No one does it quite like Ryu Hayabusa!
- Developer: Team Ninja
- Publisher: Koei Tecmo
- Release date: 10th June 2021
- Genre: Hack and Slash, Action adventure
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC (Steam)
- Reviewed on: PS5 via backward compatibility
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
It always amazes me that one of the most overlooked genres in modern gaming is the pure hack and slash titles. Back in the PS3/Xbox 360 days, many game libraries were chocked full of such games: Devil May Cry, God of War, Enslaved, to such forgotten gems like Conan, Brutal Legend, and Blades of Time. Back then, it wasn’t just Japanese developers making these games, but western ones too. Arguably, one of the best hack and slash franchises was the Ninja Gaiden series, which has now sold 6.8 million copies. Its series protagonist, Ryu Hayabusa, is synonymous with the hack and slash genre, and he has appeared in several other games such as Dead or Alive and made cameos in titles across multiple platforms, such is his appeal.
In the hack and slash fraternity, mentioning you have completed a Ninja Gaiden game earns you a tip of the hat and well-earned respect, as they are renowned for being tough nuts to crack. In short, these games are as old skool as it gets, so it is fantastic to see that these hard as nails, top-drawer 3rd person adventure games have been given the HD makeover for a new generation of gamers to discover on the PS4 and Xbox One. It should be noted that these are not remakes or remasters; the games in the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection are ports of the original games, with increased resolution and a far smoother 60 fps frame rate.
Included in the collection are:
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma (2007)
- Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma (2009)
- Ninja Gaiden 3: Razors Edge (2012)
- A digital artbook, with over 70 pages of art
- Most of the previous DLC included in the games such as additional outfits
- New playable characters, Ayane, Rachel, Momiji, Kasumi
- A collection of over 180 songs from the Ninja Gaiden world
If you are new to the series
Ninja Gaiden is the poster child series for fast-flowing hack and slash games. To play them you will need lightning-quick reflexes and to study opponents move sets. Learning when to block is just as important as when to dash or to strike with your melee weapon or indeed to jump off walls to gain height on your opponent. For example, the very first boss in the very first game has a very easy albeit repetitive cheat in that if you continually use mash the wall attack stomp, it ensures a much smoother and less stressful time than by staying on the ground trying to honourably face your foe!
Although Ryu begins each adventure with a katana, many weapons of various types are soon unlocked and each is a fun new addition to the gameplay action. Each weapon has its own set of bewildering combination move sets; in some cases in Ninja Gaiden 3, upward of 90! How you are supposed to remember the combination sequences of each is beyond me, however, finding the ones that work for you and are effective will make life much easier.
The other most pleasing aspect, especially for gamers who just want to enjoy the game rather than face its legendary challenge, is to put the game into “hero” mode. Hero mode doesn’t make the game any different other than you simply can’t die. The enemy hits still give the same damage, but once your health is almost exhausted, the game automatically makes Ryu block any further hits.
The other aspect the games have in their linear design is some interesting, but not too taxing platforming. Learning how to wall run or to bounce upwards to explore new areas soon becomes second nature.
The joy the games bring is in their diversity. Although you might expect the series to be set in a feudal Japan, each game has an almost James Bond Esque, modern, travel the world as a secret agent vibe, to hunt down enemies in various locations in hilariously over the top villain dens. Battle through an enemy airship, defeat mechanical monsters in a wet London at night, take down a walking statue from a city skyline rooftop, or find the villian in an armoured fort in the middle of the desert, the games will constantly surprise you with the next location.
The audio of each game is basic but definitely serviceable. With each strike of Ryu’s weapon, a satisfying, wet sounding splat to define your hit is easily heard, which makes it all the more addictive to chain those hits together. It’s a nice and distinctive audio cue, as is the audio in the wind up for one of Ryu’s powerful moves that build the tension and resonate with power when landed.
