by Matthew Thompson
(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)
The last home console I didn’t own was the original Xbox. While it had a number of quality exclusives, there was none I coveted more than Ninja Gaiden. I grew up playing the original games on the NES and Team Ninja’s reboot looked like my kind of game. So I was thrilled to see the news that it would be rereleased for my shiny new PS3 a few years later.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma features a lot of the things you’d expect from a top-tier action title. The combat system has a staggering amount of depth with numerous melee weapons and tons of combos to unleash complimented by various ranged and magic attacks. Of course, the game is packed with its fair share of signature maneuvers too. I never tire of stringing together a chain of the charged Ultimate Techniques with my Dragon Sword and its flurry of teleporting attacks. Or volleying demons into the sky only to drive them back down with an earth-shattering Izuna Drop. And it is always fun to dash through the air with a Flying Swallow, separating an enemy ninja’s head from his shoulders.
This core combat is as good as anything in gaming, but one of the reasons why is the game’s legendary difficulty. Enemies aren’t fodder for you to just pull off cool moves against. The AI is aggressive and dangerous. You need to block and counter to stay alive, picking your openings carefully. It is this defensive nature that helps it stand out from a lot of its 3D action game contemporaries, yet it is never a slow game because of this. Dodging and keeping on the move is just as important to stay one step ahead of your opposition. So, Ninja Gaiden’s encounters remain lightning fast despite insisting you become very familiar with the block button. The game features many great boss battles to compliment typical encounters as well. Particularly memorable are the two fights against Alma, but I also love the opening level’s sparring match with Murai which lets players know just the kind of game they are getting into.
The brutal, challenging combat is why I love Ninja Gaiden Sigma so much, but there are some other things I dig about it too. While a more straightforward approach to level design is usually a better fit for these types of games, I enjoyed what Team Ninja did with their non-linear design in the central location of Tairon. I also appreciate the lengthy campaign and Challenge mode, two things I wish just about every game delivered. I was able to pour many hours into this which was especially helpful during the PS3’s slow first year.
Master Ninja Ryu Hayabusa’s first modern adventure (in any incarnation) with its incredibly deep combat system and blistering difficulty has yet to be topped for me by any other action game of this ilk. Sigma was how I first became acquainted with this new take on the Ninja Gaiden series and therefore it holds a special place for me as one of my favorites from the seventh generation of consoles.
A couple more things:
- This is one of the two remakes I decided to include on this list. I enjoyed both Ninja Gaiden 2 and Sigma 2 and if I hadn’t included this I’d have put one of them in. But since this was my first experience with this first modern NG title and I like it more than 2, I decided to put it in. My list, my rules! Oh and there was also Ninja Gaiden 3 in that generation. That game makes me a little sad…
- The Rachel sections are pretty meh, but if it led to including other female characters like Ayane, Momiji and Kasumi (who are all super fun in the later games) then it was worth it.