Preview: Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 PS3

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It’s difficult to tell exactly what the term ‘exclusive’ means these days. There was a time in which the name ‘Ninja Gaiden’ was synonymous with the Xbox brand, and yet here we have – for the second time – a remake of the Xbox ‘exclusive’ appearing ‘exclusively’ on the Playstation 3. Though we could easily debate semantics for the rest of this article, it still wouldn’t change the fact that Ninja Gaiden 2 – Tomonobu Itagaki’s self proclaimed ‘swan song’ – is coming to Sony’s console. What’s more, it’s packed with enough extras to fill the triple F-cup bras of the game’s voluptuous heroines. While this will no doubt fuel the unrelenting flaming between fans of either console, the release of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is something of far more importance; this will be the first game to be released under the banner of Tecmo Koei in Europe.


According to Kenji Matsubara, CEO of Tecmo Koei, the now finalised merger will usher in a more western focus for the company, with ample opportunity for joint ventures and crossovers in the future. As TKE’s flagship title, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is already showing hints of the company’s move toward western ideologies in their games. For the first time ever, Ninja Gaiden will now be playable online cooperatively. Japanese developers have, in the past, been stereotypically notorious for avoiding online play within their games – at least outside of the MMO – so for a series that has until now been strictly single-player this is a pretty big deal. There are still hints of typical Japanese online-game archetypes (in-game chat is still promoted as an exciting new inclusion),  but Team Ninja’s first attempts at taking the series online look promising, if not quite groundbreaking. The online co-op campaign will be separate from that of the main game, encompassing newly created missions that are specific to online play. Scoreboards will make an unsurprising return, but how these will be integrated with the mode is as of yet unconfirmed.


Outside of the online co-op, the main draw for Sigma 2 is the newly playable characters. Alongside Ayane (of Dead or Alive fame) and Rachel (from the original Ninja Gaiden), Momiji – from Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword on the DS – is also making an appearance. During an exclusive play session through part of Momiji’s campaign, we were able to get to grips with the naginata-wielding kunoichi-in-training. More importantly, we were able to see just how much has changed from Ninja Gaiden 2, which turned out to be quite little. This may seem like a bit of an anticlimax, but then Ninja Gaiden 2 is one of the tightest 3D action games on any console. Team Ninja have been careful to sustain the game’s near-perfect combat mechanics, making only very slight adjustments in specific areas. Following feedback from the original Ninja Gaiden, much was done to improve the camera for the second game. While the major adjustments had already taken place in the transition to the next-gen machines, Sigma 2 boasts some slight tweaking to the camera position and sensitivity, making it far easier to keep track of the action amidst crowded fights. Similarly noticeable were the changes to first person aiming for projectile weapons. Sigma 2 now uses the left trigger to pull straight in to aiming-mode, making it much easier to manually adjust your targeting.


Outside of these subtle differences, it’s difficult not to feel that most of the new features of Sigma 2 are purely cosmetic. While the opportunity to fight as the three female characters is likely to please fans of the series, they bring little in the way of change to the overall game mechanic. Each has their own character-specific moves and animations, but during the play-through none seemed to affect the strategic approach to the battles. Also adding to the slight sense of disappointment was the almost complete removal of blood and gore. Although enemies can be dismembered, and will still attempt to attack despite missing their legs/arms/heads, the bloody mess that became one of the defining characteristics of Ninja Gaiden 2 is no longer present. When questioned about this, Yosuke Hayashi – Team Ninja’s lead designer – claimed that following the trend of violent video games in recent times, the team wanted to focus on ‘cool moves’ rather than the spilled ketchup look of the Xbox 360 game. While he could be telling the truth, it’s difficult to believe this decision wasn’t more about achieving a lower age certification in order to gain more sales for Tecmo Koei’s first joint product.


This is by no means a reason to worry, however – Sigma 2 is still a beautifully fluid game with precise combat and an intriguingly bonkers story. The addition of the three female characters with their entwining sub-plots is a welcome addition, and while it may not bring a great deal new to the game, it looks to extend the single player experience greatly. As to how the co-op works,  only time will tell. Team Ninja have confirmed a new trailer and playable demo however, both of which will be available on PSN in September, with the game currently looking at a late Autumn release.