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Ninja Gaiden (2004) is one of the greatest action games ever made in my opinion. The combat is deep and the gameplay is challenging and rewarding. Practice and patience go a long way. Every death should be a learning experience. Developed by Team Ninja and published by Tecmo, Ninja Gaiden was released for Xbox in March, 2004. Downloadable content was made available and was included in a reworked version titled Ninja Gaiden Black. In 2007, the game was released for PlayStation 3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma, with extra content and improved visuals. Sigma was also released for PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in June 2021, as part of the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection. For this review, I played the PC version. Since Sigma is more or less a remaster with new content, this review is primarily centered on the changes and how it compares to Ninja Gaiden Black. So if you’re looking for a more in-depth review of the gameplay, please check out our review of Ninja Gaiden Black.
The story of Sigma is the same as that of Ninja Gaiden (2004). The biggest change in terms of plot is the new Rachel chapters which expand the plot and her character a little more. That said, you will get to play as Rachel in Sigma and I can’t say I enjoyed her fighting style more than Ryu’s but she can pull off some cool moves with the War Hammer. She does not share equipment or items with Ryu. She can equip earrings and utilize sorcery which is basically the same as Ninpo and she can equip different hairstyles. The Mission mode does return in the form of Ninja Trials and Sigma adds in a Survival mode. As the name implies, your objective is to survive and try and achieve a high score or Karma.
If you come to Sigma directly after playing Ninja Gaiden Black, you will undoubtedly notice many little differences but the gameplay is largely the same and if you want to see everything the game has to offer, you have to play through the story on each difficulty. However, some costumes or skins that were unlocked for beating the story on different difficulties were cut from Sigma which is a little disappointing. A few environments are altered, some weapons are found in different locations, some enemies are changed around, and you’ll face additional bosses. I think the most significant change is the mixing up of the enemies for certain encounters. In many cases, you’ll face different foes which means you might have to change your strategy. Many changes make things more convenient and some do make things more challenging.
I will say I think Sigma does make several positive changes. The combat is still brutal and looks flashy. It’s also bloodier and I like that the blood splatter will remain on surfaces much longer. There are additional save and shop statues which is something I really appreciate. I also noticed some were simply moved around. The additional save statues in particular resulted in less backtracking just to save progress. You can now switch between and activate items on-the-fly but you can’t do that with weapons for some reason. Aiming the bow in first-person still sucks but at least the developers added a crosshair.
Sigma does remove certain puzzles and things that really didn’t add anything to the original experience. For example, you no longer need to find the ticket to get into the bar and the ore you had to collect in the caverns is gone. The strongbow “puzzle” (if you want to call it that) is removed, the entire pyramid puzzle is gone and replaced with an enemy encounter, and the switches were removed from the platform puzzle that’s present after the Doku fight. Personally, I consider any change that reduces platforming to be positive because the camera, while slightly improved, still generally sucks and Ryu can still only move in four directions from a standing position which can result in frustration when trying to reach or jump to specific locations or platforms.
If you’re a veteran of the original game, everything you learned can be applied in Sigma. All the techniques and ninpo make a return and the game will kick your ass if you don’t know what you’re doing. Surviving encounters is all about patience, practice, and experimentation. In general, I would say Sigma does a good job at retaining what made Ninja Gaiden and Black so much fun. The rewarding and deep combat is basically unchanged.
Since I played this directly after playing Black, I did have an easier time getting through the story mode but it seems the developers did not address some of the exploits that can be utilized to defeat certain enemies and bosses. I do think the new Rachel chapters are unnecessary. Outside of engaging a new boss, there’s not much new to see here and they don’t really add anything to the game other than extending the length of the story. Plus, switching to her after playing as Ryu for a while can be a bit jarring. She doesn’t exactly move and fight the same way nor does she have access to the same amount of tools which is disappointing.
You will visit the same locations as you did in the original game along with a new burning village area. With the exception of a few locations, all of the environments remain intact in terms of layout. And the ones that are altered are not changed in a negative way as far as I’m concerned. In some ways Sigma feels like a more streamlined experience. With certain puzzles removed, it’s simply easier to progress and the pacing feels more consistent.
I have say the PC version of Sigma is a somewhat lazy port. But first I’ll talk about the positives. The game will run in 4K and at sixty frames and in general, it looks better than the PlayStation 3 version. That said, I don’t think Sigma’s presentation has aged all that well. Yes, on the surface, the textures and models are improved when compared to the original Xbox game but I really hate the bloom lighting. At certain points, the sky looked overbright and simply terrible. I did consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page before playing and learned of a few odd things that are disappointing for a game released in 2021, even if it is a port or re-release. For one thing, this PC version does not support keyboard and mouse inputs. The game only supports 16:9 resolutions and apparently it doesn’t always render at the resolution you set but there is a fix for that. Personally, I can’t say I encountered many issues, myself, but I did notice a lot more load points than I did in Ninja Gaiden Black which can be a nuisance.
If you were to ask which game is better, Black or Sigma, I believe most players in the Ninja Gaiden community will tell you Black. Personally, I think both games are phenomenal. I prefer the presentation in Black and it still holds up really well. Sigma is is more accessible. Also, what was once exclusive to the Sony platforms can now be played on many others. I don’t think the changes compromise the difficulty all that much and the pacing is improved as a result. Black will make you work a little harder and Sigma makes things a little more convenient and alleviates some of the more mundane and/or tedious aspects.
I would recommend Ninja Gaiden Sigma to fans of the original and action games. It’s a remaster with some additions and changes and I don’t think it changes enough to make it worse than Black. I also don’t think it’s better, either. I’ll just say this, if you haven’t played Black or Sigma, pick one and enjoy. Either way, you’re getting a great game.