Making a bloody entrance on a Nintendo platform, the modern Ninja Gaiden trilogy has journeyed to Switch after a surprise appearance in February’s Nintendo Direct. Being little more than ports of the Sigma director’s remixes of Ninja Gaiden 1 & 2, inclusive of their Sigma Plus additions and costume DLC from the Vita (RIP), as well as the mixed bag Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, there’s nothing new here to lure series veterans. Coming to these titles in 2021, I have previously experienced the first couple hours of all four versions of the first game. That’s right, after the remixing and remastering of NG Black, Sigma, and Sigma Plus, this is the fifth time around on Ninja Gaiden since 2004. Being eager to rise to the challenge and fully experience these worthy competitors to the Devil May Cry and God of War series of generations past, let’s look at how these ports handle on the Switch and if they’re worth lubing up your controller with a sweaty sheen.
Starting with the best of the bunch, Ninja Gaiden Sigma remains a staggeringly satisfying acrobatic action slasher. Young up-and-comer Ryu, of the Hayabusa clan, is bound by lineage to protect the Dragon Blades from those that would seek to harness their unrivalled destructive power. We begin in the Hayabusa village, but after invaders from the fictional Vigoor empire take one of the Dragon Blades, Ryu dons his blood-proof leathers and pays their capital a visit to exact revenge and reclaim the stolen sword. The story falls to shambles after this, with non-descript villains popping up to spout one-liners before an inevitable duel. To cover the gaping plot holes throughout are lascivious displays of gravity-defying boobs, imported from Team Ninja’s other titillating franchise, Dead or Alive, and its horny cousin DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball…
Don’t fear the reaper
The series’ foundational gameplay provides a frankly insane amount of attack strings based on positioning and weapon, with heavy and light attacks assigned to two respective buttons. Mix in a dodge/block and magic attacks, and this makes for a simple formula that anybody can pick up, but therein lies a deceitful premise. Button mashers will find themselves feeling incredibly powerful in the first 15 minutes, as they propel themselves off walls and pirouette 360 degrees in a tornado of death. Any variation of input is likely to result in some spectacular display of gore that would make Naruto gag. Exploring the interconnected streets of Vigoor, Ryu confronts enemy mercenaries and demons by slicing and dicing in a way that will confidently satisfy the most exhilarating of ninja power-fantasies. All this without any stealth either, sorry Tenchu fans.
However, when you meet your first boss, don’t be surprised if you die immediately.
Establishing a cutthroat challenge within the first hour, it becomes apparent that button mashing alone, while awesome to behold, won’t keep you alive for long. By starting off small, these games begin with a single weapon and limited array of special combos to practice with. A few hints provided along the way will subtly nudge you to learn three or four essential combos. Unfortunately, some of these require simultaneous face-button presses. On the fly, this doesn’t work on the joy-cons if you have even the slimmest of adult thumbs when the pace is this breakneck. Sigma 1 will allow for some button rebinds, but it is a profoundly uncomfortable experience when playing the Switch in handheld.
Do you have what it takes to spank Lady Liberty?
A quick note regarding the handheld mode with this trilogy. The first game looks and performs (for the most part) at a crisp 720p and 60 frames on the small screen. It will skip a beat at times, but a dynamic resolution scaling keeps the pace up. Sigma 2 sees more frame hitches and can occasionally become blurry during busy outdoor combat. The third game falls apart with frequent frame slowdowns and resolution downscaling to the point of being unrecognisably grainy and blurred.
Sigma 2 is an iterative improvement over the first game in many respects. This time around, Ryu is on a globetrotting adventure to stop the ascension of four archfiends looking to unleash demonic hordes on the world. That’s all you need to know. Otherwise, this is a slightly more forgiving entry with the player’s health restoring at the end of combat and an absence of grind.
Sigma 1 has enemies respawn as you navigate Vigoor’s city, with an expectation that you repeatedly fight them for currency which allows for weapon upgrades and purchasing healing items to take into boss battles. Sigma 2 streamlines this, providing a linear experience across a far greater variety of locations while also making sure you’re always sufficiently equipped for the challenges ahead. If coming straight off the back of Sigma 1, it is recommended to select a harder difficulty in Sigma 2 to keep a sense of transferable skill progression and challenge. Combos and weapons carry over and are greatly expanded, so that player investment from the first game builds organically on your mechanical player skills.
First-aid officer Ryu on the scene
This brings us to the third entry, Razor’s Edge, which manages to distil the worst of the series while also taking it backwards. Upsettingly, after an introductory level that you must squint through, the game just looks plain terrible. Despite releasing five years after Sigma 1, it is a step back in terms of both performance and art direction. Even with the brightness on max, night levels are pitch black. You’ll constantly be tweaking the brightness slider between levels, handheld or docked.
The worst criticism of the series I haven’t mentioned is the atrocious camera. Throughout the series, the camera loves to zoom in for action shots while you’re juggling enemies but is overzealous and often adjusts your position. This is never more obvious than in boss fights, where the camera flicks about and Ryu is constantly found slashing with his back turned to the enemy. This is most unforgivable in NG3 due to a darkening effect that dims the close-up camera when performing charged power attacks called obliteration techniques and executions. While these intimate shots emphasise the geysers of gore and lopped limbs, a harsh tint covers the screen and obscures the action – causing actual headaches for this reviewer.
Having never played NG3 previously, it is a stark drop in quality and comes off feeling little more than a B-team effort. To modernise in line with contemporary action titles, it overreaches with poorly telegraphed quick time events, unnecessary gating of basic abilities like counterattacks and heals behind XP walls. Finally, the game is unfairly difficult while the camera actively sabotages you. It’s just a shit time.
Ayane of Dead or Alive makes an appearance in each game
Team Ninja had nearly perfected the hard-as-nails action adventure over a decade before Nioh, and Sigma 1 & 2 have aged well enough to prove as exhilarating to new audiences as they did in their respective generations. The ability to buy these ports as separate products digitally will provide the best value, as Ninja Gaiden 3 is the antithesis of everything that makes the previous two shine and is best avoided.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- Team Ninja
- Koei Tecmo
- Nintendo Switch / PC / PS4 / Xbox One
- June 10, 2021