In 2004, Tecmo took a tremendous leap forward in the hardcore gaming market with the return of Ninja Gaiden, a game carefully guided to part madness, part rewarding bliss under the tutelage of Team Ninja. Since that time, the series has been slow but steady in its progression, with a sequel released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and a third in the works for this year. But the original Gaiden managed to come back not once, but twice — once as a PlayStation 3 game called Ninja Gaiden Sigma, and now, as part of the PS Vita launch, the debut of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus.
The story’s still about the same — someone’s chasing after the Dragon Sword, and Ryu Hayabusa, as true a ninja as you’re ever likely to meet, is guarding it as he battles enemy ninjas and other brutal demons throughout several stages. In order to stay alive and beat the odds, Ryu will have to rely on every bit of his ninja skills, from his physical prowess to his unstoppable weapons, including a few ninja stars and arrows. Of course, you’re going to need proper timing to survive, as well.
If you loved the original game (or, for that matter, Sigma), then we can tell you the PS Vita version is quite loyal to that code. Most of the visuals are still well intact, from the glowing effects on certain enemies to the vast level design, in which Ryu must explore in order to find those who are willing to take him on. The action is shrunken down to fit on the PS Vita screen, but fans of the series will be thrilled by how this turned out.
As for the gameplay, it’s completely intact, like always. Ryu slices and dices with utmost precision, and you’ll guide his movements using the D-pad/analog stick and buttons, chaining together hits and occasionally using special items to keep your health from dwindling down to nothing — and a few ninpos as well. The game also makes use of small features with the PS Vita. For instance, when you’re shooting arrows, you can tilt the device for real-time aiming. It's a neat little effect that you’ll want to learn earlier in the game, lest some sword-slashing demon cut you down to size. You can also execute certain ninpo attacks on the touch screen, though we still have yet to see this in action.
If you think the game has dwindled in challenge at all, boy, are you mistaken. It’s still quite the beast, with a difficulty level so high that even the rank of “ninja dog” might not save you. Still, Tecmo is being a little lenient with this and throwing in a new Hero Mode, in which blocking and dodging is done for you automatically through some of the stages. A cheat? Yeah, but how many people can you say really conquered this game in the first place? Especially on the highest difficulty setting?
Those of you wanting to push your ninja skills to the max will definitely want to dig into Ninja Challenge mode. Here, 76 different missions await, ranging from clearing a room chock full of enemies to taking on a boss with a certain rule set. These are short but sweet, and also give you the ability to call upon Rachel, and unlock additional costumes and weapons for good measure, including Ryu’s original arcade game duds. Oh, yeah, we mentioned the Trophies you can unlock, right?
Sure, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is just a port of a port, but Tecmo is going to great lengths to assure it’s a perfect fit on the PS Vita, between features that take advantage of the hardware and the same great ninja action we’ve been loving for the past eight years. We’ll let you know if this game’s still the nice slice when it arrives in time for the system’s launch later this month.