By Leo Stevenson
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is the first R18+ game ever released in Australia. It's a monumental occasion and one that should be marked in the history books. It's a game that's likely to be remembered for this and not for the game itself. Ninja Gaiden fans will find a lot to like in NGS2+ while other gamers will find some value in the game, if only for a short time.
Team Ninja has created a competent hack and slasher that now seems dated when compared to more recent entries in the genre, DmC: Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Rising. Available exclusively for the PS Vita, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus also falls victim to a double-edged sword; it’s simultaneously a great match for the system with its short burst, portable style of play, yet suffers due to the lack of processing power.
Combat is the name of the game, and main character Hayabusa is no slouch when it comes to surgically taking enemies apart. Literally. Combos can be carried out by combining the Square and Triangle buttons -- light and heavy attacks, respectively -- with additional limb removing techniques discovered on the fly. The variety of enemies keeps you on your toes too, ranging from mere cannon (or is that sword) fodder to more powerful and difficult enemies that are more than equipped to take you apart just as quickly as you do to their less well equipped buddies.
It's in combat that the game truly earns its R18+ rating . Hayabusa hacks off limbs and heads as though he were slicing through butter. Spouts of blood issue forth and fountains of red spray the environments. Once unburdened by a limb or two enemies don't relent… they just keep on coming, dragging their bleeding and hatcheted bodies towards you in one last effort to end you. If they manage to reach you, they'll lunge on top of you and end their misery, suicide bomber style, taking a large portion of your precious health with them. It's gruesome stuff and definitely not for the kids.
As you progress through the game, you’ll find that a limb removal mechanic, plus a related attack easily breaks the game's otherwise challenging combat. Early on in the game, you learn two moves that you can use in tandem to make all future encounters a breeze. When you hack off a limb -- which you'll discover is mostly arbitrary -- you can press Triangle to do a finishing move and put the poor sod who just lost a few kilos (and not in the good way) out of his misery. Once he's been dispensed with he'll drop some health and Ki pickups which eventually home onto Hayabusa (and all other playable characters) and fill up their respective meters. What you learn soon after though is an unbreakable flurry attack that hacks of limbs left and right and takes out most enemies in your path. Simply hold down Triangle to charge the attack and let fly. When pick-ups are nearby, holding down Triangle instantly draws them in and reduces the charge up time of the flurry attack to zero. So, hack off limb, Triangle to finish, hold Triangle, instant unblockable flurry. Rinse and repeat.
You don't need to reduce to cheap tactics and break the game, but the repetitive and cheap nature of combat will eventually wear you down to the point where getting through encounters to experience the story becomes more important than memorising combos or learning all possible skills, of which there are many. Of course, for many the best part of these games is learning the mountains of combos and using them all throughout the game. NGS2+ caters perfectly to those gamers who'll find literally dozens of hours of learning, memorising and combat to keep them going.
Outside of the lengthy story mode (and its variations) there is a timed mode -- not unlike Max Payne's "New York Minute -- where you need to defeat enemies to keep the timer from reaching zero. There is also the new "Tag Missions" mode that allows you to switch between Hayabusa and the cameo characters that otherwise appear in specific levels only. All three main modes will keep you going for a really, really long time… especially when you try to tackle the game on higher difficulties. There's a lot of content here, and for a Vita game you definitely get your monies worth. The problem is that the Vita itself holds the game back from being as great as you remember on PS3.
For starters, the original ran at 60 frames per second while this port runs at 30, most of the time. Once the screen gets filled with too much action, the game slows noticeably. It also has this weird habit of turning anti-aliasing off entirely which fills the screen with awful jaggies for a few seconds and makes the whole affair look incredibly low-res. The co-op introduced in the console version is also conspicuously absent, which I can only attribute to the Vita's portable nature. It's a real shame though as co-op was an excellent addition and would be welcome here.
Other issues are inherited from the original. The camera is simply awful and frequently fails to keep up with the action. Often times I'd be facing off a half a dozen enemies and have the camera awkwardly staring off into the distance as I was simultaneously shanked then grabbed by an unblockable scripted move that removed more than half of my health. When the camera was focused on me correctly it would find ways of getting stuck behind walls, poles, plants or any other thing it could find. When a game is as fast paced and combat heavy as NGS2+, anything less than a perfect camera is a recipe for frustration. The worst sin of all? No Japanese voice acting in-game, at all.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a fun game that can provide hours of entertainment, but for me, it worked best in short bursts, which is exactly what the Vita is geared towards. However, there are enough shortcomings -- brought about largely by the Vita, which ironically is what makes it a more enjoyable experience -- andthe overall experience suffers as a result. Fans of the series and genre will find a lot to love, especially as the Vita continues to lack many worthwhile experiences. Other Vita owners will appreciate the combat and story in portable bursts if they’re able to overlook the technical shortcomings; others still will find limited merit in a combat system that’s easily broken and will frustrate more than the game delights.