I would easily say that the PlayStation Vita’s biggest strength is its ability to play console-quality titles on a portable platform – while it’s always good to see games developed specifically for the handheld platform, I think the way to the future of gaming is one where console and portable gaming are interchangeable. Whether it’s a simple title such as Angry Birds or an epic RPG such as the upcoming Final Fantasy X HD, the concept of playing anything, anywhere, is an exciting notion for me.
While the Vita is clearly capable of handling portable versions of the previous console generation of games - Persona 4, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection – I’ve been a little more dubious about the idea of portable versions of games originally produced for the current generation of home consoles, as I doubted the Vita would be capable of producing a solid port without some largely noticeable sacrifices in both visuals and general running speed. I’m no expert when it comes to console specs, but I wouldn’t expect that the Vita quite matches up to the PlayStation 3 in terms of pure power.
For the first time, I have had a chance to try my hand at one such title – Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus - the latest, most up to date re-release of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 which was originally a PlayStation 3 exclusive (which, in itself was a retuned re-release of the multi-platform Ninja Gaiden II. Hope that makes sense). In any case, it’s the most recent edition of Ninja Gaiden II, including the extra features and changes that were made for Sigma 2, with a couple of exceptions.
If you’ve played any of the console editions of Ninja Gaiden II, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the game entails – a hack n’ slash title starring the futuristic ninja, Ryu Hayabusa. As with previous games in the series, the game offers a challenging combat system that focuses on good defensive strategy, and precision timing – all while looking awesome in the process. Combat is mixed with platforming sections, involving wall-running, pole-swinging and the like, and of course like any good hack n’ slash title, there are a selection of fun bosses to battle along the way. I won’t go into too much detail about the game’s story and the like, considering Ninja Gaiden II has been around for a while - but suffice it to say that Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus offers the full set of levels and bosses from the original game, ported into a handheld format.
In terms of features, Sigma 2 Plus is my favourite version of the game so far. In terms of the game’s story mode, it contains all of the changes that Sigma 2 introduced, including extra bosses, weapons and the additional characters Ayane, Momiji and Rachel – each with their own individual chapter in the game’s story. However, unlike Sigma 2, Plus re-introduces the blood and gore that was removed in the game’s last incarnation – a change that originally bothered me more than I’d like to admit, given that it’s purely cosmetic. However, it had left me feeling that neither NG2 or Sigma 2 were the “complete” edition of the game – thankfully, Sigma 2 Plus made the choice to undo this change, leaving the game full of it’s original, bloody goodness.
Considering this is a port of a PlayStation 3 game, I must admit I was impressed with how true to the original game this handheld port was – although areas have received minor visual downgrades, it’s done in a way that they’ve lost almost none of their original beauty in the process – it had been a little while since I last played Sigma, but everything looked as I remembered it, and there were no glaring changes in terms of design. It very much looks like Ninja Gaiden II.
However, this isn’t to say that everything is great – the problem is what happens when the game gets more frantic, or the environments become more dynamic. Often, the game will become somewhat pixellated, with many jagged edges around the various objects on-screen – one of the times this became more apparent was on Mission 2, during a boss battle in a flaming building. The game seemed to struggle with the animation, and at times the game would look quite grainy.
Sadly, the gameplay follows suit in a similar fashion. While the game running at a lower frame-rate is only natural given the new medium, Ryu feels less responsive than in the original game, and combat can become a little messy when dealing with a game focused on reactions and precise button timing. I found it by no means unplayable – progressing through the game on its equivalent to “Normal” mode was comfortable enough for the most-part, but it didn’t quite feel right. In some instances, however, the game would encounter slowdown that made the game feel as though it really just couldn’t cope with everything going on on-screen, which leads to some frustration. For a casual bit of ninja-style gameplay, Sigma 2 Plus does what it says on the tin but when it comes to console precision it’s just a little clunky compared to the PS3 version, and the slowdown can spoil what should be some of the more enjoyable fights.
Aside from the main story mode, there have been some changes to the game’s extra modes. The online co-op Team Missions have been removed, which is probably for the best as the Vita would most likely struggle to process two characters at once. Instead, they have been replaced with two new solo modes – Ninja Race, and Tag Missions. Ninja Race involves battling your way through pre-set sections of certain stages, gathering essence from fallen opponents to extend your timer. The best thing about this mode is that it gives you a bit more freedom to use the game’s additional characters – something I very much enjoyed since I always felt that the extra characters were a little under-used in the original version of Sigma 2 – especially considering I’m not one for online gaming.
Tag Missions are Sigma 2 Plus’ take on the old Team Missions, albeit restricted to an AI partner. However, it’s now possible to switch between characters on-the-fly with a tap of the d-pad, allowing you to mix it up between two characters at once. However, the lack of online mode will likely cause problems for the completionists out there – the AI can be pretty useless at times, and on the later stages becomes more of a burden than a help as they feel more like escort missions than teamwork.
All in all, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a bit of a mixed bag. Making Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 a portable game is an ambitious idea for sure – and in many ways, I was very impressed with how faithful the game is to its console brother. At times, I was blown away by the idea that I could play the full console version of Ninja Gaiden II on a handheld, but the frequent dips in the frame rate and slight lag often left me wondering if handheld consoles aren’t quite ready for PS3 quality games just yet.
+ Very faithful handheld port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 with plenty of features
+ Great hack n’ slash game with a good array of weapons and bosses
+ Sigma 2 with blood!
- Struggles to run at times, resulting in graphical dips and slowdown
- Lack of online could cause problems with Tag Missions
To be honest, expecting Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 to run perfectly on a handheld console seems like a bit of an unrealistic expectation – there’s a lot of difference between a Vita and a PS3. Sadly though, a game with a lot of emphasis on tight controls and great visuals suffers when the game struggles to process everything that’s going on at once. There’s a lot of fun to be had with Sigma 2 Plus, to be sure – and perhaps a player new to Ninja Gaiden II would feel less hindered than someone with more experience with the console counterpart. That said, credit has to be given that a portable version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is possible on today’s consoles, and it has my favourite mix of gore and features of all the versions of NG2. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t perform quite as well as the original.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is out now for PlayStation Vita
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At Plus XP we like to review games a little differently. Instead of giving the usual score out of 10 like most review site do, all games we review are scored out of 100 (or in Plus XP terms 100XP). Each review will feature a XP bar at the bottom of the page representing the score given to a game.