The first impression Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus makes is a terrible one. After getting through the nice looking menu and skipping the cutscene I’d seen a few times before in previous versions of Ninja Gaiden II (which isn’t that important anyway), I was greeted with a fight that felt like it was underwater and looked like it’d been left out in the sun too long.
I was also utterly shocked by the way combat felt. While I’m by no means a Ninja Gaiden expert, my experience with the series has always been marked by fluidity and responsiveness. I tried to pull off Ryu’s signature Izuna Drop, and each aerial slash before the Ryu grabbed the guy played out in slow motion. I was aware the original Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus ran at 30 frames-per-second, but I didn’t expect this sort of performance from the first fight in the game.
The visuals didn’t help matters much either. Everything looked washed out and dull, no matter how much I tweaked the Vita’s brightness slider. Possibly to help maintain framerate, the game also employs some sort of dynamic resolution, meaning that some of the more taxing fights end up looking pretty jagged, almost like playing a PSP game on Vita. While I’d take a falling resolution over a poor framerate any day of the week, this first fight had both working against it.
Dynamic resolution in full effect.
After getting to the first save point, I had to try something else. This sort of performance couldn’t be consistent across all modes, could it? I hopped into Tag Missions, choosing Ayane and Rachel as my characters… And things were rough. Having two characters onscreen meant that the resolution had a tendency to stay low, and in the first Tag Mission, slow motion was in ample supply.
Distraught, I checked the options, and was glad to find a brightness option at the very least… Which unfortunately could only be accessed through the main menu and could not be altered during gameplay. They have me a picture of Ryu fighting a dragon to try to adjust my settings to, but I found that most of my attempts at making that picture look good gave me a game that was overly dark. I ultimately found settings that worked for me in after about 20 minutes of changing settings and reloading my story mode save.
Also in the settings was an option to turn off the gore, replacing the blood and chunks that limbs and heads are reduced to with sprays of purple mist. While doing this seemed to provide a marginal performance boost, gore was touted as a feature of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, and dammit, I wasn’t going to turn it off. That said, on the topic of gore, as you can see in this screenshot, the game isn’t nearly as grisly as the original Ninja Gaiden II, just a touch more than Sigma 2…
Bafflingly, it seemed that the game ran slightly better when I increased both the first and third person camera speeds to their max. I don’t know why, or even if it was just my imagination due to the camera following the action better, but other people on the internet seem to be sharing my experience. It definitely improved things.
Once I’d tweaked all of these settings, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus still wasn’t the optimal way to play Ninja Gaiden II, but I’d at least gotten it to a point where I could start enjoying the game.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a game about holding block, being overwhelmed, and managing resources. As one of the game’s four characters (typically Ryu Hayabusa), each skirmish revolves around managing enemies until you remove a limb from someone, killing them instantly with an Obliteration Technique (a grisly finisher performed with triangle on a dismembered enemy) , then using the orb they drop to power an Ultimate Technique, which will send Your ninja off on a (typically) extended, automated combo that can be redirected from enemy to enemy.
It all sounds pretty simple when I put it like that, but each enemy in your general vicinity is determined to make that process as tough as possible. Enemies will shoot rockets at you, throw exploding kunai, burrow underground to get behind you, slash at you with claws and swords, throw hadoukens made of gravity, and generally do everything possible to make your life more difficult. Even enemies with one leg will crawl along the ground to grab you and This is why you always want to have the block button held down if you’re not attacking (which is, coincidentally, another good reason to use the Obliteration Technique on enemies with missing limbs). If your guard is broken, holding the block button still allows you to dodge away from an incoming attack. The block button is your friend, and you must learn to love it.
Resource management comes in the form of snap decisions about how to use the orbs that float out of the corpses of your enemies. While holding triangle without any orbs around will have your character charge their weapon up to two tiers of the Ultimate Technique. While you can take a hit or two without being knocked out of your charge, it’s safer and faster to charge with orbs around, as the orbs will be drawn to you, and each orb will increase your UT charge to the tier above. You can further speed up this process by charging right as you land from a jump, which will draw in the orbs a bit faster.
"So wait," you say, "if I can draw in the various healing, magic-recharging, and item-purchasing orbs to power special attacks to kill enemies to generate more orbs to repeat the process with, how is that resource management?" Good question! The catch of the UT to draw in orbs is that the orbs don’t restore your life or magic. Sure, this next UT might kill all of the rest of the enemies in this area, but is it worth it to forgo those two blue orbs if tougher enemies drop down immediately afterwards? Or, what if you take the two orbs, kill everyone by playing conservatively, and then regain a portion of your health because the battle’s over? Or, even worse, what if you absorb the two orbs and get grabbed out of your UT charge? You’re always weighing your options in the heat of battle, and it can feel amazing to make the right choices.
Speaking of weighing your options, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus’s arsenal is quite a bit of fun. For the most part, each weapon feels distinctive. Fighting a bunch of humans in a corridor? The tonfas will reduce them to hamburger. Enemies with grabs getting you down? The kusari-gama let you keep enemies at a distance before pulling them in to remove limbs and set up Obliteration Techniques. Unfortunately, once again, the framerate can rear its ugly head and slow things down to the point where slower weapons, like the giant Eclipse scythe, become miserable to use.
You’ve also got options as to which characters to use in Tag Missions and Ninja Race, and personally, I’m always happy about any opportunity in which I can use Ayane. She’s a touch faster than Ryu, and limbs tend to go flying just a bit faster when she’s involved. Her explosive kunai are pretty neat too. Rachel’s attacks are slower, but she does a lot of damage and her machine gun is fun to use. Momiji… Has a double jump, but aside from that, I don’t like her much. While I appreciate the opportunity to use these characters in situations where I just kill a lot of things, Tag Missions began to let me down as I’d get deeper into them. For one thing, the partner AI is pretty abysmal. Even though I’d switch between my two characters when I saw the AI getting hurt too much, it was a challenge to keep whoever I wasn’t playing as primarily alive.
If I just let them die, I’d have an opportunity to bring them back to life with reduced health… After which, they’d just die again. Holding off until the last minute to revive them wasn’t so good either, as these missions are definitely balanced with two players in mind. I needed someone moving around to take the aggression off of me while I set up UTs and the like. The framerate also had a tendency to get pretty rough at points.
My experience with Ninja Race was similarly marred by technical trouble. Since you’re tasked with getting through a map as fast as possible and I wasn’t getting many extra time orbs, I thought I should just run by my enemies. Big. Mistake.
At first, I was really excited. I’d hit the first two checkpoints really fast, which gave me about a two minute advantage over what I’d done while fighting everyone… But everyone I ran by kept following me, slowing the framerate to a crawl. I tried to fight at about 5FPS for a while, but I was killed before I could destroy enough enemies to make the game playable again. Maybe I’ll beat one of those Ninja Races someday…
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is kind of like a bootleg VHS of Die Hard. It’s still something good, but it’s definitely not the optimal way to experience it.
Food for Thought:
While the game still doesn’t have a chapter select, it does have a mode called "Chapter Challenge" which will allow you to replay a level with max-level weapons and ninpo that functions as a score attack of sorts. It’s fun!