Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)
Do you/did you own an Xbox? If so, Ninja Gaiden: Sigma for the PlayStation 3 should look awfully familiar. That's not surprising, because the game is an enhanced remake of Ninja Gaiden: Black for the Xbox -- oh, and it's probably worth mentioning that Ninja Gaiden: Black was an enhanced remake of the classic Ninja Gaiden, also for the Xbox. So is Sigma just a renamed port for the PS3? Nope, it's enhanced!
Sigma takes the original plot, features and gameplay from the original, tosses in the bonus content from Black, and brings them to a boil with significant graphical enhancements and a handful of new missions featuring buxom beauty Rachel -- who is now a playable character.
It's worth the upgrade -- even if you played the originals to death -- because this is one well-crafted action game. What's surprising is the graphics. On the Xbox the game looked great, but for the PS3 the engine is improved. Not knowing about the game's past, it would have been easy to believe that this game was built, originally, with the PS3's graphics capabilities in mind.
The story is simple: Master ninja Ryu Hayabusha has a problem. The bad guys destroyed his village and stole an important family artifact; it's up to players to master his moves and defeat the bad guys. Ninja Gaiden puts an emphasis on combat; this is basically a fighting game with a sprawling adventure attached. While at first players will button-mash their way to victory -- and frequent death (the game requires serious skill and martial-arts-caliber patience) -- learning the controls makes the combat elegant and stylistic. Ryu moves with grace and can run up walls, make spectacular leaps, and even run across water while swinging his Dragon Sword and cutting enemies to ribbons.
Yeah, it's a violent game. There's no getting around that, and all the weapons -- arrows, ninja stars, swords, spears and more -- look like they hurt. The game is bloody but never feels gory or exploitative, though this is one of the more violent videogames available, and the PS3 visual upgrade only makes the game feel more like acrobatic lethal ballet.
As I mentioned earlier, Rachel the Demon Hunter is now a playable character: She has a few levels in mission mode and three all-new chapters all to herself. Ryu's campaign is expanded a bit in interesting ways to accommodate her, and since she's limited to using a war hammer and only has one magic attack, playing Rachel makes for a refreshing change. Adding levels starring Rachel to the main game was a stroke of genius on the part of developers, because Ninja Gaiden is the kind of game in which players develop a rhythm. The attacks and moves become second nature, and playing as Rachel forces players to adapt. She's not as acrobatic, and her war hammer is slow but devastating.
Other modifications include Ryu's new ability to run on water while hacking at enemies (forward momentum makes it happen; if you stop, you sink) and changes to how items are handled. You can imbibe a potion, for example, without exiting the action by simply pressing on the directional pad. For a game this flat-out difficult, this is a crucial addition. Magic, called 'ninpo' for Ryu and 'sorcery' for Rachel, is intact, but the developers made the odd decision to have players shake their controller to charge up their powers. This is awkward at best, distracting at worst. Oh, they also added the ability, early on, for Ryu to dual-wield both the Dragon Claw and the Tiger Fang swords.
Ninja Gaiden: Sigma is still strong on the audio front, but nothing much has changed here aside from the voice acting. A common complaint justly leveled at the Xbox versions was the poor English voice acting. Now players can play the game reading English subtitles while listening to characters converse in Japanese. This is a much better option, giving the game an appropriately foreign feel.
Fans making the upgrade might be disappointed to find that all the new content is locked, meaning, even if they have defeated the game before, they must do it again on Normal to unlock the new missions (a 20-hour prospect). The changes and modifications echo throughout the game, however. Expect new and different enemies, maybe a new boss where a puzzle used to be, and a more than welcome new shop placed just prior to the save point just before a major and all but impossible boss battle. Anyone new to the series will find a lot of stylistic and skill-based ninja violence to sink their sword into. It's a classic remade, and that's a good thing.
This review was based on a retail copy purchased by Crispy Gamer.