Long before soul-like RPGs became synonymous with the difficulty level pushed to “git gud or get out”, there was Ninja Gaiden. Originally released in 2004, the series is set in the universe of Dead or Alive and has proven that there is a demand for overwhelming challenges and gameplay that will test the courage of even the most seasoned gamer. Team Ninja may be known these days for Nioh, but long before that there was Ryu Hayabusa and the Master Collection wants to show us the path of the infamous ninja once again.
It’s a shame that most young gamers haven’t even heard of this legendary series, which sort of got stuck in the PS3 and X360 generation. After larger-than-life promotional campaigns featuring new apps for SIXAXIS controller functions and being a household name on consoles of the time, Ninja Gaiden slowly but steadily faded from the video game scene.
Being a relic of the past, not mentioned by even the most avid Nioh fans, it was surprising to see him resurface as a Master Collection. Purists will argue that the sigma versions aren’t the best versions of the first two games, and will rant with more than one reason about the flaws of the third episode.
Despite these bad omens, the developers promised the cleanest and most enjoyable experience in the collection of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge. The games come with all DLC and additional content, including Hero Mode. The name can be misleading, as this difficulty level is aimed at less experienced players, helping them in difficult situations.
The only things missing are multiplayer modes, but it could be for the best. The Mayhem system implemented by the Day1 patch isn’t as shocking as it was when the games first released, but that’s not the biggest issue with the Master Collection.
The entry point is Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a refined and expanded PC, PS4, and Xbox One port of the original Ninja Gaiden: Black for PS3. Originally released in 2004, the game developed by Team Ninja featured a new version of the series which has its origins in 1988. Players have discovered Ryu Hayabusa and new game mechanics that have become a staple of the series: Very fast combat, spectacular combos, a lot of difficult crossings and enemies that are more than a match for our hero.
The new recipe left no room for mistakes or recklessness, keeping players on their toes. Many fans would have preferred to see the original PS3 version remastered since it is considered superior to the Sigma version, but this version should do the trick for now. While debatable, the first Ninja Gaiden is still as fun as it is difficult.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 was initially released after a 4 year hiatus. The new version makes minor changes to a brilliant title, to begin with. The biggest innovation back then was the system that allowed you to maim your opponents in both gruesome and spectacular ways. Before the nightmares caused by the extremely visual deaths of modern Mortal Kombat, Ryu chopped up his enemies like a sushi chef. Also, it wasn’t just a graphical feature: losing one of their limbs completely changed the behavior of your opponents. This bloody feature was added to the game by a Day 1 patch, bringing back a lot of bloody memories.
Both Sigma games stand the test of time in terms of gameplay, but the weaknesses that plagued them at the time were unfortunately also not addressed by the versions ported to current consoles. From terrible camera angles to crushes and random load times, all the bad memories are back with the good ones.
The last game in the Master Collection is also the most recent, being the extended version of Ninja Gaiden 3. It is undoubtedly the weak link in the trilogy, because to this day we feel that the developers have changed direction. They opted for a streamlined experience, which actually turned out to be less balanced and focused than previous iterations. A direct result is the worst control pattern in the series, an “illness” that has not been corrected by this worn version.
A puzzling experience after the first two games, Razor’s Edge would have needed the utmost attention and offered the best opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past. No one would think of implementing bigger changes to get the same engaging experience as the two previous titles.
If you haven’t played the original games and don’t know what to expect, the closest comparison might be Devil May Cry. The basic recipe is simple: lots of action scenes alternated by hunting for hidden objects in crossing challenges. This is an oversimplification of a complex game, which challenges you to push your limits. The many nuances of the gameplay as well as the more complex mechanics, once mastered, provide one of the most rewarding gaming experiences.
But you will have to invest time and effort because Ninja Gaiden is not an easy game. Not even when playing in Hero Mode, a difficulty level that will save you time, causing Ryu to automatically block for a limited time if you’re near death. You need concentration and ninja reflexes, and you need to learn the tactics available to you, otherwise you don’t stand a chance in the world of Ninja Gaiden.
The console version of the Master Collection is the best way to experience or rekindle the passion for one of the most iconic game series in history. On all platforms there are some performance issues, but on PC the controls make everything worse. Additionally, there are a lot of situations that will cause the game to crash, and not all of them were fixed by the Day1 patch. Nostalgia aside, this Master Collection is light years away from the remaster this once-legendary franchise would have deserved.
Things are no better when it comes to graphics. Despite the updated resolution, the game is visually out of date. Gameplay can still be fun at least for Sigma 1 and 2, but it makes you forget about the archaic design. Here the developers missed the opportunity to balance things out so that you have more fun and less frustrating.
We have 4K and 60fps in theory, but the frame rate drops and faulty camera angles make cheap shots of opponents around you inevitable. The worst part is that the new resolution is wasted on many assets that show no improvement. The Master Collection looks old-fashioned but not in an endearing pixel art way, rather in a dusty and tired way.
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2 are still a lot of fun
- The presence of all additional content
- Larger-than-life story and characters
- Minimum effort to modernize games
- Horrible camera control and annoying bugs
- Performance issues and random sudden loads
As it stands, even with the release of Patch Day1, the Master Collection is lacking on all fronts. The games are always so enjoyable, but there is nothing masterful about this collection, the publisher is content to release a simple port instead of a remaster or alas, a remake.