There aren’t a lot of games these days where one of their most important aspects is its difficulty, but the Ninja Gaiden series has been known exactly for that. Above its fast and frantic combat system and its famous ninja protagonist, Ryu Hyabusa, the Ninja Gaiden series has gotten the reputation (and justifiably so) that it’s a ball busting difficult game, riddled with enemies that can whittle your life away quickly, and bosses that will push your patience to the breaking point. Because of this, most gamers tended to avoid the series, while hardcore players made it into a popular, if niche series. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 mixes things up with not only some exclusive modes, weapons, and characters to play as, but a retooling of the game’s difficulty and gameplay. Is it enough to attract more mainstream gamers to the game, and if so, have they done too much to scare away their hardcore following?
The general playstyle in Sigma 2 can be summarized as fast, frantic, and brutal. There are light and heavy attacks, along with a dedicated button to throwing shiruken and the ability to use secondary ranged weapons such as a bow and arrow. There are over six weapons in the game including a new weapon exclusive to Sigma 2, Emma’s Fang, along with 3 new characters playable at certain points of the game. Ayane, a mainstay from the series and Dead or Alive games, plays similarly to her DOA incarnation, resulting in lots of spinning, speedy quick strikes, while Momiji from the Ninja Gaiden DS game returns wielding a Spear, serving more a balanced style between speed and range. Rounding out the cast is Rachael from the first game, complete with her Giant hammer and sub machinegun and serves as the powerhouse of the three ladies. Each character and weapons hosts a robust movelist that really shows the amount of depth the combat system contains, which is all the more satisfying thanks to the tweaks they did from the original Ninja Gaiden (360) game.
With this new version of the game, they added three new missions as well as a slew of new bosses and cutscenes which help move things along in the story. On top of this, they have done an extensive retooling of enemy and item placement, damage scale for the difficulty settings, and a more generous placement of checkpoints. The result of this is an attempt to streamline the game for more accessibility. With that said, the changes are not without their faults. Some of the enemies and bosses suffer from uneven design choices, with some enemies being very cheap, and some bosses being pitifully easy. On top of this, they reuse nearly all the same boss fights at least once, with little change in their patterns. The worst draw back would be its camera however. Although it has some improvements, expect to be fighting against the camera along with your enemies, resulting in a lot of blind attacks. There is a button dedicated to relocating the camera behind Ryu, but doing so during combat can become cumbersome as the controls are in relation to the camera, not the character.
Graphically, the game received a touch up from its 360 cousin. The characters are well detailed, the environments look attractive, and the game supports dozens of characters of all shapes and sizes while maintaining a generally very smooth framerate. One noticeable change from the original 360 version is the noticeable tone down of blood. One of the main gameplay mechanics is dismemberment, allowing the player to chop off limbs off their enemies, leaving finished battles a brutal mess of blood and scattered limbs all over the place. This has been toned down considerably for seemingly unknown reasons. While the average player may not find this such a big deal, I though the change was very perplexing. It’s especially jarring after a crazy battle and witness dozens of ninja limbs and bodies scattered all over the area, with very little blood on the ground.
The game has an orchestral soundtrack, with brooding tones fitting for the settings as well as having the songs ramp up in intensity during battles. The music could get a bit monotonous at times, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Voice acting is decent, with Ryu speaking as little as possible, which helps cement his place as the silent badass master ninja. Other than some weird delivery on lines, the voices overall fit for the most part. Noted is the option for Japanese voices as well. Finally, the sound effects are the shining point of the sound department, with different sounds for the different weapons slicing and breaking bones, really driving home the amount of damage you’re unleashing (or receiving).
The main story mode includes over 14 chapters available in four difficulty settings, but Team Ninja has added new modes to increase the amount of playtime with the game, specifically with their team missions’ mode. As it sounds, you and a partner (online or cpu controlled) can work together and participate in over 30 stages ranging between the different difficulties and scenarios which range from the standard gauntlet of enemies to special boss fights, with a rank and tally of scores after each scenario, which also shows the percentage each player did. Each mission contains their own leaderboards, and you can record your efforts with the ninja cinema feature. Finally, everything unlocked during the main quest, including costumes received from beating the game, are available in the team missions mode.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 was walking a fine line in pleasing both its hardcore audience as well as allowing newcomers have a better chance at actually making through the game without taking a hammer to their controller. Improvements in the difficulty, a smart retooling of the games stages and a whole lot of extra modes and add-ons make this game the definitive version of Ninja Gaiden out on consoles, as well as one of the deepest and most satisfying action adventure games available. Hardcore players will come for extra modes and the newcomers will stay for the less brutal difficulty. Players that have used difficulty as an excuse to ignore the series can no longer miss out on this excellent series with one of the most badass ninja of all time.