first start the game, but if you die enough in story mode, you'll eventually be prompted to switch at the Game Over screen.
Personally, I feel like Hero Mode robs Ninja Gaiden of the qualities that continue to give it such longevity. It's a challenging game, sure, but it's also a rewarding one. You hear the same compliments being paid to Demon's/Dark Souls: mastering the game's systems is immensely satisfying. It's not lousy controls that are beating you, just superior software. Hero Mode effectively strips some of that away. Good show to Team Ninja for including it, but avoid it for as long as you're able to.
Putting The Plus In Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus
If Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus amounted to everything described above, it would still be a launch title worth owning for your shiny, new Vita. There's more, however. In addition to the story, the game also includes an entirely new Ninja Trials mode.
Ninja Trials features 76 bite-sized missions that are designed with the Vita's portable design in mind. Each one won't last more than five or 10 minutes. Sometimes you'll be tasked with taking out multiple waves of enemies, or beating a familiar boss, or destroying a radio tower. They're all quick-hit objectives, designed for on-the-go gaming.
There's no Hero Mode here. Instead, the 76 missions are divided into sets of five -- with one standing all alone as the final unlock -- with each set assigned a difficulty rating using an eight-star scale. The challenge increases as you advance further into a single set as well, so you'll be facing much tougher enemies in the fourth and fifth levels than you will in the first, second or third.
It ultimately doesn't amount to anything new. The environments, enemies, even some of the objectives are pulled straight from the story. It's a more focused take on Ninja Gaiden's action, however, and it's a great alternative to the narrative setup of the campaign when you're on a work commute.
Alive And Kicking (And Slicing)
I can't believe I'm saying this, but this 2004 game that is now on its fourth release is still somehow, amazingly, worth your time. It still feels like a brand new game, one that is both fun to play and difficult to master. The Hero Mode may alarm purists, but there's no denying that it creates a wider audience. Bravo to Team Ninja for returning to the exact same well again, and somehow coming up with something fresh in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus.
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