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Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (PlayStation 3) review

"As part of the remake's emphasis on "enjoyable experience" above "ball-busting brutality", the scenery and characters have been gorgeously revamped; the rooftop view of Mount Fuji left me speechless, and the moonlit Tokyo gardens left me breathless. These backdrops are populated by high-resolution ninjas, demons, and robotic spider-women. Unfortunately, even though the basics are beautiful, some of the details don't quite fit."

In the Xbox 360's Ninja Gaiden II, there's a staircase. It's gray, made of stone, and rather long. Dramatic music plays as the hero ascends. What separates this scene from Metal Gear Solid 3's "heroic ladder climb" are the ninjas. Dozens upon dozens of ninjas. A hundred, even. Spell-casting ninjas. Sword-swinging ninjas. Incendiary shuriken-flinging ninjas. As Ryu Hayabusa runs up the staircase to prevent a demonic ritual, the entire Black Spider Clan throws itself at the world's greatest superninja in one last-ditch effort to bring him down. Limbs are severed, blood is spilled, and heads roll down stone steps. In the end, the victorious gamer stands tall and damned proud atop a mountain of carnage. Even though I had heard of this legendary scene beforehand, I never saw it coming; at first glance, the staircase appeared to be just like any other.

That same staircase is in the PS3 remake Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. The hundred ninjas aren't. Neither is the blood. Instead of decimating an entire clan, Ryu runs up a mostly-empty set of stone steps while heroic music plays . . . and quickly dispatches the handful of fools who show up to stop him. Instead of bleeding, they spray purple mist. The PS3's staircase scene certainly lacks the original's gruesome drama, but it also lacks the original's slowdown and family-unfriendly visual effects . . . sort of. People still get decapitated. They just don't spout geysers of gore.

I don't need to tell you which staircase scene is better than the other; you know your own preferences. The important thing is that the two games are different. Although Sigma 2 does become brutal at the highest difficulties, the default settings are fair and sometimes even easy -- a far cry from the original's respawning, rocket-launching bastards.

As part of the remake's emphasis on "enjoyable experience" above "ball-busting brutality", the scenery and characters have been gorgeously revamped; the rooftop view of Mount Fuji left me speechless, and the moonlit Tokyo gardens left me breathless. These backdrops are populated by high-resolution ninjas, demons, and robotic spider-women. Unfortunately, even though the basics are beautiful, some of the details don't quite fit. The Statue of Liberty is destroyed in one scene but reappears intact later, and Sigma 2's violence is incongruent -- enemies spew purple mist, but Ryu still shakes red blood from his sword. These are small oversights, but they're still surprising from the formerly detail-oriented Team Ninja.

The adventure is held together by a flimsy story about archfiends, greater fiends, and CIA agents. The plot conveys no meaningful message; it's just an excuse to slaughter oddball opponents in a linear series of pretty environments. I actually find this "zero hub" approach refreshing -- Sigma 2 feels like an old 8- or 16-bit adventure, rewarding victorious gamers with short cinemas between each stage.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ninja village . . . . .

In case the storyline weren't already flimsy enough, players will find themselves thrust into the role of a busty female at seemingly random intervals. The first of these PS3-exclusive stages recounts the tale of Momiji, an ample-bosomed shrine maiden who rescues a young boy from wicked invaders. Momiji and the boy are never seen again, not even when Ryu returns to the village. These stages exist simply in an effort to be cool. The females themselves are worthwhile player characters, but their stages are a bit too simplistic, even within the context of a linear game. One girl's level is essentially an elevator ride (while occasionally beating up enemies that leap onto the elevator). It would have been nice to replay the entire adventure as Rachel, Momiji, or that devilish minx Ayane, but that option isn't available.

However! If you shake the controller, the girls' massive boobs bounce around. The ironic thing is that possessed breasts aren't particularly sexy. The girl can just be standing still, and her breasts shake wildly about like there are little imps living inside them. Although marketable, boob imps don't make up for simplistic stages.

Team Ninja made several other questionable decisions. Ninja Gaiden II's optional "Tests of Valor" have been completely deleted. The revamped shop system often doesn't let you upgrade the weapons you want to upgrade. "New Game plus" has been removed; after putting hours into beating the game, it would have been a nice treat to replay the adventure with kick-butt weapons, especially if you missed one of the hidden crystal skulls the first time around. Ryu can revisit individual chapters, although that's not the same as replaying the entire game.

But it has boob imps!

Before you accuse me of making much over very little, consider this statement from Sigma 2's producer Yosuke Hayashi: "Every man really loves tits." (Apparently some men are averse to blood.) There's even a Japanese TV advertisement that shows ZERO gameplay footage because the ENTIRE COMMERCIAL is about controller-shaking and boob-bouncing.

In terms of legitimately important content, Sigma 2 does include a bunch of brand-new team missions, and the three females can be selected for these cooperative battles. These challenges pit players against varied assortments of enemies, ranging from simple ninjas to the entire array of greater fiends. Online battles tend to be more enjoyable than computer-assisted offline . . . unless you get paired up with some Rachel-using goober who just sits in the corner shooting things with her machinegun while you get murdered in close combat. These missions offer fast-paced fun and almost make up for the inability to play the "real" game with the girls. Almost.

Due to its graphical clarity, additional characters, boob-bouncing, and team missions, Yosuke Hayashi declared that Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 would be "the ultimate package, the one you will always remember." It's definitely a fun game; however, by removing the legendary bloodletting and nixxing the notorious difficulty, Sigma 2 strikes me more as a jab at ex-honcho Tomonobu Itagaki's original vision than as a legitimate labor of love. A lot of effort went into porting this to the PS3, a lot of effort went into the additions, and effort even went into the puzzling changes. I can't help but feel Team Ninja's efforts would have been better served by proving they could design something altogether new without their former leader.



zigfried's avatar
Staff review by Zigfried (October 07, 2009)

Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.

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