For the most part, Ninja Gaiden has been synonymous with quality in the past few generations. But after you make the same game four times, even the lightning-speed action that remains amazingly fast and fluid starts to feel a little…old. There’s nothing wrong with the Vita iteration of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (which began its life back as Ninja Gaiden Black on the Xbox) and the game remains mostly solid. It’s just underwhelming, that's all.
Considering the excellent graphics of past series installments, you might assume this one looks great on Sony’s new portable. But while the presentation is very clean and the cut-scenes are still pretty damn impressive, even the technologically proficient Vita can’t hide the marks of age. Visually, games get old quick, and Sigma Plus suffers from a lack of richness and detail we find in more visually accomplished titles. That being said, you won’t find many visual miscues, despite the aging palette.
The sound is in very much the same boat. We still get that ultra-satisfying slashing effect that accompanies Ryu’s incessant attacks, and most all effects are crisp and effective. The soundtrack is pretty good, too, but it takes a backseat to the effects for most of the adventure. Sadly, the voice acting is where this one betrays its age; the corny voices might be nostalgic and even charming, but the bottom line is that the performances are mediocre at best.
So in short, Team Ninja didn’t really bother to upgrade anything for the Vita entry. Now, the game holds up very well so it’s not a catastrophe, but given when I’ve seen of this handheld’s capabilities, the developers should’ve taken the opportunity. They could’ve issued new Vita owners a fully updated Ninja Gaiden but instead, we get basically the same game we’ve had for years. However, a few cleverly implemented features make use of the front touchscreen and rear touchpad.
You simply tap enemies to throw your shurikens or shoot arrows, which adds some much-needed flavor to a very familiar action mechanic. At first, I was worried that with such a ridiculously fast game, taking my fingers away from the face buttons would be ill-advised at best, suicidal at worst. But logically speaking, you only use ranged weapons like the shurikens and your bow when you’re a certain distance away, so it actually worked out very well. It’s not a game-changer, but it’s a nice addition.
The other new addition, which I’m not quite as crazy about, is the usage of the rear touchpad for your Ninpo abilities. It seems to function fine but unlike the aforementioned feature, this one feels tacked on and completely unnecessary. Reaching behind the unit with your finger to throw a fireball isn’t complicated and the control seems fine, but really, what’s the point? We don’t have to find a use for particular features if it really doesn’t fit the game; that just overcomplicates things.
But aside from that, this is pure action at its core and that’s where Ninja Gaiden shines. There’s always a significant challenge involved, the foes you face may be faceless but they’re hardly incompetent, and the platforming (wall-to-wall jumps, wall-running, etc.) is crazy fun. Everything you do is fast and the controls are wicked responsive. Building up combos, unlocking new abilities, and dealing with sweaty palms when facing a hard boss are all part of the experience in this franchise.
And thankfully, we get that patented series style and flair, even if it’s clearly aging. The controls work very well with the dual analog sticks; I can’t see playing this one with the directional pad on the PSP. You always feel as if you’re in complete control and if you get nailed, it was probably your own damn fault. Gotta practice more. Still, the camera needs to be fixed, as it can’t keep up with the speedy combat, and that trademark complaint – “the camera sits too close and too low” – will be common.
That’s part of the reason why Team Ninja should’ve taken the opportunity to fix a few lingering issues that have plagued the franchise for a long time. That, and you’ve got a chance to show what the once-stellar title could look like given Vita’s tremendous capability. The “Plus” part of the title is a little misleading, because all we really get are those new touch features and the ability to play as the buxom Rachel for a little while. Oh wait, we could do that in Sigma for the PS3.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is still a competent and in many ways, impressive, action extravaganza. The gameplay and combat hold up well over time, but the technical aspects don’t, and those same problems still exist, which is disappointing. If you’ve played Sigma or Sigma 2 , I’m not sure there’s any reason to pick this one up. If not, however, and you’re looking for a super fast and extremely challenging hack ‘n slash title for your new Vita, you probably can’t go wrong with Sigma Plus . You just have to allow for an older production that has a few lingering issues.
The Good: Action is still tight and satisfying. Bosses are a big treat (and a big challenge). Animations are top-notch. Nicely paced. Front touchscreen addition is cool.
The Bad: Graphics show their age. Voice acting is sub-par. Common series flaws persist. Camera can be a definite problem.
The Ugly: “The game is hard enough without having to battle the camera as well as the baddies.”