Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 arrives at a time where there is a real shortage of strong titles that focus purely on the art of combat, but in a free-flowing non-versus format. Based off the popular Xbox 360 title, Ninja Gaiden II, Sigma is now being released exclusively on the PlayStation 3 and boasts a host of new features, but is it enough to warrant a re-release for this fabled ninja?
After catching wind of some terrible events, Ryu Hayabusa ventures to Tokyo. Coincidentally, at the same time an FBI agent by the name of Sonia is searching for him. However, although their paths cross, they aren't in the best of circumstances and Sonia is captured by the Black Spider Ninja Clan despite Ryu's best efforts. Following her rescue, Ryu manages to discover the true nature of the Black Spider Ninja Clan's plans - an attempt to resurrect the Archfiend - and as a member of the Dragon Ninja clan, he sets out to stop them from fulfilling their goals.
Generally games of this nature have fruitless, trivial plots. However, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 doesn't fall into this category. Despite being entirely fictitious, the story is relatively believeable, and there is just about enough development - albeit sometimes unexplained - to quench the player's thirst for more. There are various locations, some based on reality, and numerous bosses to square off against. It helps drive things forward more progressively, and reward progress. The addition of non-Ryu based story Chapters also helps to provide a different perspective on the events that are unfolding and the comic that's shown during the loading screen also serves as a nice prologue. More development of the story would have been nice, but that could perhaps be slightly greedy. After all, Ninja Gaiden's main focus is the gameplay, not an oscar winning narrative.
Combat has always been a strong point for the Ninja Gaiden franchise, and that's no different with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. Ryu has two basic attacks, weak and strong, which must be used strategically to achieve victory in the numerous encounters that he will face throughout the game. Through a combination of these two buttons, situations, and directional movement, there are plenty of different moves that can be performed. However, to be able to perform all of the moves, the player must upgrade Ryu's various weapons. In total, there are nine weapons, all of which offer a distinctly different style of combat. These range from the traditional sword, to more unconventional Talons and Flails. Each weapon can be upgraded manually three times, although some of the more story-critical weapons obtain a fourth upgrade.
Alongside his melee weapons, Ryu can also use ranged combat. Shurikens can be used in conjunction with another, more powerful weapon, like a bow, or hand cannon. They allow the combat to become a bit more diverse, while also enabling Ryu to string longer combos together. However, unlike the melee weapons, these cannot be upgraded. The same also applies to the Chapters that see the player controlling other characters, like Rachel and Ayane. They are only playable for one Chapter each, so upgrading would be redundant, but their weaponry is suitably apt.Most of the gameplay elements feel extremely tight and refined. Ryu's weapon swings, and enemies reactions to them are great to watch. However, where Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 feels slightly inadequate is with Ryu's ability to avoid taking damage. There is an evade system in place, but it doesn't feel overly natural. Holding L1 performs a block, and pressing the left analogue stick in a direction allows Ryu to quickly dart in a straight line to his new destination. However, it doesn't necessarily work all the time, or as expected, and can often seem cumbersome. It may only be a small element of Ryu's combat ability, but in Ninja Gaiden, staying alive is easier said than done. Unfortunately, this doesn't help.
Overall the pacing of the combat is great. There are lots of encounters scattered throughout levels, and they never feel monontous. It truly is a testament to both the great enemy AI, and the variety in the combat. It would have been nice to see more variety with the enemies, but it's a relatively small issue. The same can't be said about the bosses though, as each one feels very distinct. Each poses a different challenge, and tasks the player with devising an effective strategy to achieve victory. They are also very unforgiving, so players really need to be on top of their game to progress.
From the perspective of presentation, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is fairly solid. Graphically, the game is impressive, and the amount of variety to be found with the locals is commendable. It's also extremely satisfying to see enemies limbs fly off when they are injured, and impressive to see them try to continue fighting with only one leg, or arm. The combat runs relatively smoothly most of the time, but there are occassional frame-rate drops in the single-player campaign. It's much more amplified when playing online in Team Mission mode though, and frame-rate drops are much more frequent. The sound design is pretty decent, and the voice acting gets the job done.
Even though Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 features a very lengthy campaign, taking around 9-10 hours, there is plenty to do upon completion. Playing the single-player campaign through again on a harder difficulty is one option, and it's also possible to choose specific chapters to play through. However, where the real longevity will come from is with Team Missions. This can be played offline with an AI partner, or taken online, where it can be played with another ally. There are 40 missions in total, which take players through a range of skill levels, and it's a bundle of fun. Stats are also fully tracked, so it's possible to see how many kills each weapon has, how many times a Ninpu has been used and performance in the Team Missions.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is an extremely polished fighting adventure. The combat is extremely rewarding, despite being difficult, and with so much variety on offer from the perspective of moves, weapons and upgrades there's something for everyone. There are a few issues which might make the combat more difficult than it needs to be, and the game does suffer from some framerate drops, but the inclusion of elements such as Team Missions to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 make these easy to ignore.