Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PS4 (tested)
Price: $39.99 USD
Release Date: June 10th, 2021
Depending on who you ask, the modern action-adventure hack-and-slash series Ninja Gaiden is either a trilogy or an iterative series of nine separate titles (eleven, if the DS’s Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword and disgraced cousin Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z are included):
- Ninja Gaiden (2004, Xbox)
- Ninja Gaiden Black (2005, Xbox)
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma (2007, PS3)
- Ninja Gaiden II (2008, Xbox 360)
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (2009, PS3)
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (2012, PSVita)
- Ninja Gaiden 3 (2012, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus (2013, PSVita)
- Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge (2012-2013, WiiU, PS3, Xbox 360)
It’s the kind of iteration usually seen only in fighting game series. However, with features such as cutscenes, bosses, and gore being altered, replaced, or sometimes completely removed between versions of the same Ninja Gaiden game, it’s not simply the case that the latest version is the best, with each player’s “definitive” version being a matter of taste.
With Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, developer Ninja Team has taken these choices from the players’ hands, providing what it believes to be the all-in-one package of the definitive versions of its three Ninja Gaiden games (possibly due to lost code [IGN]…).
Ninja Gaiden Sigma
The Master Collection port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the most “low tech” of the three games on offer, insomuch as its original Xbox origins are still noticeable graphically e.g. two-dimensional foliage, blurry textures, dated water and fire effects. There is a story to this ninja adventure, but this only acts as a structure to hang protagonist Ryu’s countless battles on to. And team Ninja’s fan service was certainly in full swing during the naughties (pun intended), providing groan-worthy female characters with out-of-place anime-style designs and jiggle-physics enough to make anyone sea sick. Even so, it’s a strangely consistent world of ninja mythology mixed with demon conspiracies and cybernetically enhanced soldiers; where a leather-clad ninja piledrives demons, enemy corpses dissolve in a squelchy fanfare, airships are hijacked by overweight cyborgs with lightning rifles, and massive breasts defy the laws of gravity.
Gameplay, however, feels as robust as ever and clearly steals the show from the subsequent two games. Ryu moves with a solid fluidity, running through environments with a bounce to his step but a heft to his body. Jumping, wall running, rolling and dodging feels fast and deliberate, with players almost always feeling in control. Combat in Sigma is more defensive than in its contemporaries of the time, and blocking attacks is both simple and essential. A player’s entire health bar can be hacked away in seconds by even the most common enemy, and enemies almost always attack in groups. Learning when and how to move, dodge, block and counter comes with practice, but showcases a satisfying risk-reward system which values patience and careful decision making over style. Just be warned: Game Overs will be frequent, especially to newcomers, and especially when fighting bosses.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Sigma 2 offers an experience similar to that of its predecessor, but with a distinctively “next-gen” (i.e. Xbox 360 and PS3) feel to it, The upgrade in power must have seemed exciting to Team Ninja, but it resulted gameplay-wise in larger, flatter, open spaces that waste player time to navigate through and are simpler to fight in compared to Ninja Gaiden‘s claustrophobic streets and hallways. It certainly looks better from a technical, graphical standpoint, however Sigma 2 feels slightly more generic, in line with other mainstream games of the time and losing some of the original’s quirky charm in the process.
A major sticking point for fans will be the blood and gore that graced the original Xbox 360 version of Ninja Gaiden II but was removed from the PS3 Sigma version present in the Master Collection. Tecmo Koei promised the return of gore via a day one patch. But even with the patch, Sigma 2’s gore is stuck in a halfway house. Decapitations and amputations are present, but bodies vanish soon after battles. Blood covers the floor, but the detested “purple mist” still puffs meekly from wounded enemies. Does it affect gameplay? No. Is it odd, inconsistent, and lazy? Absolutely.
Note: Observations regarding blood and gore were made after installing the day one patch.
As for the story, it’s more of the enjoyable neo-ninja demon hunting madness from the first title, and Sigma 2 wastes no time cracking out the flying cars, demonic spider ninjas, giant possessed statues, and more. Even Team Ninja’s jiggle-centric female character design returns (a sordid, juvenile flame that will never fade from Team Ninja’s heart).
To an observer, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 looks like a more coherent and polished than that offered by Ninja Gaiden Sigma. But players won’t help but feel that Sigma‘s laser-focused design and gameplay has been eroded in Team Ninja’s attempt at a slightly more mainstream experience.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
Two words: Rocket launchers.
The Razor’s Edge version of Ninja Gaiden 3 was a desperate attempt by Team Ninja to rectify one of the most mind-boggling shifts in gameplay and tone of any videogame series to date. Straight off the bat, Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to tell a serious story for serious people, where the whacky ninja mythology of the previous games is pushed aside in favour of politics, morality, and ideals. If Ninja Gaiden II had dipped its toes into the waters of mainstream mediocrity, then Ninja Gaiden 3 dived right in and drowned. Ryu, now some weird ninja James Bond, talks far too much, as if he’s developed self-esteem issues and needs to constantly remind the player that he’s super duper tough guy. Other early 2010s tropes include militaristic enemies with bang-bang shooty guns (and rocket launchers), a fawning intel intercom lady, and “realistic” real-world settings including a war torn middle-eastern city.
Razor’s Edge couldn’t save the plot, but did attempt to salvage Ninja Gaiden 3‘s wonky gameplay. It was a valiant but failed attempt, and core issues remain. Healing items: Gone. Essences: Gone. The loss of maximum health during battle is so quick and extreme that most players will, at least once, stumble into a fight that’s unwinnable due to being stuck with a teeny tiny health bar they cannot refill. Stealth sections are boring and unnecessary. QTEs and confusing and unnecessary. The list goes on.
Oh, and almost every combat encounter features off-screen enemies with ROCKET LAUNCHERS.
A moment of silence, please, for every player who has had a decent Ninja Gaiden 3 combo interrupted by an off-screen rocket launcher.
Simply put, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is a dizzying and disorientating videogame that any sane player would mistake for a desperate Ninja Gaiden knock-off if it didn’t actually have “Ninja Gaiden” in the title.
The argument as to whether the versions of the games included in Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection are the definitive ones will likely rage on for many years to come. No one would argue that Master Collection is a comprehensive collection, lacking alternate game versions or even the NES originals. What Master Collection does offer are two very solid “character action” hack-and-slash titles in their most recent and feature rich forms, including all the extra playable characters and extra modes that came with them (apart from multiplayer modes, which are absent). They run well on PS4, they look fine, and they basically play exactly as you remember them, for better or for worse.
Also, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is included.
**Review code was provided for the review