The PlayStation Vita is a powerful piece of portable hardware! Because of that, we’ve been able to enjoy a handful of ports and updates of games that were previously only on consoles, such as Street Fighter X Tekken and Persona 4 Golden. Tecmo Koei contributed to the trend in the form of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, which was an update of an update of an update, bringing the mid-aughties classic to a portable system for the first time and somehow managing to conjure up even more new features.
An unfortunate tradeoff for portability existed in a lowered frame rate, but it ran at a respectably-consistent 30 frames per second and still managed to be an impressive display of the Vita’s versatility and capabilities. Naturally, Tecmo Koei has followed up by turning its shrink ray towards the sequel, turning it into Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus, a title that makes me fear for what may happen if Ninja Gaiden 3 gets a similar treatment in the future. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is a great game; arguably better than the first, but it appears as if Tecmo Koei may have overestimated the power of Sony’s latest handheld.
If you haven’t played Ninja Gaiden 2 and you like action games, the absence of this game in your life should probably be rectified. You don’t really need to play the first one (you totally should, though), since the story will make little to no sense regardless of how much context you have. Each chapter of the game is hardly connected by anything other than gigantic drooling monstrosities, which are ugly and mean, and therefore you must hit them with ninja weapons. That’s because you’re Ryu Hayabusa, you’re a rad ninja, and they’re fiends or demons or werewolves… or whatever. The important part here is how you get to go about smacking around these nasties, and the main selling point of Ninja Gaiden is how much more likely the nasties will be smacking you around until you learn how the game wants you to play it. Once you do, you’ll discover an action game that looks like its peers at a glance but is actually quite different at its core.
Ninja Gaiden is a much more defensive affair; the game stresses over and over not to let your guard down, which equates to keeping your hand on the block button and dodging around constantly, only to stop to fight back when your relentless enemies present you with an opening or you pull off a counter attack. It forces the player to compromise between speed and patience, and can be terrifically rewarding when it isn’t being frustratingly hardheaded. Ninja Gaiden 2 gives the player a ton of options, from a huge arsenal of upgradable weapons to multiple playable characters that all feel wholly unique from one another. All in all, it’s a very full game and one of the most polished in its genre.
Frame rate fix?
Players have discovered that going into the options menu, cranking camera speed all the way up and turning gore off fixes the majority of the game’s frame rate issues. It stabilizes things more often than not throughout the main story, but in places like Tag Mode, the problems still persist.
The Vita version of Ninja Gaiden 2 falters in the same area the previous game did: the frame rate. The console versions run at a smooth 60FPS, but Sigma 2 Plus runs at a maximum of 30. By maximum, I mean that 30 is a number at which the game does not run very often. Especially when you’re in combat. While Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus managed it fairly consistently, Sigma Plus 2 drowns in slowdown problems. It gets to the point that you can tell when you’re about to run into some enemies when you’re running down a hallway and the game suddenly shifts into slow motion.
In addition, the resolution of the game also randomly drops to compensate for the drain on the hardware, making everything look like a fuzzy PS2 game even when you’re simply opening a treasure chest. The slowdown is usually manageable, and the game is always playable, but there are times when it gets so bad it interferes with inputs, which is really bad in a game in which each opportunity to attack is critical. As the game progresses and enemy encounters grow in number, volume, and theatricality, the problems scale accordingly.
It’s a real shame, because with the new Vita version comes some pretty cool new features. Most of them are simply ways to replay the stages of the game with challenges of some sort (or other characters), but what really stands out is the new Tag Mode. Tag Mode presents you with various challenges (largely consisting of defeating a certain number of enemies), but it also allows you to pick two characters; your ally fights with you, but you can also switch to controlling your ally at the push of a button. This gives you a great outlet to try out the extra characters, since the story mode only has you play as each one once.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus is a tragic attempt at running a current-gen console game on the Vita without cutting too many corners. It ultimately ends up with more problems than it probably would have if Tecmo Koei had taken a little more care to downgrading the game in areas that might have helped performance. Ninja Gaiden 2 is a great game by all means, and the new modes of play are definitely cool enough for fans of the series to check out, but an action game needs a consistent frame rate. Two other versions of Ninja Gaiden 2 exist, and either one of them would be a much more satisfying experience than this.
Pros: Portable Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 with even more stuff to play around with
Cons: Glaring frame rate issues practically ruin the experience