- Developer: Team Ninja
- Publisher: KOEI TECMO EUROPE
- Release date: 10/06/2021
- Price: £32.99 / $39.99 (as part of a collection)
- Review code provided by KOEI TECMO EUROPE
- Note: released as part of NINJA GAIDEN: Master Collection
- Click here for Ninja Gaiden 2
- Click here for Ninja Gaiden 3
Introducing: Ninja Gaiden Sigma – Nintendo Switch Review
All the way back in 2004, Ninja Gaiden released on the original Xbox. As a spin-off of the Dead or Alive series, the game seemed a bit of a curio. How would a single character from a fighting game expand into a grand adventure? How could you translate those hair-pulling NES games into a 3D action-adventure game and still keep their essence? We take a look at NINJA GAIDEN Sigma for Switch in this review. And follow these links to the second and third part.
Somehow Team Ninja pulled it off and in the process managed to create one of the most iconic games on the system. Several re-releases later, in the form of Black and Sigma (which this review looks at), the game and its sequels arrive on Switch.
This review forms one of three parts of our look at the Master Collection, which includes the Sigma versions of the three 3D games which debuted on the Xbox and Xbox 360. The Master Collection is also available as a deluxe edition, coming in at £39.99 and includes a digital art book and soundtrack, which I will come to later.
The big question, is whether these games still hold up almost 20 years later. In the case of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the answer is an emphatic yes!
The game begins with Ryu Hayabusa (yes that one) on a mission to infiltrate his clan’s mountaintop fortress. Upon reaching the top he is met by his master, and uncle, Murai. After a short sparring session the pair are interrupted by Ayane, who some of you may also recognise from the Dead or Alive Series. She brings bad news of an attack on Ryu’s village, sparking off a bloody quest for vengeance.
Ryu quickly learns that the Vigoorian Empire are responsible for the attack, so sets off there stowed away on an airship. On his quest for revenge Ryu meets various interesting characters, including Rachel the Fiend hunter and engages in many battles against agile ninjas, soldiers, demons and even a wild battle against a battalion of tanks.
The story offers some interesting twists and turns and provides some context to the adventuring and murdering that Ryu indulges in.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a hard-as-nails action adventure game. Before Dark Souls, this was the yardstick that would often be used as the benchmark when someone asked if a game was difficult. The game manages to nicely balance combat with puzzling and exploration, but really shines during the combat sections.
Despite being nearly 20 years old, the combat is definitely best in class stuff. Ryu is agile and brutal, capable of dealing immense damage with a wide range of weapons, and making a right old mess in the process!
Team Ninja’s background developing the Dead or Alive series shows, as the combat is tight and responsive, whipping along at 60FPS. Mastering each of the weapons involves memorising fairly simple strings to unleash the different combos which you unlock via scrolls which you find throughout the world and by upgrading your armory thanks to the merchant Muramusa.
Enemies drop yellow orbs, which act as the game’s currency and can be spent on upgrades as mentioned or on potions and elixirs to help restore your health and Ninpo (magic).
Getting the most out of the game involves mastery of the combat system, by memorising the combos and using quick reflexes to utilise the parry system. Enemies are relentless and even the weakest grunts can easily wipe out chunks of your health bar with swift attacks. Early on you learn the importance of blocking and parrying to ensure your survival, however many enemies can also utilise grabs to break your guard, forcing you to stay mobile whilst juggling attacks and counters. The game incentivises the use of combos by providing you with more yellow orbs for enemies defeated with large combos.
As well as a range of interesting and deadly smaller enemies, the game does a mean line in boss battles. These range from battles against Samurai on Horseback, to various demons and even a battalion of tanks and a Hind helicopter. Despite some of the more fantastical moments, the game manages to feel much more grounded and serious than the likes of the Devil May Cry series.
The Way of Peace
Outwith the game’s battles you spend a lot of time exploring and solving basic puzzles. Level design is generally very good, with the first few hours being a particular high point. The mountains around Ryu’s village provide some lovely autumnal scenery and some of the more interesting platforming. As the game progresses into the Vigoorian Empire, the city environments get a little bland. Thankfully the game goes on to explore what lies beneath the city, and things get very interesting once again.
I was struck by how well some of the level design holds up against today’s standards, with many areas looping back on themselves sending you through a previously locked door with a big ‘Eureka’ moment, much like the world design in Dark Souls.
Visually the game holds up very well, with the simple and clear art style lending itself well to the HD upgrade. Enemies still animate well and the combat has a satisfying weight to it, with gallons of blood flying everywhere. The world design combines Heian period structures with European Medieval vibes, then throws some futuristic military hardware into the mix for good measure. The end result is something that manages to come off as quite unique, even all these years later.
The audio in the game is also great, with tracks ranging from driving, heavy pieces during some of the big fights, to more traditional Japanese style tracks and even some brilliant Taiko music during one particularly climactic boss battle. The sound design ties everything together nicely and helps merge the Eastern and Western influences into something cohesive.
Everything ticks along nicely at 60FPS, with only the occasional drop when an explosion occurs. This doesn’t have any real effect on the gameplay, despite the fast-paced and unforgiving nature of the enemies.
The game does utilise a lot of short loading times, which can be a little jarring, but these tend to interrupt exploration rather than combat.
The digital art book and soundtrack included in the deluxe edition offer a range of renders and drawings of areas and characters from across the series, as well as storyboards and over 180 tracks. There is a lot of content for fans of the series to browse through, with some really nice detail included.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a slight reimagining of the 2004 classic, with some nice quality-of-life change. It also adds an additional weapon and the ability to play as Rachel. Her sections, whilst offering additional content, serve as little more than filler. This version of the game includes a mission and survival mode, with the former pitting players into different scenarios requiring them to focus on one particular weapon, whilst the latter challenges you with surviving as long as possible against increasing waves of enemies. Those that want to spend more time mastering the combat system will find a lot to love here.
Fans of the 2004 version of the game may find some of the changes jarring, with for example one early cutscene (which was particularly cool) removed and replaced with a boss battle which is literally impossible. Some of these changes, combined with the addition of the Rachel chapters, mean Sigma is not quite the definitive edition of Ninja Gaiden (that would be Black). Despite that, it offers a very good version of an all time classic, and a lot of fun for either returning players or those coming in for the first time.
- Tight and responsive combat
- Bloody and cathartic
- Lots of extra content
- A little intimidating for some players
- Some Sigma content is superfluous