French poet Paul Valéry once wrote, “An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it”. With the release of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus for the Vita, it’s clear that the bosses at Koei-Tecmo feel likewise. Since being published in 2004, Ninja Gaiden has fought desertion with a steady succession of rereleases– each offering slight tweaks and obliging additions to the familiar formula. Remarkably, these changes have allowed the title to remain gratifying eight years later, assuming players haven’t shadowed Ryu Hayabusa’s every wall scamper and enemy spearing.
Mercifully, time has been kind to Ninja Gaiden’s engaging combat system. Endowed with an ever-expanding repertoire of melee and projectile strikes, spinning piledrivers, as well as magical attacks, the title skillfully articulates the speed and efficiency expected from a seasoned assassin. Smartly, the protagonist’s abilities are matched by an incessantly effective AI, who persistently flanks and engages the player, creating an unremitting level of challenge. Although relentless blocking, evasion, and roundabout attacks on bosses are the general tenets of success, each new foe requires a slightly different battle tactic, forcing players to remain attentive at all times. Variety is advanced further by an assortment of different weapons, such as the powerful but sluggish Dabilahro, or devastating Nunchaku- which demands players be dangerously close to their opponent. Control across previous console versions was consistently flawless, but the imperative Reverse Wind technique (rolling out of a dodge) wasn’t as breezy on the Vita, sporadically not responding to a stick pull.
With even common enemies capable of draining the health gauge, Ninja Gaiden has developed a reputation for being extremely demanding, forcing gamers to acclimate to the title’s obstinate attitude. For players not up to this near-insurmountable challenge, Sigma Plus offers up Hero mode, a Vita-exclusive difficulty level which automatically blocks, evades and allows unlimited Ninpo once a player’s health level falters. Cleverly, this assistance in entirely optional and then only appears when players are in dire jeopardy, preserving the essence Gaiden’s arduous adventure.
While Sigma Plus’ other additions aren’t as indispensible, they are well implemented. While in first-person mode, players can use the Vita’s gyroscopic functionality to look around, with a touch sending a projectile to a precise target. Whereas Sigma for the PlayStation 3 compelled gamers to shake their Sixaxis controllers to power up their Ninpo, touches and swipes on the Vita’s rear panel amplify the potency of your magic. Perplexingly, the game’s menus fail to take advantage of the touchscreen.
Perfect for a portable platform, Sigma Plus’ Ninja Trials offer a nice selection of truncated missions for player to tackle. From rooms battles involves a flaming room full of infuriated enemies to destroying a tower with projectile weapons, many of these scenarios are culled from the main campaign, stripped of any superfluous narrative elements. Additional tasks unlock as players persevere through Sigma Plus, but it would have been gratifying to see leaderboard support.
Ninja Gaiden survived the transition to the small screen with most of its visuals intact, occasionally showing off the Vita’s power with pleasing depth of field effects. Although the console version’s faultless sixty frame-per-second framerate has been halved, the title remains much of its responsiveness of its predecessors. Particle effects from the Ninpo strikes have been marginally toned down, however, the the game’s feudal Japanese architecture, sakura-strewn locales, and Mayan-inspired temples remain untouched.
Gamers who have conquered any of the console iterations of Itagaki-san’s magnum opus won’t find much in the way of new material in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, save for the privilege of carving enemies during morning commutes. Yet, for new Vita owners who haven’t experienced the title, Ninja Gaiden comes highly recommended. The game’s feverish combat and merciless adversaries offer an experience rivaled only by Koei-Tecmo’s next inevitable revision.