Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 – hands-on

Ryu Hayabusa is joined by three female companions this time around, all playable characters. They’re all extremely competent fighters, but it’s difficult not to get momentarily distracted by their ridiculously whopping breasts. We appreciate that the maker of the Dead or Alive series is famous for this kind of thing, but this is a fetishistic level of boobage.

Ayane is another member of the Dragon Ninja clan. She uses dual kodachi, a kind of Japanese dagger, to slice her enemies to pieces. Ayane is easily recognizable from the Dead or Alive games. In fact, she has many of the same moves making her quite a combo-crazy character. With very little effort, we’re able to air-juggle enemies around, inflicting about six to eight hits mid-flight. She’s just as agile on the ground, whirling around like a purple tornado full of razor blades. Although Ayane is arguably a bit of a spammy character, she doesn’t inflict much damage and provides a nice contrast with Ryu’s more methodical combat.

Momiji is one of the Dragon Ninja Kunoichi (female ninjas). Her mission is to rescue a boy called Sanji from a winged demon. Coming from the Nintendo DS game Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, Momiji is actually the middle-ground character. Wielding a naginata halberd, Momiji’s combos require more skill, but she does have a number of one-hit kill techniques.

Rachel, the deadly dominatrix from Ninja Gaiden Sigma is also set to return as a berserker-style character, the most destructive of all three. Rachel is a fiend hunter whose sister Alma was transformed into one of Ninja Gaiden’s toughest boss creatures. She wields a massive hammer and has access to a stupidly powerful machine-gun.

Each of the new characters has her own separate storyline, interweaving with Ryu’s quest to defeat four greater fiends. Their missions take place in remixed levels from Ryu’s campaign, featuring slightly different routes and new sub-bosses. Don’t expect to see any original environments though.

The three women also appear in Sigma 2’s new online co-op mode. This mode is confined to a series of challenge rooms, which is a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, there’s no time to get bored as each wave of enemies becomes increasingly difficult, punctuated by some seriously fierce sub-bosses. An added attraction is the ability to combine Ninpo, the ninjas’ magical powers, to create an ultra-powerful attack. The co-op leader boards will also mean that even if you survive, there will still be plenty of reasons to go back and try all over again.

Ryu’s quest seems very similar to the 360 version, minus the stupidly frustrating bits. We did catch a glimpse of two of the game’s massive new-end-of-level bosses though. On the opening mission Sky City Tokyo, there’s a gigantic golden statue of Buddha that you have to fight. It’s big enough to crush a sky-scraper and is sure to be a more dramatic confrontation than we saw before. We’re not sure how Buddhists are going to take this, though.

Another icon of peace that now wants to kill you is New York City’s Statue of Liberty. Team Ninja has obviously been watching Ghostbusters 2 recently, as the green lady springs to life and tries to stomp you into the ground.

But the thing that surprises most about Sigma 2 is the noticeable lack of gore. There’s still plenty of violence and dismemberment, but the blood has been replaced with Dynasty Warriors-style flashes of energy. There’s still the odd splattering of blood, but the game has certainly lost some of its visceral appeal. Team Ninja says it wanted to focus on the action this time, rather than the violence. We can’t help but feel that it’s just a way of getting the age rating down.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is certainly an improvement over the 360 version. The polished balancing and tweaked controls mean that the game offers a more realistic challenge. Co-op would have been more worthwhile if it had run through the campaign, but it’s still welcome. Sigma 2 might not be an entirely new game, but still has the potential to be one of the best hack ‘n’ slash games to date.

Sep 2, 2009