Ninja Gaiden Sigma PS3 Review - 01/08/2007

Ninja Gaiden stood out as a jewel in Microsoft's Xbox crown. One of the finest games on the console, and later re-released as Ninja Gaiden: Black, Sony and PS3 owners should feel truly privileged that such an iconic game of the last generation has been revamped for their enjoyment. Of course, with the demands of gamers seeking next-gen enjoyment, if it feels three years old, it will fail.

Thankfully, Team Ninja have skipped that hurdle and the game feels as fresh as a Ninja's undies (pretty damn fresh), largely thanks to a megalithic graphical overhaul that allows you to virtually smell the blood pouring from your enemies, as well as new modes and options. Unfortunately, you still can't slice off the heads of your opposition, at least not in the UK, but, quite frankly, the gameplay doesn't suffer in the slightest.

Ninjas seem to be in a decline of late, I remember well the onslaught of Ninjas in various areas of entertainment not so many years ago, but Ninja Gaiden's appeal as a hardcore fighting experience is no less than back then, if not even stronger thanks to its predecessors' rave reviews. Having played the great Xbox versions, the story was pretty familiar. However, as you battle for your family's honour and the pride of your village, to regain a missing weapon, there are various new areas and enemies that will throw even hardened veterans of the series.

This is partly due to the fact that it's a huge game anyway, and you may well have missed various secret areas or items. On Team Ninja's part though there's certainly been a great deal of restructuring, both to make levels easier (the original's difficulty was intense, although the hardest setting is perhaps tougher than in NG: Black) and to present a new feel to the game. New save locations and shops where you can buy potions to restore your health and magic meters have been added to tough areas, such as just before boss battles, whereas the previous version often had you fighting through 20 enemies after a save before coming to the boss.

The graphical overhaul makes the game appear radically different from the Xbox versions and it certainly feels next-gen, if not particularly amazing. If you haven't played Ninja Gaiden since 2004 however, the old rose tinted spectacles will no doubt have you thinking you're playing almost the same game, and the truth is, Ninja Gaiden is as impressive on the PS3 as it was on the Xbox. As with all old games, if you haven't played them since they came out you remember the graphics fondly as looking great for the system they were on, but go back and play it today, and it in fact looks like sin. So Team Ninja have reinvigorated the graphics while keeping them in the same style as the original, so it seems familiar, yet doesn't seem out of place on the PS3.

The game does feel easier on the default setting, but no doubt that's because I know the tricks to get past each boss and the combos best suited to certain enemies from playing through the original. Alma still poses the same iron fisted challenge she did before, just as the sensei on the first level will destroy anyone that has not played enough to get used to the controls and dodge-moves.

For anyone new to the game, you have various moves, weapons and tactics at your disposal. The game tends to use a high camera that you do have a degree of control over, but it still suffers from slightly dodgy positioning for the most part and does need occasional adjusting. You have the ability to jump, slash with your sword/swing with your nunchuk etc., charge up a powerful attack capable of taking out multiple enemies, and the ability to block most attacks, as well as dodging which further strengthens your defensive options. It all feels really intuitive, and after the first few levels you'll have realised just how important blocking and dodging is in the game.

Counter-attacking plays a crucial role too and the combat engine in general is really advanced, but never overwhelmingly so. Much like Prince of Persia, you can run along and up walls, swing from horizontal poles to get over obstacles, and wall jump to reach higher points of the level. It's actually quite linear, but there's always lots of side-rooms to explore in order to find secret weapons or items. Unlike Prince of Persia, the acrobatics seem believable – as Ryu you do have limits to your abilities, and certain platforming areas will leave you stumped for long periods as to the best course of action. Enemies range from monsters to gun wielding soldiers, to tanks, and each level seems suitably different to the last.

With the difficulty the game possesses, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a long and well structured game. Like in Ninja Gaiden: Black, you also have the Mission Mode where you fight waves of enemies in locations from the main game, which unlocks once you complete the campaign and contains about 50 missions, on the whole harder than those in Black, which perhaps makes up for the slightly easier story mode. The non-playable fiendstress from the original, Rachel, is in fact now playable in new missions in the single player, which help to fill in the gaps left in the original's story. While Rachel's combat is nowhere near as refined as Ryu's, it adds life to the game and new content, which is just what was needed.

The menu design is charmingly retro, but archaic by the same measure, but the ability to install the game onto your hard drive to vastly reduce loading times is very much welcomed. The game is undoubtedly more approachable now than it was three years ago, and the new weapons and levels will give those experienced in the art of Ninja Gaiden a reasonably fresh challenge, especially as the harder difficulty modes still remain. SIXAXIS support comes in the form of shaking your controller to cause more powerful Ninpo attacks, which doesn't have a great effect but is appreciated all the same.

As a complete package, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is one of the best options available on the PS3 right now. It is an update to a three year old game however, and as such the graphics, while not feeling out of place, are not top-notch – there's a sheen to it that makes is look a little unreal at times. Controls, combos and level structuring has been refined to make the game easier on the whole, or at least, less frustrating, which was needed in my view – the harder options are sill there however, and the extra levels thrown in for good measure, and the beautiful Rachel, go a long way to making this an essential purchase on PS3.

- Mike Hazleton



Team Ninja