Who doesn’t remember the 90′s, when we used to rent VHS cassettes and watch karate movies starring Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, and then to go out and prove our martial art skills in front of our friends? I certainly didn’t forget those times, like I didn’t forget the famous ninja movies, which were at the top of the most wanted list. I don’t know if their clothing, their mystery, their way of fighting or the fact that they could disappear and appear back again in a blink of an eye was the most fascinating thing, but for some, the ninjas have definitely remained their favorite heroes.
The first ninja game that I ever played was on a Commodore 64 – Saboteur II. The next one was Ninja Gaiden, started in 1988 on a Nintendo platform and very well received by fans and the true pioneer this genre. In the following years, the series went quiet, but in 2004 Team Ninja took advantage of Microsoft’s Xbox technology and reinvented Ninja Gaiden, which was improved a year later with the Ninja Gaiden Black version.
Two years later, Sony fans for the first time got the opportunity of becoming Ryu Hayabusa (a character also present in the Dead or Alive series) in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a game which was exclusively released on PlayStation 3. But Ninja Gaiden Sigma is more than a next-gen console port, as the producers made sure to introduce new elements in order to satisfy even the most passionate gamers.
Barring the design and graphics modifications, they introduced new weapons, new enemies, new missions, an online ranking system and even a new character, available during several chapters. The new character is a demon hunter with a very generous “view” named Rachel, a slower fighter than Ryu Hayabusa, but with more ravaging weapons. The best Ninja Gaiden players will also experience special missions or they will have the opportunity of modifying the difficulty level, options available only once the ‘Story’ mode is finished.
Without many introductions, the game starts with a short movie, where Ryu Hayabusa jumps from a tree and kills another ninja. Although feeling a bit disappointed by such a lacking intro, I decided to continue playing the game and with the help of some clues offered in the beginning, I discovered the hero’s ability of making spectacular jumps over walls, killed a few enemies and I finally met the first boss, Master Murai. It was only after winning against him that the real story began. The Vigoor Empire, ruled by the samurai Doku, attacks Ryu’s home village and destroys everything on its way. Our hero is obviously looking for vengeance and that way you start looking for Doku, in order to kill him. The story is not that as complex as I expected, but the producers’ intentions were to highlight the fighting and the real action, putting the story on a side plan. But you don’t have to worry; anyone who is interested in the story can read the books that can be found along the adventure.
The control system is the same one we got used to from similar titles: there is a button for fast attack, one for a slower, but more powerful attack, one for jumps and the last one for ranged attack (shuriken, bow and arrows). These four buttons are the basic ones, but if you wish to be more efficient in fighting your enemies, you will definitely need L1 (Left 1 button) for defense (guard) and R1 (Right 1 button) for controlling the camera’s movement and placing the hero in the center of the screen. One major downside of the previous titles was the chaotic camera, as right in the middle of a show-down the camera used to go crazy and put you in the position of being surrounded by your enemies and killed without notice. Ninja Gaiden Sigma wasn’t significantly improved from this point of view and therefore most of the times the camera causes serious problems, the only improvement provided by the producers being the R1 button mentioned above. It helps in many situations, but not when used in tight spaces.
The game has 19 chapters, almost each one ending with a final fight against one specific boss. There are chapters where you do not have to face a boss, but this is compensated by the fact that the enemies appear almost instantly one after another, so that you can barely heal yourself and breathe a sigh of relief. The game also offers a few puzzles, most of the times very childish ones, such as “look for key X for gate X and key Y for gate Y”; honestly, I would have appreciated a bit more complex puzzles.
The places you travel through are not that diversified, but each one represents a challenge. If at first I was nicely surprised by the Japanese buildings and by the two-legged enemies, by the end I was left with a bad impression, as
I got tired of running through labyrinths and killing hideous creatures. This is my personal opinion, many of you may be happy to cut down all sorts of monsters and giant worms in dungeons, but I was not that pleased, since for me a ninja is a professional assassin paid to kill other people, not fantasy creatures. To my mind, a mysterious assassin who flies from one tree to another, who disappears in a cloud of smoke and who never reveals his identity is a real ninja, not someone who has to deal with monsters. This aspect never made me quit the game, but the feeling that I was playing Devil May Cry, and not a ninja game, did pop into my mind for a few times.