Having never played the original Ninja Gaiden before, I had no preconceived ideas about what was in store. As it turns out, ideas of any sort might have been a help getting through this incredibly challenging adventure. Ninja Gaiden Sigma will chew you up and spit you out onto your ass, destroying any shred of gaming ego you might have lying around the place. Before starting, I was sorely tempted to hop online and research what sort of game I had my hands on. Instead, I threw myself in blindly, to take advantage of having such a clean reviewing slate.
After a wordy and complex introduction screen, you’re given control of the ninja Ryu Hayabusa. The first level guides you through a harsh and often punishing tutorial level, setting the expectation for exactly how hard this game is going to get. If you fail to survive the very first boss battle more than a few times, you’ll be granted a slight reprieve in the form of easier fights and a small token power up or armour bonus. Equipped then with a smug grin and a pocket full of health elixirs, you should be able to finish up the first level and witness the horrific slaughter of Ryu’s beloved village.
Venturing onwards to avenge the death of his ninja comrades, Ryu becomes caught up in a race to stop the evil Lord Doku from getting his hands on the legendary Dark Dragon Blade.
Similar in style and feel to the Genji games, Ninja Gaiden Sigma allows you to button mash your way through the story while slowly getting further and further behind in health, weapons and power ups. The gameplay, however, virtually demands that you learn the proper attack techniques in order to get any sort of enjoyment out of the game. Upgrading your weapons and using the visually impressive combos not only looks awesome, but makes the game a hell of lot easier.
To add to the overall difficulty, most areas in the game have respawning enemies. This can be great for filling up your purse by gathering yellow orbs upon their demise, but if you don’t get the attack techniques right every time, you’ll be spending more on potions to heal yourself from these recurring battles than the amount of yellow orbs you collected in the first place.
The camera angles, as I later found out, have been a previous annoyance in the original Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black, and Sigma is no exception. Some of the vital boss battles might as well be played with your eyes closed, as the camera often decides you’d rather be looking at a decorative roof awning or protruding tree branch.
Currently retailing at the hefty price of $120, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is still good value, being a reasonably long next generation game, (and not only because it’s taken you three hours and a stop off at GameFAQs to complete each of the 18 chapters). The point to mention here, however, is that Ninja Gaiden Sigma isn’t an entirely new Ninja Gaiden title. Based on the previous two Xbox releases, Ninja Gaiden Sigma throws in a few new levels, weapons, bosses and the added feature of being able to play as Rachael, one of the series’ heroines. The graphics look a bit shinier and the developers have made use of the sixaxis controller, allowing you to shake things up, literally, when you unleash a Ninpo attack. Devoted fans of the original game or curious newcomers (like myself) won’t be annoyed by the lack of original content – others may undoubtedly prefer to wait for a new Ninja Gaiden to arrive.
Regardless of the fact that it’s basically a third version of the same title, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a well put together game with an interesting storyline and some inspired settings. The gameplay is rewarding once the techniques are mastered and the action will have your heart-thumping, but the grueling difficulty will deter all but the most dedicated of gamers.