I cursed my way through Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox years ago, but it was a labor of love. I never played NG: Black, and while I purchased NG: Sigma when it was released, I have yet to complete it. Now, Tecmo/KOEI has released Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (NGSP) exclusively for the Vita. It includes some Vita-exclusive controls as well as the Hero Mode and Ninja Trials, making
this the most complete version of the classic to date.
Great games stand the test of time, and that most certainly applies to Ninja Gaiden. It's not a perfect game, but I would have no problem ranking it as one of the best third person action games in the last decade. NGSP has everything that made the previous versions what they were -- both good and bad, although mostly great -- and adds just a bit more.
Most of you considering the Vita version have probably already played Ninja Gaiden at some point. For me, this is my "reward" for not having played NG Black or Sigma to completion -- I now have what surely is the last version of Ninja Gaiden (2004), which means I have a whole lot to look forward to as as I replay the campaign. And it's been great, no doubt.
Anyway, if you have played the previous versions, and are wondering what the Vita version gives you, it's primarily three things: some Vita-exclusive controls, the Ninja Trials, and the Hero Mode. In first person view, players can tilt their Vita to look around or take aim with the bow and arrow. This works pretty well, although it's a little too untraditional and borderline gimmicky for me. This game puts me on edge, too, not in an upset type of way, but more in "I better focus on what I'm doing or I will be killed" type of way. So moving the Vita around to change my first person view just didn't do anything for me.
The rear touchpad is used for Ninpo, or ninja magic. Sigma required players to shake their SIXAXIS to power up the Ninpo, with Plus, you instead have to tap or swipe on the rear touchscreen. Again, while it works well, it's a mild tweak and questionably useful -- I think I would have had the same level of satisfaction doing a QTE or tapping a face button, but it is what it is. There is no way to turn either of these features off, by the way.
The Ninja Trials are neat, and quite challenging. While you can pick your difficulty level, these trials will put you through your paces. Four tiers with five stages each are included. I haven't been terribly successful in these Trials to date, but most involve fighting waves of enemies. This is a great pickup and play mode if your available time is short, just don't expect Tecmo to go easy on you.
To my surprise and delight, there is a new mode called Hero Mode that is exclusive to the Vita version. This isn't a difficulty setting as much as it is literally a new mode of play. It's the exact same game, only that when your health is very low, you automatically block and evade all incoming attacks and you can use Ninpo as often as you like. Just as soon as your health gets above this very low threshold, this is deactivated. You can still die, but it's just harder to do so.
Personally, I find this to be a pretty reasonable compromise between being able to enjoy Ninja Gaiden and having to deal with the infamous difficulty. Ninja Gaiden purists may be outraged by this generous new way to play, but I welcome it. I'm way busier these days than I was back in 2004 when I first played through the game on the Xbox. Sigma Plus is notably different than that version in terms of content, but it's still a significantly harder than normal game. That I'm able to still enjoy the experience without pulling out my hair and spending hours upon hours reloading checkpoints is just wonderful.
What makes Ninja Gaiden so damn hard anyway? I mean, you're Ryu Hayabusa, ninja master, right? True, and from the very beginning moments you're armed with the Dragon Sword, Shurikens, and the ability to run along and up walls. You are powerful from the get go, but your numerous foes are very skilled as well. Proper combos and defense are a must to survival. Knowing when to use your inventory items and Ninpo is essential, and any mistakes result in significant punishment. Not on the level of Demon's Souls, but still.
Ninja Gaiden seems like a button mashing third person, but to play the game with any skill at all -- hell to even survive beyond the first few hours -- you really have to take a look at the combos and environment interactions at your disposal. Enemies are great at surrounding, attacking in a variety of ways and speeds (read: normally super fast), and block like there's no tomorrow. Often times the best tactic is to run up walls and come down strong, or run along them to keep from being surrounded and keep them "confused." The nuances of the fighting system take a long time to master, but the reward is not only surviving, but also witnessing some of the fastest-paced, most exhilarating combat you may ever experience.
It's a good thing the controls are very responsive. My only issue is how an evading roll is performed with LT and LS, which doing both at once can be a little awkward, especially in the heat of battle. The camera angle is something that needs fairly constant attention too, but it's easily reset by pressing RT. Still, it's one of the drawbacks of the experience, but not a damning one. In terms of presentation, NGSP is crisp and bright (like everything I have played on the Vita so far). Technically, in game visuals look a bit dated, but I'm no less very impressed with how it looks, and handles, on the Vita.
To the summary...