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Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Graphics: 8.4
Gameplay: 8.5
Sound: 7.5
Control: 8
Replay Value: 8
Rating: 8.4

Ninja Gaiden has been a franchise that all last-generation was associated with only the Xbox, and was one of the very few things PlayStation 2 owners envied. Since the new generation began, the practice of exclusivity has practically ended, and unless it was a first party game, the chances of seeing a mega franchise released as a multiplatform title are high. In my hands-on preview of Sigma 2, I mentioned how I was listening to Journey's "Faithfully", and reflected on 3rd party faithfulness in the gaming industry, and that it's gone. Grand Theft Auto, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Lost Planet, Dead Rising, Final Fantasy, Tekken, among others, have all jumped ship, from Sony to MS and vice-versa. Oddly enough, Journey's "Open Arms" continued on my playlist...

How apt, wouldn't you say? With open arms is exactly how Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo welcomed franchises that were once previously exclusive to other platforms. So there you go, Journey told the tale of the videogaming industry over 25 years ago. Okay, maybe not. Perry is clearly singing about a woman...or maybe drugs. One or the other. But the point still stands, there is no such thing as exclusive anymore, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is more proof of this.

After the release of the first Sigma game for the PS3, Tecmo revealed the sequel for the Xbox 360 and touted its exclusivity. But of course we knew that a PlayStation 3 version would come soon enough and boast a horde of new features, such as new characters, new bosses, new enemies, online co-op, and yes, trophies. This has seemingly become the standard of porting exclusive games to other platforms, packing them with a bunch of extra content as incentive to buy.

Over the past few months I've spent quite a bit of time with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, first with a preview build that allowed me to sample the numerous extra playable characters and their missions, in addition to the core story mode. Now, for those looking for a radical change from the series, you're not going to get it. Team Ninja has long been proud of how their games play, so there was very mininal fussing around with the general game mechanics of Sigma 2.

So as you can guess, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 plays very much like the first game. Which means you'll really need to get used to the idea of blocking a lot, because the A.I. is still painfully difficult at times, especially when you're being ambushed. Unlike games like Devil May Cry where you can rush through a horde of enemies, Sigma 2 forces you to take caution. But, even though the game is still fairly difficult, it's actually a lot less so than the Xbox 360 version. While I personally have never played the Xbox 360 game, I know Ben did, and he had informed me that healing items were far too frequent and abundant in the game.

Upon hearing that, I decided to do some digging around to see what other differences there lie between both games. Now, I know about the whole gore thing. Yes, there's a purple mist that emanates from a fallen enemy, but it isn't that detrimental to the game. Though, in regards to gore, the cut-scenes have been edited, as well. More importantly, what I did discover was that content had also been removed from the game, most notably enemies. Yes, there are five new bosses, but two from the original game were removed. Now again, I didn't play the original game, but the removal of these two bosses creates plotholes in the game, which means Team Ninja didn't revise the story mode to reflect the changes made with the bosses. Also, a number of enemies/enemy designs were removed from Sigma 2, as well. Perhaps Team Ninja felt like many of the enemies in the X360 game were too similar, but we can't be certain what the logic was. 

Though regardless, Sigma 2 is still a pretty great action title. One particular aspect that I find impressive, and maybe you'll think I'm odd, is how cutting off limbs affects your enemies. Now, normally, when you do this in others games, you've killed the enemy. But in Sigma 2, if you've cut off someone's arm, they're still going to attack you until you've properly finished them off. Likewise, if you've cut off their leg, they'll try their best to jump at you using just the one they have left. It really makes for an interesting, and somewhat creepy mechanic, I must admit. But of course, if the head gets severed, that's an instant kill.

Another new combat trait is third-person shooting, where holding down the L2 button puts you into an over-the-shoulder perspective and R2 fires the weapon you have drawn. For example, Ryu and Momiji both have a bow and arrow, while Ayane uses her knives which explode following contact. Now, speaking of the characters, Sigma 2 primarily focuses on Ryu's adventure, and so content for Rachel, Ayane, and Momiji doesn't total more than hour's worth of value altogether. If you do want some addition value from the game, you can try the Team Mission mode, which is good for online co-op. Now, there is one gripe I have with the Team Missions, and that is when offline, the A.I. controls the co-operative fighter, with no option for a player to jump in. Still, the co-op is decently fun, for as long as it lasts.

Overall, the action is still lightning quick here, and of course, there are a plethora of different weapons and weapon types you can purchase in the game. Seriously, some of the weapons are absolutely awesome and extremely powerful. Some of these weapons include the Eclipse Scythe, Tiger's Fang Swords, Falcon's Talon Claws, Tonfas, Dragon's Claws, the Kusarigama, and others. The entire adventure should last you close to 15 hours, depending on the difficulty setting and your skill, and that's quite the acceptable number.

Visually, Sigma 2 is extremely smooth looking. The game continues to carry on the traditional look of texture detail on characters that are not finely detailed, but rather offer smoothness. So you won't be seeing any advanced skin textures with hair, pores, or any sort of definition. Rather, you get doll-like skin, while simple is not offensive to look at. Certainly what's most impressive about the visuals is the art design and the animation. Some of the bosses look really nice, as far as art goes, and of course, the level design is quite nice, as well. Animation is first-rate too, as all of your playable characters animate very fluidly, thanks to the game's superb engine running at 60 frames per second. Now, running a framerate like that often requires certain criterias to be toned down, and I did notice a good bit of screen-tearing. Also, Team Ninja have yet to address any of the camera quirks associated with the last game, as the camera frequently sets itself in such a way that it prevents any sight of the enemies around you, leading to some gameplay and control issues.

The audio is almost exactly what you had in the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma. The voice acting remains on the same level, good but not amazing, and the tunes are pretty much played in the same tone as they always have. It's kind of unusual for me to not have much to say about the audio, it's just that Sigma 2 is one of the few games that doesn't really do a lot of new things as far as audio goes. Clearly the voice acting is all different, but beyond that it's the standard affair we've come to know. And that's not a bad thing, just an observation.

With Bayonetta not due until January, and a new Devil May Cry game nowhere in sight, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is a solid title to fill the void of a fast paced action beat 'em up. Tecmo's flagship still manages to boast solid gameplay with a great emphasis on combat and clean visuals. But as time goes by, the series feels like it's beginning to show its age a bit, and perhaps its due for a massive upgrade with the next iteration. Nevertheless, the game we have here is still worthy of your attention, provided you're a fan of the genre and series.

10/9/2009   Arnold Katayev