Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Developer: Team Ninja
Medium: Vita Card / Digital Download
I’ll start this review out by stating that I really enjoyed Ninja Gaiden 2 on Xbox 360 and the PS3 port dubbed Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. They were both a lot of fun, and I actually liked a lot of the changes made when Team Ninja carried the sequel over to the PS3. The additional bosses were pretty fun, outside of the somewhat lame statue fights, and the visual differences were appreciated, along with the elimination of that annoying projectile spam that plagued the 360 game. So assuming that you’re in the same boat as me, why wouldn’t you look forward to a portable version of that release?
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus for the PS Vita certainly tries to give you one major reason. With the game being out in the wild for a week now, you’ve probably heard about the framerate issues, which are absolutely the worst thing about this particular port. There are aspects that I enjoy, and it’s a hefty amount of game to pack into a portable format, but for a game that does require a decent amount of precision and timing, the framerate problems evident just 15 minutes into the game ruin a lot of the appeal.
Sigma 2 Plus aims for the same max framerate that the original Sigma Plus port for the Vita did when it released around the Vita’s launch. So roughly, about 30 frames per second. That’s half of the original, but for me was a suitable compromise for an otherwise decent port of a great game. Granted, I was a little burned out on the original NG, Sigma or otherwise, but I think it held up pretty well for a port. Sigma 2 Plus kind of does, but it definitely misses the mark on framerate..
You’ll hit your first framerate wall when you face off against the very first fireball projectile ninja in the opening stage. If you’re playing on the Acolyte difficulty level labeled as normal, you won’t see a significant hit but you’ll definitely notice the slowdown. Acolyte as a whole doesn’t suffer nearly as much when it comes to the framerate issues, but considering that a lot of folks interested in picking this title up are probably somewhat experienced with the Ninja Gaiden series, Acolyte isn’t going to present much of a challenge. But when you try to ratchet the difficulty up, you’ll really start to see that framerate drop, at times resembling the equivalent of a slideshow made from still images.
There’s a popular “fix” presented across forums currently that states the framerate issues are alleviated some by turning off gore, and adjusting the first and third person camera speeds to max. I attempted this as well, and while it might make a negligible difference in the experience, the game still seems to run poorly on harder difficulties, especially so with any instance involving a fair number of enemies combined with projectiles. There are moments here where I find myself amazed that the game looks this good on a portable, but those moments are either few and far between, or marred as soon as I press forward on the analog stick.
And while I’ve ranted about the framerate issues found here for about 450 words or so, I do want to mention that I’m usually not that up in arms when a game fails to maintain its framerate at the cost of on-screen action. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up with the NES, where slowdown was almost a feature you could slap on the back of a box, but I’m usually pretty forgiving. What makes it such a difficult pill to swallow with NG Sigma 2 Plus is that Ninja Gaiden really requires some very specific inputs to be followed during combat in order to excel at the game.
You can’t really get away with spamming light and heavy attacks and hoping to hit a random combo or two, and even on the lower difficulty settings you’ll find yourself punished for doing just that. So when the actual speed of the game starts to perform erratically, it becomes really difficult to chain together the button presses, blocking, and dodging necessary to keep Ryu alive. It makes the game difficult to play, and sucks the fun out of it because you never really know if you’ve screwed up or if the game has screwed you.
If you’re willing to get past this flaw then you’ll be happy to see that the majority of the original Sigma 2 does seem to be intact. Outside of the story mode you have access to a handful of alternate modes, including the returning Challenge mode that counts Karma points when running through campaign stages. There’s also a tag mode that teams you up with an AI controlled partner as you run through areas and shoot for a high score by chaining together kills. This mode would have been a little more fun if they could have implemented some sort of online play, considering your AI partner isn’t that good. You can swap between both characters at will in order to pick up the slack, but it isn’t much of a substitute.
The best of the new additions featured in Sigma 2 Plus is the Ninja Run mode. This is a race against the clock through sections of previously played levels, wherein you need to hit various checkpoints to extend the timer in order to finish. On top of that, you’ll get bombarded by enemies, which you can kill in order to get small time bonuses, or possibly limited speed boosts. It’s actually a lot of fun, and pretty challenging too, with some of the difficulty coming from knowing when to fight and when to flee.
Other content, like the additional characters of Ayane, Rachel and Momiji are still present and playable, along with some Vita specific costumes for everyone. The added weapons from Sigma 2 make their way over as well, and one featured removed from the original Sigma 2, blood, returns here. Limbs still disappear when they hit the ground, but considering the framerate problems this game already has, that’s for the best.
It's also nice to see that the controls have improved over what Team Ninja tried to do on the initial port of Sigma to the Vita. Instead of forcing in a lot of gimmicky Vita functions, you can now pull off magical ninpo attacks with a single button press. Bow and arrow controls are activated by tapping the icon displayed in the lower left of the screen at any time, allowing you to drop out of bow control with the press of any face button on the Vita, making that transition pretty painless. And all the unique combo's for the various weapons you'll gain throughout the story seem to be intact, with full lists of moves accessible via the menu at any time. The d-pad doubles as a quick select option for items and weapons as well, making those easily accessible.
As much as I've ranted about the framerate in this review, it's also worth stating that the previous titles on consoles weren't always steady in that department. But for whatever reason Sigma 2 Plus seems to really suffer here, making this a tough sell for me. I'd say that if you really love the game, and aren't too particular about the framerate, then this is worth picking up. And for those of you new to the game, or series even, looking for something new to play on the Vita, you could definitely do worse. But I can't help but harbor some disappointment in the overall product, and sincerely hope that Tecmo and Team Ninja can potentially patch this mess up.