Ever since its original conception on the Xbox, Tomonobu Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden has been hailed as one of the most difficult games to come out in recent gaming generations. With each port of the title, the game has gotten easier, though players may be reluctant to try difficulties such as the “Dog mode.” As Ninja Gaiden 3 looms over the horizon, Tecmo Koei has released Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus , a port for the Vita that includes everything from the original tite and another new difficulty as well.
Anyone too insulted to try the infamous Dog mode may be more inclined to try the new Hero mode, though conversely, they may feel babied by this name. Giving players the ability to do infinite Ninpo attacks when their life hits critical lows, the new difficulty never feels too easy, but it does offer that helpful hand when enemies become overwhelming. Masochists and series faithful won’t have to worry; the original controller-breaking difficulty is here in full form and ready to frustrate a whole new generation of gamers.
For those unfamiliar with the series and its gameplay, players star as Ryu Hayabusa, the same ninja who has graced other Tecmo games such as the Dead or Alive series already. The series is known for its unrelenting difficulty, which permeates every aspect of the game from the beginning. Mindlessly strolling through the game and hacking away at the sight of enemies will surely get players killed and an offer to abandon the way of the ninja in favor of Dog mode. Rather, survival and success requires a diligent eye to watch for incoming enemies and the proper reaction of blocking and dodging attacks. It is one of the more engaging action games out there and remains so eight years after its original release.
Completionists and curious players are likely to explore the game’s various environments, eventually discovering alternative weapons ranging from double swords to Rachel’s hammer. While it’s never necessary to find these weapons to defeat the game’s bosses or increasingly difficult enemies, the weapons all work differently; weapons rarely become a novelty in lieu of a newer, stronger weapon, but players choose them based on preference instead. Interestingly, Sigma Plus’s Ninja Trials mode provides not only a quick challenge for daring players, but a chance to try out various weapons, which are included to help tackle challenges.
Taking advantage of the Vita’s new features, Sigma Plus does implement the gyroscope and rear touchpad in interesting and fun, albeit often needless ways. While players can look around and aim their bows in first person mode using the gyroscope, it is hardly helpful. Most of the time, I found myself just shooting the bows traditionally and never looked around the environment, which had no impact on my gameplay anyway. In addition, ninpo attacks can now be powered up by pressing the rear touchpad as instructed, which somewhat resembles doing actual hand seals; however, it was problematic at times considering the imprecision of the touchpad and the difficulty in aiming for the correct spot.
Like many other Vita games already, Sigma Plus looks great on the system and resembles the console version to a virtual perfection. Though the screen never fills up to the madness that players would expect of hack and slash titles like the Dynasty Warrior series, there’s still certainly a lot of action going on with ninjas swarming Ryu or explosions all about, yet the game keeps its smooth frame rate. Despite the third iteration gracing consoles soon, this still looks as beautiful as ever on the portable’s 5-inch screen.
While gamers who have already had their time with Ninja Gaiden will find little to justify a full priced purchase here, anyone who has not yet touched the game, perhaps out of fear from the game’s notorious difficulty, will certainly want to pick this up. The new hero mode is probably the most notable addition, allow players to experience the full range of Ninja Gaiden’s difficulty without sacrificing anything. In the modern era of hand-holdingly easy games, Sigma Plus serves as a beautifully crafted reminder of how difficult and frustrating, yet engaging and fun games can be.
Available on: Vita; Publisher: Tecmo Koei; Developer: Tecmo Koei; Players: 1; Released: February 22, 2012; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $39.99; Official Site
Note: A retail copy was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.