Long before the souls-like RPGs became synonym with the difficulty level pushed to “git gud or get out” level, there was Ninja Gaiden. Published originally in 2004, the series takes place in the universe of Dead or Alive and proved that there is demand for crushing challenges and a gameplay that will test the mettle of even the most seasoned players. Team Ninja might be known nowadays for Nioh, but long before that there was Ryu Hayabusa and the Master Collection wants to show us again the way of the infamous ninja.
It is a shame that most of the younger players did not even hear about this legendary series, that somehow got stuck in the generation of PS3 and X360. After some larger-than-life promo campaigns proposing novel applications for the functions of the SIXAXIS controller, and being a household name on the consoles of the era, slowly but surely Ninja Gaiden disappeared from the video games scene.
Being a relic of the past, not mentioned even by the most passionate Nioh fans, it came as a surprise to see it resurface in the form of Master Collection. The purists will say that the sigma versions are not the best versions of the first two games, and will rant with more than just one reason about the shortcomings of the third episode.
Despite these bad omens, the developers promised the cleanest and the most enjoyable experience in the collection reuniting Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor’s Edge. The games come packed with all the DLCs and extra content, including the Hero Mode. The name might be misleading, since this difficulty level is intended for players with less experience, helping them out in tough situations.
The only things missing are the multiplayer modes, but this might for the best. The maiming system implemented by the Day1 patch is not as shocking as it was back when the games have been originally released, but this is not the biggest issue with the Master Collection.
The entry point is Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a refined and extended port for PC, PS4, and Xbox One of the original Ninja Gaiden: Black for PS3. Released originally in 2004, the game developed by Team Ninja presented a new take on the series that has its origins back in 1988. Gamers have been introduced to Ryu Hayabusa and new game mechanics that became a staple of the series: very fast combat, spectacular combos, a lot of challenging traversal, and enemies who are more than a match for our hero.
The new recipe did not leave room for errors or carelessness, keeping the 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 for now. Although arguable, the first Ninja Gaiden is still as fun as it is hard.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 was originally launched after a 4-year break. The new version brings 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 fashion. Before the nightmares caused by the modern Mortal Kombat’s extremely visual fatalities, Ryu was chopping up his enemies like a sushi chef. Moreover, this wasn’t just a graphic feature: losing one of their limbs changed completely the behavior of your opponents. This bloody feature had been added to the game by a Day 1 patch, bringing back a lot of gory memories.
The two Sigma games pass the test of time gameplay-wise, but the weaknesses that plagued them back in the day, unfortunately, have not been remedied by the versions ported to the current consoles either. From terrible camera angles to crushes and random loading moments, all the bad memories are back together with the good ones.
The last game of the Master Collection is also the newest, being the extended version of Ninja Gaiden 3. This is without a doubt the weakest link of the trilogy, because to this day it can be felt that the developers changed direction. They went for a simplified experience, that actually turned out less balanced and focused than the previous iterations. A direct result is the worst control scheme in the series, an “illness” that has not been remedied by this ported version.
A confusing experience after the first two games, Razor’s Edge would have needed the most attention and offered the best opportunity to correct mistakes of the past. No one would have the mind to implement more significant changes to get the same engaging experience as the previous two 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: a lot of action scenes alternated by hunting for hidden objects in traversal challenges. This is an oversimplification of a complex game, that challenges you to overcome your limits. The many nuances of the gameplay along with the more complex mechanics, once mastered, offer one of the most rewarding gameplay experiences.
But you will need to invest time and effort because Ninja Gaiden is not an easy game. Not even by playing on Hero Mode, a difficulty level that will save you in the nick of time, making Ryu automatically block for a limited amount of time if you are close to death. You need focus and ninja-like reflexes, and you have to learn the tactics at your disposal, otherwise, you do not stand a chance in the world of Ninja Gaiden.
The console version of the Master Collection is the best way to discover 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. Also, there are a lot of situations that will cause the game to crash, and not all of them have been fixed by the Day1 patch. All nostalgia put aside, this Master Collection is lightyears away from the remaster this once legendary franchise would have deserved.
Things are not better when it comes to graphics. Despite the updated resolution, visually the game is outdated. The gameplay can still be fun at least for Sigma 1 and 2, but it does make you forget about the archaic design. Here the developers missed the opportunity to balance things so you get more fun and less frustration.
We have 4K and 60 fps in theory, but the framerate drops and the faulty camera angles make it unavoidable to get in some cheap shots from the opponents surrounding you. The worst part is the new resolution being wasted on many of the assets that do not show any improvements. The Master Collection looks old but not in an endearing pixel art kind of way, rather in a dusty and tired fashion.
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2 still are a lot of fun
- The presence of all the extra content
- Larger than life story and characters
- Minimum effort to modernize the games
- Awful camera control and annoying bugs
- Performance issues and random sudden loadings
As it stands now, even with the Day1 patch released, the Master Collection is lacking on every front. The games are still enjoyable, but there is nothing masterful in this collection, the publisher being content releasing a mere port instead of a remaster or alas, a remake.