The way of the warrior, according to the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma, is to live in the moment, because you probably won’t be alive for very long. Treat every battle like it’s your last, because that end-of-level boss can kill you with a single punch. Failure is a state of mind. It isn’t the game’s fault you haven’t mastered it.
Playing Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 for the first time is slightly unnerving, because we expect to be slaughtered by the first group of assassins that come along, but we actually ended up turning them into a pile of dismembered limbs. It’s not as if their AI is any less intimidating. They still attack us as if we’d burned their house down with their mother inside. And once they’ve lost an arm, or both their legs, they still don’t give up. They launch themselves atus kamikaze-style, exploding as we try to shake them off.
No, the ferocity and intelligence is certainly still there. The big difference is that they no longer inflict astounding levels of damage with a single hit. We know that if we let these guys get the better of us, it could still be over quickly, but we’re not being unfairly punished for making a single mistake. Such was the way of Ninja Gaiden II on 360, which combined ruinous levels of damage with incredibly ruthless save points.
Most of the guys who made that game recently left the company. Team Ninja is now in the capable hands of Yosuke Hayashi, Director of Ninja Gaiden Sigma. Unfortunately, as we watch him play it, he seems to be really struggling with one of the early sub-bosses, a child-snatching winged demon. It’s probably just nerves. Hayashi-san does seem to understand how to balance a game much better than his predecessors though.
For example, a few simple adjustments have transformed the ranged weapons like the longbow and shuriken. They used to be fiddly and frustrating – in the time it would take to aim at an enemy, they’d usually already have killed us. Now, these weapons are auto-targeting at medium range. It’s extremely satisfying when we distract an archer with a hail of shuriken, buying us enough time to get in close enough to lop off his head.
There’s also a manual aiming system for sniping long-range foes. Holding down L2 puts us straight into the crosshair view with much greater expediency than the 360 version. It’s also now possible to strafe while in this view, making us less of a sitting duck. The most significant change though, is that the ranged weapons come with infinite ammo. Admittedly, that makes the new character Ayane’s exploding shuriken feel a little cheap, but at least it’s consistent with the rest of her over-the-top moves.