The Ninja Gaiden series has a reputation for tearing your brain to shreds with its high difficulty levels and rather crappy camera. Fortunately, Team Ninja has toned down the difficulty; however the latter problem is still prevalent in this latest port of 2008's Ninja Gaiden 2. The plus, as in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, stands for added errors, it seems.
My experience with Sigma 2 Plus didn’t get off to a good start; I started a game on heroes mode - all seemed to be going well - until the game crashed, my Vita informing me that the game had encountered error C2-12828-1. Upon further research, I found numerous games suffering from the same error. I reloaded it and haven’t had the problem since – but it’s there to watch out for and it didn’t make a good first impression.
NG: Sigma 2 Plus features the same hack and slash gameplay you’ve come to expect from the series – it is a port, of a port, after all. And unfortunately, that shows. This game was clearly designed to be played on the TV. The Vita’s smaller screen - coupled with the pace of the combat - occasionally makes it hard to follow the action, resulting in ‘mash the buttons until everything’s dead, then move on’ gameplay. In addition, there are many situations where I found Ryu targeting enemies just out of reach with his charged attacks - even stumbling off a ledge and having to climb back up.
The major addition to S2+'s gameplay is an ability called ‘hero mode’, which provides a temporary auto-evade state that activates when the player’s health goes into the red. The character will block or dodge attacks automatically, allowing you to focus on attacking – making boss battles in particular a lot easier compared to previous games.
Being a port, of course there’s little new as far as enemies go; you will fight familiar bosses, such as that giant worm demon. In addition, you can remove limbs from anything – even human ninjas - which had been censored in the Australian version of Ninja Gaiden 1 (hence the R18 rating). The remaining modes are normal, hard, and very hard.
Joining Ryu again are Ayane from Dead or Alive, Momiji from Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, and Rachel from NG2. They are playable primarily in the ninja race and tag mission sub-modes. The characters handle similarly melee-wise; each has a strong and quick strike. However, their quick ranged attacks are notably different; Momiji’s basic ranged attack is a bow and arrow, whereas Ryu throws shurikens, for instance.
One of the secondary modes you have to choose from is the ninja race mode. As the name suggests, it’s a beat-the-clock challenge in which you have to finish the mission within the time limit. It’s harder than it sounds; although killing enemies gives you a time boost, it’s small and barely covers the time you spent killing the fiends.
In the tag missions, the girls come into play either teaming up with Ryu, or together. They consist of you and an AI partner fighting through hordes of enemies - the quicker you kill them, the better, and you can switch between characters on the fly. Unfortunately, there aren’t any boss battles in this mode - just a lot of enemies – it’s a shame, since double teaming boss monsters would be a blast. The lack of two player action is also a disappointment – it’s not like the Vita has a shortage of networking options.
Visually, NG:Sigma 2 has made the jump to Vita well. There’s little notable slow down – even in the most intense fights. It’s also a treat to look at; huge bosses, blood soaked weaponry – which becomes amazingly clean with just one swing. The levels feature a different look to suit the locale, although they often end up feeling like you’re running through corridors with the occasional boss battle.
Overall, this is a solid effort at porting Ninja Gaiden 2 – one of the best hack and slash titles of this generation – to a handheld. Unfortunately, it still has the poor camera and occasionally sloppy level design of the original, problems that are further compounded by the Vita’s small screen.