Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
We've been here before, chucking shuriken stars around, leaping about like a maniac and severing an enemy ninja's leg at the knee with a glistening blade, leaving him hobbling around as he vainly attempts to continue fighting with suicidal zeal. But wait a second. Something's not quite right here. We're still Ryu Hayabusa - lethal ninja-shaped killing machine, but the wet ends of the dismembered limbs we just amputated are blue, gushing forth wispy spurts of what looks like Ribena instead of crimson-hued splashes of blood and gore. This is Ninja Gaiden II, PlayStation 3 style - heavily censored, full of blue stuff rather than red and featuring Sixaxis controlled, jiggling breasts. Obviously.
With original designer Tomonobu Itagaki unceremoniously quitting Team Ninja following Gaiden 2, duties have been handed over to Yosuke Hayashi who along with the rest of the dev team, decided that the Xbox 360's excessive blood-letting and mutilation wasn't the way to go. How very wrong they were. Give us the claret-soaked viscera of Ninja Gaiden 2 on 360 any day.
Following the first Sigma - an updated PS3 version of Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox - Sigma 2 revamps Ninja Gaiden 2 with upgraded visuals, a few new enemy types, rejigged levels and a separate, quite substantial co-op mode.
Co-op is probably Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2's main draw, presented as a delectable selection box of standalone missions of varying difficulty unlocked upon completing the game's opening mission. However, you might like to consider giving co-op mode a wide berth if you're new to the game and don't want to spoil the story. Some co-op missions task you with fighting certain bosses that you encounter during the course of the narrative, ruining surprises for you later in the game. Consider yourself duly forewarned.
Sigma 2's co-operative missions are playable online with friends or random folks with offline play featuring an AI controlled comrade, the only other alternative available. Sadly, you'll find that the AI is pretty useless in a fight, meaning you'll normally end up fighting alone quicker than you'd like, especially during the tougher stages, where incidentally the busy on-screen activity and flashy pyrotechnics may cause you to go wall-eyed.
Playing online with a buddy is definitely the preferable option and if you're both exceptionally skilled, you'll find ripping the Black Spider Clan a new one an intensely gratifying experience. In the event that one of you gets beaten to a blue, oozing pulp, you can be revived with a quick tap of circle from your fellow ninja. Naturally, if you both die, it's game over, which due to Sigma 2's predictably mercenary difficulty level is a regular occurrence. Just try taking on the boss fiends in the Master Ninja stages to see how ludicrously sadistic Ninja Gaiden can really be. Thankfully, this no longer applies to the rest of the game.
Progression through the narrative stages rewards you with extra weaponry, ninpo magic and characters such as Ayane, Momiji and Rachel, which you can take into co-op. Completing story missions always grants a welcome bonus or two, giving you increased impetus to carve your way through the main game.
Given the quantity of content that has been packed into co-op, we would have liked to have seen the same care extended to the standard story portion of the game, which appears to be severely lacking in certain departments.
Upon first sight, Sigma 2 appears much the same as Gaiden 2 on Xbox 360 with the notable exception of enhanced graphics and a path-finding button mapped to R1, but following extended play, the list of tweaks increases significantly. And not all are positive additions to what was arguably already a rather tight and satisfying formula.
Sigma 2 seemingly has a fixation with gigantic, screen-filling statue bosses whose hands you have to repeatedly slice before laying into their prone head. They pop up multiple times in both the story and co-op modes, providing repetitive boss battles that adhere to tried and tested patterns of dodging various attacks before being given a window of opportunity in which to retaliate. These encounters might be visually quite spectacular, but in gameplay terms, it's not exactly Ninja Gaiden at its most thrilling. In short, they're a bit dull.
The removal of many of the keys and puzzles, as well as The Tests of Valour may also annoy some while delighting others. Disposing of the fiddly need to locate items to interrupt the flow of the game will be seen as a good or a bad thing depending on whether (like us) you actually rather enjoy a moment of down time between extended bouts of slice and dice.
Ryu's bow too is now permanently equipped once acquired and comes with infinite ammunition, making it a far more useful asset in your weapon set. The way in which weapons are upgraded too has been changed, so that only certain Muramasa statues allow a single enhancement, meaning that your yellow essence is to be spent purely on health items. These changes are undoubtedly for the better.
Yet, while the placement of enemies has been fiddled with and certain events occur differently, this is still pretty much the same game Xbox 360 owners were playing over a year ago. And criminally, the most glaring problem of all hasn't been addressed - the wayward camera from Ninja Gaiden 2 remains the game's biggest bugbear, exacerbated whenever there's too much going on at once and the damn thing can't decide where it should focus, getting stuck on scenery or failing to keep up with the frenetic pace.
Nonetheless, the toning down of the resolutely hardcore difficulty level from the original game goes some way to alleviating the frustration, as does the omission of some of NG 2's more irritating moments and unfair bosses, like the stupid, silver electric worm thingy.
The level at which you'll enjoy Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 may ultimately be decided by whether you played the Xbox 360 original - in which case, it's not worth buying again - or whether you can accept the fact that the flying limbs and spraying blood is now a thing of the past. We still can't.
If by chance, you've yet to experience what Ninja Gaiden 2 has to offer (and you couldn't give a toss about fountains of arterial splatter), then Sigma 2 may prove to be a very worthy investment indeed. There's certainly enough material in here to keep you occupied for hours on end and the wealth of freshly added ninja-gubbins demonstrates Team Ninja's commitment to providing real value for money. Having said that, the sheer unflinching brutality of Ninja Gaiden 2 on Xbox 360, for us, makes it the definitive version of the game.