Ninja Gaiden as a series has always placed the fundamentals of combat above all else. While many of today’s action games mask their deficient fighting mechanics with cinematic set-pieces, Gaiden has no need for superficial distractions to maintain player engagement. Even in its most basic of enemy encounters, button-mashing is never an option, save for the dreaded phantom fish which inexplicably survive into this third revision of the game.
In all other situations, many considerations enter each battle, as you jump, roll and wall-run to find the most advantageous positioning in your surroundings and keep your guard up until the perfect moment to retaliate arises. Mistakes are punished harshly with some enemies able to reduce your health bar by more than 50% in a single attack, but like any good action game, taking the time to practice your skills and learn enemy routines is always rewarded.
The core fighting is showcased in its purest form in the Ninja Trials mode which restricts movement to small areas, each hosting wave after wave of spawning enemies. These bite-size challenges never last much longer than 5 minutes and as such are perfect for portable play, while replaying them is encouraged by the scoring system. Meanwhile all 19 chapters of the story mode make the transition from PS3 to PSV with nothing lost but also nothing gained.
The designation of the word ‘Plus’ to the game’s title would suggest some significant additions here, but the only apparent change is a superfluous use of rear-touch to boost ninpo magic spells. It seems a missed opportunity that improvements seen in the sequels (NG2′s fast weapon-switching comes to mind) have not made the jump. Moreover, some kind of link to Ninja Gaiden 3 would have been a nice bonus and appropriate given that game is set to be unleashed on the world later this month.
Nothing about the visual design stands out, which is to say that the console versions have been successfully made portable with no jarring decline in quality in the transition. It appears as though this is the PS3 version running in your hands, with cuts to the level of detail mostly hidden by running on a screen no larger than 5 inches. Frame rate is said to be lower but in practice it’s hard to discern any reduction when it is locked to such a smooth consistency.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is ultimately a highlight of the Vita launch selection, albeit one that owes to an 8-year-old Xbox game on which it is based. What was ahead of its time then is still a high bar for quality on Sony’s fledgling portable system.