Emerging from the shadows, the Ninja Gaiden franchise returns (kind of) with Ninja Gaiden Master Collection. Bringing together three titles from the modern era of the franchise, the end result might not necessarily be what is expectedof it. Rather than remaster these games from the ground up, the Master Collection is built upon PlayStation 3 ports. Upscaled at higher resolutions and running at an always welcomed 60 frames per second, it is a treat to revisit these with some additional polish.
Times have certainly changed for Team Ninja since their 2004 reimagining of Ninja Gaiden. Following the success of the Nioh franchise, the uncanny speed of Ryu Hayabusa still satisfies that itch for chaotic combat—at least for the most part.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma
Set across sixteen chapters, the narrative of Sigma is a revenge-fuelled tale. We’ve seen it before across decades of cinema, yet like the greats, Sigma wears its fantastical traits with aplomb. Protecting the Dark Dragon Blade for years, the Hayabusa clan has been living a mostly tranquil life. That peace is set alight when the Hayabusa village is destroyed by the dastardly Doku, who sees the Dark Dragon Blade as his for the taking. Failing to stop him in his tracks, Ryu Hayabusa is momentarily slain before returning as a “soldier of revenge” through spiritual incantations.
Blasting through the reinvigorated port of 2004’s Ninja Gaiden is like playing an interactive time capsule. Harkening back to that era of linear, carnage-led narratives ala Devil May Cry, the beginnings of Ryu Hayabusa’s journey are still as electrifying as ever. From the opening chapters of turmoil hitting Hayabusa’s humble home, the simplistic trappings of Ninja Gaiden Sigma’s combat are laced with an addictive hook. Surprisingly, I found Team Ninja’s first modern entry to have its feet planted into more patient bouts of conflict.
This isn’t necessarily the case for the entire game, but Ryu’s encounters aren’t always about acting with an accelerated tempo—sometimes patience is the key to making it out alive. Using blocks and well-timed secondary weapons like shurikens, defeating multiple combatants relies on more than just a favourable button mash. If you want to make your odds extra spicy, then gambling health with a charged strike can often lead to an awesome, comically violent result.
Weaponry starts with the Dragon Sword, but later expands into other options such as the slower, brute style dual katanas. Now, upgrading the arsenal provided can be a tad confusing to begin with. It took me a few trips to the item vendor to realise that upgrades are done through “buying” the weapon in question. With the weapon already in my inventory, pure experimentation led to this discovery.
This is directly linked to the confusing menu system too. Everything is convoluted into multiple categories and subcategories, making the action grind to a halt. It’s clunky and takes away from the frenetic momentum Sigma aims to pursue.
Nonetheless, upgraded or not, the escalating challenge of Sigma’s confrontations evolve into some genuinely all-timer boss battles. The fights with Doku, Vigoorian Emperor, and Paz Zuu are enough to showcase just how far Team Ninja will test anyone who dares to win.
Where Sigma definitely shows over a decade has passed is with its awkward camera. Often lingering within the corner of the environment, it can be straight up irritating when a dodgy placement leads to an unfair death. When most fights involve multiple enemies joining off screen, it can be a messy affair.
Even with its shortcomings, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a furious blast of excitement from start to finish that will surely bring up feelings of nostalgia for that sweet spot of sixth generation gaming.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma II
Arriving four years later, Ninja Gaiden II (or Sigma II for the PlayStation 3) wasn’t quite the critical darling it is remembered as. However, I’d argue that Sigma II is easily the strongest entry in this collection. In a similar vein to Sigma, narratively we find Ryu in the middle of an assault on Hayabusa Village. They really can’t catch a break.
Swapping out the Dark Dragon Blade for the Demon Statue, new enemies are desperate to cause global domination. This time, the locales are far more vibrant. Whether it is Mount Fuji or the Underworld, Sigma II is somehow more of a descent into over the top madness than its predecessor. It really is pure lunacy in the best of ways.
Fending off waves of enchanted enemies with the refined dismemberment implementations is glorious. The pace of Sigma II increases noticeably, and thankfully so. Duels and large scale battles are full of the gruelling sweat once again. Using “Obliteration Techniques” will no doubt get you screaming obscenities about just how badass they are.
