July 4, 2007 - Ninjas and videogames. It is the ultimate paring; up there with toast and jam, dogs and tennis balls and Nintendo and fanboys. It's all about the swords, the jumping, the water-running and the crazy ninja magic. And Ninja Gaiden is the granddaddy of the popular ninja game, starting life on the NES back in 1988 and spawning a trilogy starring the blue jumpsuit-clad bad-arse, Ryu Hayabusa - the Solitary Super Ninja.
Do it, Ryu! He's the badass ninja who doesn't take no guff from nobody, foo'.
Enter Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the PS3 re-release of Ninja Gaiden Black, which in itself was an expanded version of Ninja Gaiden - not on NES - but on the original Xbox, developed by Team Ninja. Still with me here? Good, because if you're a gamer looking for hardcore almost-old-school gaming bliss, Sigma is not a game to gloss over and let pass by, like a ninja in the night.
It's hard, fun, frequently thrilling and has lots of ninjas. What else do you need? Incidentally, a lot of patience because, as history might suggest, Sigma is hard as nails and will punish careless players, smacking them around like a piddling puppy.
As the scene is set for this epic quest, Ryu is returning to his village, which has been set ablaze by the fiery and merciless Lord of the Greater Fiends, Doku, who serves the emperor of the Vigoor empire. The angry, soulless fellow has also swiped the Dark Dragon Blade and Ryu is out for revenge. Out to thwart Ryu, however, are legions of ninjas and spirits, military agents and numerous bosses bent on extracting as much of your blood as possible.
Being a kick-ass ninja, Ryu has a ton of fancy-pants abilities at his disposal. Two primary attack buttons - square and triangle, coupled with jump and a projectile-based make for interesting combos.
Ryu's movements are impressively fast and precise; he's been animated very delicately and his combo-based attacks flow together like a dark dance. Equipping him with nunchaku or the new dual-katanas 'Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang' results in an incredible twirling display of death that never pops from one animation into another, in the typical fighting-game jarring effect. More than once, we drifted back into 'Monkey' daydreams while dealing punishment with the bright red staff. No Pigsy or flying cloud transport to be found here, though.
New techniques are eventually unlocked through mastery of each weapon, and when combined with ninja magic techniques (referred to as Ninpo), Ryu is a formidable character. We had some issues with accidentally casting Ninpo when in furious button-mashing battles - particularly since casting Ninpo requires you to set it to your projectile attack button, which you'll be pressing with shocking frequency.
Almost all of this, of course, is identical to what we saw in Ninja Gaiden on Xbox. So what's new and different? Team Ninja has done the honourable thing and added a fair amount of new content while also tweaking some of the game's balance in areas like enemy AI, your abilities and some of the weapons available early in the game. This time around, you can also flick shurikens while jumping, as well as scamper across the surface of bodies of water. None of these tweaks are game-dynamic altering by any means but, like the game itself, together these changes are more than the sum of their parts - the experience is more enjoyable for the adjustments made.
Exactly how many times in a row can you release the exact same game, with minor graphics improvements, admit that it is the exact same game, and still expect me to think it is worth a damn? I mean, I understand redoing a game after a few YEARS, like resident evil for instance, but damn this is just stupid.
What will it be 2 months after this game releases? Ninja Gaiden: Black Sigma Echo Bravo 3? And will the "Major Upgrade" be? Something like "Yes it is the exact same damn game, but this time YOU CAN PICK THE COLOR OF YOUR SHOELACES!!!!"