In my mind, Ninja Gaiden titles carry the mantle of being some of the most intense, difficult, and rewarding action games of recent times. I can recall playing through the older titles in my youth, floundering through them, yet never quite completing them. Fast forward to 2004, when Ninja Gaiden was released for the Xbox. I remember playing it at a friend’s house, and I was simply blown away by the visceral combat and slick action elements of the game. When I finally got an Xbox of my own, I played through Ninja Gaiden Black, cursing and struggling over a long period of time. It was a magnificent game, and set the bar for what an action game should be in my book.
After the resounding success of Ninja Gaiden, years passed by in my life. I didn’t play Ninja Gaiden 2 in its original incarnation, but I did play Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma for the PS3 when it released. While it wasn’t quite as good as the original, I still greatly enjoyed the game. It was a fine action game and ran a silky smooth 60 FPS. I didn’t have as much trouble as I did playing through Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox, and I chalked that up to the game being easier rather than my increased action performance. While I have yet to play Ninja Gaiden III, I will take my time getting to that one. I hear it is a radical departure from the action standard set by the previous two games, and not in a good way.
Bringing classic games to a handheld is nothing new. It has been done countless times before. There is, however, a right and a wrong way to do it. Tecmo Koei brought Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus to the PS Vita, and although I did not play it, I hear it was a moderate success. This was due mostly to the fact that the game, although it did not run at 60 FPS on the Vita, did manage to maintain a steady 30 FPS for the handheld. While not a perfect port, it gave Ninja Gaiden fans, and action fans in general, a chance to play the game on the go. Sadly, it seems that Tecmo Koei has made the wrong moves with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus.
To begin with, you may or may not be surprised to learn that Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus does not run at 60 FPS. It is supposed to run at 30 FPS, but it fails to do even that. When there are multiple enemies on screen, the game dips to an even lower frame rate. There is abundant stutter and slowdown when the action gets to be too heavy, which, sadly, happens often. Although it is an unofficial fix, by increasing the camera speed and turning off gore, the stability does manage to improve a bit. Still, one should not have to disable features in a console game in order to maximize performance. It is important to note that the latest firmware update for the Vita also increased stability for the game in some unknown way, but not enough to eliminate the problem completely. Hopefully a patch will be coming in the future.
It’s a shame there are frame rate issues, because the bulk of the gameplay is a blast. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 translates beautifully to the Vita, with very fluid controls and very responsive camera control with the right analog stick. It is a lot of fun to play on the go, and the graphics look superb. When you acquire the bow, there is a very useful touch screen mechanic that makes using it a breeze as well. Overall, despite the slowdown and stutter, the gameplay is quite nice.
Just when it seems that Tecmo Koei is on the right track, they go and break your heart. Tag missions, originally playable in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 as an online cooperative feature, are present in the Vita outing as well. The catch is that you can’t play them with another person. Yes, you heard right. You are forced to play tag missions with an AI partner that is dismal at best. I was very sad to hear this news, and actually didn’t figure it out until the game was released. My rationalization for this is that due to the fact that the network features are disabled upon starting the game, the cooperative play could not be utilized. This is apparently due to the demanding nature of the game. Also, the stability issues are so poor for the tag missions that the game is rendered almost unplayable at certain points. This begs the question as to why the game was not optimized in its entirety for the Vita. It screams of lazy port, in any case.
Outside of the egregious issues mentioned above, all of the standard extras from Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 are present in the Vita offering. This includes the multiple difficulty levels that will challenge even the best of players, and the chapter challenge mode that lets you go for the highest ranking. The only new addition is the “Ninja Race” mode, which allows you to choose a character and loadout in order to race against the clock. It feels like a time attack mode, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is also a new difficulty called "Hero Mode" that renders the game ridiculously easy. With all of the difficulties and modes the game has to offer, there is a lot of bang for your buck. If you want it to, the game can last you for quite some time.
It almost pains me to say this, but even though Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a lazy port, the game is actually worth getting. If you can force yourself to gloss over the frame rate issues, by either disabling gore or outright ignoring the issue completely, then you will have a lot of fun. However, the fact that there is no online cooperative play is extremely disappointing, and the mode is actually almost unbeatable on later levels without a competent human partner. Still, for fans who love Ninja Gaiden, or people who want an action game on their Vita, you might want to check into Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus.