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Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus
Score: 70%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI America
Developer: Team Ninja
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:
I have a love/hate relationship with this series: Ninja Gaiden and its subsequent updates are some of my favorite action games of all time. Ninja Gaiden II fumbled the ball in a few key areas, but it was more visceral and impactful than ever before; Sigma 2 fixed some of its problems, but bowdlerized the violence to the point where it was more deserving of a T rating. And Ninja Gaiden 3... well, my hatred of that game is documented, and I hope to get the chance to see if Razor's Edge salvages any of its potential. In the meantime, I've spent some time with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus. If a game goes from Ninja Gaiden II to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, I have no choice but to expect the one with the most qualifying words to be the best of the three. Such is not the case. It's the same fun game, but it suffers from a lack of meaningful upgrades and possibly the worst performance issues I've seen in a Vita game.

Ninja Gaiden II and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 were called out for not looking like next-gen games. These criticisms are understandable; after all, they look like the original Ninja Gaiden, which appeared on the original Xbox. The animation work and character designs were great, and they are here. Gore hounds will be pleased to know that enemies actually bleed in this game; limbs and heads are turned to nasty red chunks as Ryu, Momiji, Rachel, and Ayane carve their way through Fiends and Black Spider Ninjas. But all of this comes at a cost; the framerate goes from passable to pitiful at a moment's notice. As enemies fill the screen, the framerate drops noticeably, and before long, it starts to look like a speeded-up slide show. This is inexcusable for a game that relies so much on precision and timing. Sometimes, the game makes use of dynamic resolution, as the visuals become more pixellated as you tax the system more and more. Reports have surfaced that changing the camera speed improves the performance, but I found no difference other than an even more unwieldy camera system -- and Ninja Gaiden II's camera was wild and obstinate to begin with.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus sounds exactly like its predecessors, provided you used the English dubbing. I'm not a fan of English dubbing in games that are unapologetically Japanese in tone; certain things just don't translate well, and all the hammy talk about Fiends and the path of the ninja and honor make me reach for cotton balls in an effort to stop my ears from bleeding. Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus doesn't give you the choice to use the original Japanese dubbing. The soundtrack is still exciting and appropriate for each situation our heroes find themselves in.


Gameplay:
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a port of the updated version of Ninja Gaiden II that appeared on the PlayStation 3. It stars a handful of well-known Tecmo characters, not the least of which is master ninja Ryu Hayabusa. Ryu finds himself battling an evil conspiracy between the rival Black Spider Clan and the forces of the Archfiend. It also involves a CIA agent named Sonia, who contributes little to nothing to the plot besides being so busty it's a wonder she doesn't simply fall over on her head. As I mentioned in my Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 review, the story is idiotic and only exists to give Ryu and company a reason to flip out and slaughter living things.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus gives you control of an incredibly powerful and agile series of heroes and puts a number of frighteningly deadly-looking implements of destruction in their hands. It lets you go from there, only asking that you keep your reflexes sharp, read your enemies well, and execute your attacks with precision.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus marks the return of the Chapter Challenge, which doesn't really constitute a substantive diversion from the campaign itself save for the metagame elements. The main additions that apparently warrant the "Plus" at the end of the title are Ninja Race and Tag Missions.

Ninja Race charges you with the completion of certain segments of the single player campaign within a certain time limit. Granted, the missions aren't lifted wholesale from the campaign itself; paths and enemy placement are changed. Kills earn you extra time with which to reach the end. It's an interesting mode.

Tag Missions are almost what you'd expect a mode with this name to be, but where it subverts expectations is also where it disappoints. You'd think this mode would allow a friend to help you complete challenge missions in either ad hoc or infrastructure mode. But no, it's only a computer player jumping in to kick ass with you. I liked Sigma 2's multiplayer modes because it offered a perfect arena for me to either show off or make an ass of myself in front of someone else. Tag Mission Mode just feels like filler.


Difficulty:
Maybe I'm just getting better at these games, but I didn't find Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus to be as hard as Sigma 2, much less vanilla Ninja Gaiden II. Granted, the original release was far less balanced than its successors. On the standard difficulty level, I rarely found myself digging into my Grains of Spiritual Life, and I never used a Talisman of Rebirth during my entire playthrough.

That being said, the game's technical problems can and inevitably will get in your way. Sometimes, the game slows down so much that your input precedes your character's action by too long, causing the input to go ignored. This leaves you open to attack with no way of defending or counterattacking.


Game Mechanics:
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus has the same command lists for each of its weapons and gives its characters the exact same abilities they had when Sigma 2 first appeared on the PlayStation 3. Ryu and Ayane can run on walls to reach places that are otherwise unreachable. They are incredibly fast; if your mind and thumbs operate on the same wavelength, you'll find yourself pulling off some incredible feats.

As far as gameplay goes, it's the same beast as it was before. Command lists for each weapon are well-designed and full of moves you'll want to try. Learning which enemies are susceptible to which attacks is a lot of fun. Maiming your enemies and dispatching them with brutal Obliteration Techniques never gets old. The strategy of managing your essence still adds some welcome depth to the action; do you collect the essence from a fallen enemy as currency, or do you forgo it to charge an Ultimate Technique? I found myself opting for the latter in most cases, as you can only spend yellow essence on consumables.

Perhaps a patch will be released in time, but as of this writing, the horrible performance is really a deal-breaker. There's also the issue of it adding virtually nothing to merit repurchase from anyone who played the previous games. If you absolutely must take your Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on the road, this is your best, worst, and only option -- that's really all I can say.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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