It isn’t all non-stop badassery for Ryu, though. With buffs to his skillset come new ways to punish the player, too. The length of the health bar itself is beaten down gradually as Ryu fails to block or dodge attacks. Until the area is clear, health will continue to slip away. It is quite unforgiving, especially in the later portions of the game.
Enemies are designed to be more sacrificial in their attempts to end Ryu’s journey too. Placing incendiary shuriken’s in last ditch effort, moves like this can be devastating without noticing in the heat of battle.
As you become more acclimated to what’s at stake, the risk-reward nature of Sigma II can eventually feel rewarding for getting those cheeky extra hits in. Upgrading is still done in certain moments, but it is so much better than before. Currency isn’t removed for purchases and their placement feels fair in relation to the narrative’s upward swing to damning difficulty.
While not as disgustingly hard as the Xbox original, Sigma II aligns enemy health to be gentler on the player. Unfortunately, the co-op multiplayer (or any multiplayer features across the trilogy) do not return in the Master Collection—gone are the tag missions present before. This collection is a purely solo effort.
Boasting clear improvements to combat and more expressive art direction, Ninja Gaiden Sigma II is the definitive experience for anyone new to the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Its inclusion here makes the collection a worthy pickup alone.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
Conclusively, that brings us to Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. Acting as an update to the original release, the game still remains a heavily divisive entry into the Ninja Gaiden franchise. Taking Ryu out of his familiar surroundings, the action is brought to London initially. There isn’t any stealing of sacred items, but there is magical nonsense of the highest order.
If it was in the same wheelhouse tonally as its predecessors, then it might fly with bright colours, so it’s a shame that Razor’s Edge decides to continue with a more serious outlook. Ryu is summoned to London by the Japanese Self-Defence Force when a terrorist group controlled by an alchemist, the Regent of the Mask, destroys countless lives. Ryu’s encounter with the Regent goes south fast, leading to Ryu finding himself cursed with the “Grip of Murder.”
The fabled Dragon Sword is dissolved into Ryu’s arm, ensuring that if the curse isn’t removed, a painful rotting death will be next on the cards. The story is a step up in complexity but isn’t as compelling as it should be. Razor’s Edge’s locations also don’t feel as inspired compared to the mythical direction of Sigma II. Concluding in Tokyo, there is an unfathomable amount of aesthetic options to pull from.
Sadly, like many of the stages, the colour palette is drab and in need of a pulse. It might be cut from the linear cloth of Sigma II, but it just doesn’t capture that same thrill to resolve Ryu’s adventure. Team Ninja’s penchant for memorable bosses doesn’t suffer, however. Battling an Evil Ryu or the decidedly Metal Gear flavour of the LOA Chairman, the palpable threat of challenging duels still leaves an addictive taste.
In Razor’s Edge combat, removing the dismemberment system from Sigma II feels unnecessary. Instead, a new countering move in the form of “Steel On Bone” aims to replace the brutality. Unfortunately, while useful to instant kill foes, it doesn’t quite hit that same satisfaction factor felt before.
Razor’s Edge is a frustrating conclusion to the collection. There are concepts here that, with a ground up remaster, could be retrofitted into nuanced implementations. Like the rest of the collection, these are still the same games for better or worse.
An Uneven Trio
While it is somewhat disappointing that the Master Collection is purely port work, there is undoubtedly a mostly solid trio of titles available here. Performance on the Nintendo Switch is impressive, but it is a shame that 720p is the target resolution despite the Switch easily being capable of hitting 1080p. These games are nearly right at home on a handheld, at least in regards to portable ninja madness. If you’re looking for fidelity, then the PlayStation / PC / Xbox counterparts of this collection might be inline with your expectations.
Issues present before aren’t fully ironed out and will likely annoy avid fans returning to the franchise for a next-gen hit. Outside of that, the franchise’s signature violence and blistering combat is still able to stand aside rivals in the industry. Finding success with the Nioh franchise, it is an interesting trip down memory lane to see where their strides towards the former are planted.
Again, I must repeat that Ninja Gaiden Sigma II is worthy of admission alone. Seriously, it owns.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]