PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Originally released between 2004 – 2012, Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden series has a bit of a muddled history, with several versions of its three core titles being made available for multiple platforms during the years since the games' original releases. The Master Collection brings together the Sigma versions of Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 along with NG3: Razor's Edge and, while they might not be considered to be the most well-received versions of each title by hardcore fans of the series, they're definitely the most well-rounded and easily-digestible iterations for modern players' palates.
In Ninja Gaiden Sigma, young ninja Ryu Hayabusa is tasked with avenging his clan and reclaiming the all-powerful Dragon Sword from the invading Vigoor Empire, headed by its evil master, Doku. While you might expect a fairly straightforward revenge storyline full of ninjas in snazzy outfits, things quickly take a turn for the absurd and the B-movie plot soon incorporates mysterious curses, supernatural fiends and a general sense of wackiness that might cause a bit of a head-scratching at times but absolutely fits with the over the top gameplay.
With its roots in 2004, a few less-refined elements are to be expected, and NGS does show its age in a few ways. Coming from a time when games were supplied with instruction manuals, there's no in-game tutorial level to help you understand what the game expects of you. The opening hour or so may prove to be too much for less-patient players, as the strong temptation to button-mash your way through and hope for the best will almost always lead to defeat. Things become much more manageable (although still incredibly difficult) if you take the time to learn the enemies' attack patterns and master the combos and “ninpo” techniques (special attacks) that are available to you, and making use of the various weapons and powers are the ultimate key to Hayabusa's survival. Elsewhere, the 17 year old graphics don't really hold up too well today – while everything looks nice and sharp during gameplay, this isn't a remaster, so be prepared for some fairly rough textures, scantly-detailed environments and some very blocky and low-resolution cinematic cutscenes...
Definitely of its time, it's still a fun game to play – infuriatingly difficult in a... dare we say it... Dark Souls kind of way, patience, practise, observing your foes and utilising everything available to you are the only real ways to progress. If you're up for a challenge, NGS will absolutely provide you with one!
In many ways, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 feels like a perfect follow-up. Environments are more detailed and imaginative and generally look much nicer than before, lots of quality of life features have been added which may be small but really make a difference (never underestimate the ability to save your game at the push of a button!), and the all-important combat has been tweaked in a variety of ways that make it more manageable and, most importantly, more fun. New melee and projectile weapons are thrown into the mix, you're given plenty of ninja techniques to play with, and the action overall feels much more fluid than its predecessor. Dismembering enemies, watching them crawl desperately across the ground in a last-ditch attempt to take you down before finishing them off with a one-button decapitation has never been so much fun!
Still incredibly challenging, Sigma 2 polishes the original's rough edges and turns everything else up a couple of notches, resulting in what was one of the PS3 generation's finest (and most underappreciated) action games. Easily the high point of this collection, if the original Sigma was maybe a 7 out of 10, Sigma 2 pushes things up to an easy 9...
Moving on, NG3: Razor's Edge is by far the best looking game in this collection, and also the most action-packed – it takes the best bits of the previous two games, tightens everything up even more and drops Ryu into a completely different setting to make the whole thing feel a whole new game. The pace is increased dramatically and combat is much more flashy and over the top than before, although the amount of enemies – and the speed at which they move – does get overwhelming at times. If any of these three titles are guaranteed to get you punching the sofa in a full-on apoplectic fit of rage, this is the one... Having said that, despite some fairly cheap enemies, Razor's Edge holds up today tremendously well – it feels much more in line with modern games, and may well prove to be the favourite of the three for those who are coming to the series for the first time.
Along with the main story campaigns, each game includes additional modes like Ninja Races (rushing through a series of checkpoints against a very restrictive timer), Ninja Survival (keep killing until everyone's dead) and Tag Missions (playing alongside a computer-controlled companion), most of which can be played across multiple maps with a variety of characters and weapon / skill loadouts, adding a huge amount of replayability for those test their skills. It's a shame that there doesn't seem to have been any real remastering work done on any of the titles, and multiplayer elements have been removed completely, but there's still a heck of a lot of content to play through that fans of more hardcore / challenging games are sure to get plenty of mileage out of. Just make sure you've got a spare controller or two nearby, for the inevitable moment when you get so annoyed that you throw one out of the window!