Although the game has a whopping 180 musical scores as part of the collection, I have to admit, not one of them stood out to be remembered for being particularly special or interesting. However, with classical authentic Japanese instruments used on many of them, they are still pleasant to listen to, and most certainly add to the atmosphere of the game’s settings.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma, and Ninja Gaiden 2, both clock in at around 12 hours to complete on normal difficulty, but even on that difficulty be prepared to die and repeat sections many times, especially as you learn how to deal with the challenging boss fights, which will add to the length of the playthrough. Ninja Gaiden 3, again wanting to be different, only clocked in at around 7 hours to complete, but again, completionists and those wanting to play the game on the harder settings can expect to double that time.
Graphics and Performance
Despite the series being five years apart from the first to the last, it doesn’t necessarily hold that each game got better as the years progressed. The visuals of the first Ninja Gaiden for the day were pretty good, but are just about adequate by today’s standards. The middle game in the series, Ninja Gaiden 2, seems to have the best artwork and smoothest gameplay of the collection.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma suffers from a lack of overall texture and graphical fidelity and smooth lines. It is, dare I say, a bit sparse and blocky. Even so, the performance of the game and the detail of the animations of the characters soon makes you forget the less than interesting backgrounds.
Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma is a significant visual step up, and plays smoother with more detailed action sequences and better camera angles, too. The camera angle would at times get in the way in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, and still occasionally does in Ninja Gaiden 2, but it is much improved.
It was disappointing at the time, and still disappointing today, that Ninja Gaiden 3 didn’t have a further upgrade to the visuals from Ninja Gaiden 2, and it could be argued that it looks exactly the same. Although the textures of the environments looked more realistic, and are certainly more varied in terms of the locations you will travel to, the character models looked and moved with less authority than they did in the previous game.
However, you probably didn’t come here for the looks, you came here for the action, and each game, no matter how old, plays fantastically well on the new platforms.
As a connoisseur of hack and slash games, the aspect that separates the good from the brilliant is the ability of the player to convey their intended controller input and actions with precision and skill, so that they can dance around the battlefield in majestic, sword-slashing, effortless beauty. If you have to fight the controls and can’t instantly do what you want to do, the game is then fighting you instead. However, each of these Ninja Gaiden games allows the player to express their inner-ninja with consummate ease, which makes it intoxicating to keep playing. Slash, dive, dash, uppercut, slice, chop, whizz, and boom, all with glorious control. Dancing around multiple enemies and hacking them to pieces as you go never gets old. The game, with its dynamic gameplay mechanics, empowers the player to feel like an untouchable ninja.
The only slight to the action is highlighted by basically everything in the third game, noted as being the worst of the bunch. Part of the reason Ninja Gaiden 3 is by far the worst is that the player is forced to combat enemies that can’t be touched with a sword, instead forcing you to take them on with a long range bow. Although the bow features in the previous games, it didn’t feel as forced as it does in Ninja Gaiden 3. Being a ninja is not about being Robin Hood, it’s about getting up close and personal while you stab them with melee weapons. Aside from that, the other problems Ninja Gaiden 3 suffers with is that the story is gibberish, and the gameplay is utterly repetitive, uninspired and dull, alongside a narrative that does all it can to disengage the player from what could have been a great idea. The point here is, come here to play the first two games of the series, not the last.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden 2 Sigma are not only what is great about this series but also what is great about the genre. These two games alone make this collection excellent. The over the top boss fights, clearing a room by the skin of your teeth, the visually fantastic swordplay finishers and varied combat with fantastic mechanics, and in-depth but rewarding combos, alongside decent storylines that get you invested in the action.
The extras to the game add little to the experience, and the games themselves don’t look or play that much different to before, however, the increased resolution makes for a significantly sharper image than on the originals. It’s a shame that a little more effort wasn’t put into polishing the games rather than relying on a straight port, as there are visual elements that haven’t aged well, even upscaled to higher resolutions.
Resolution and frame rate targets are set at 4K and 60fps on PS5, PS4 Pro, Xbox One X, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and PC hardware that meets the requirements (PS5 and Xbox Series X|S are playable through backwards compatibility).
The only other extras the games have are challenge rooms. These used to have online co-op capabilities to hook up with friends, but are now only a single player, leaderboard affair. It’s a shame as slicing and dicing with friends would have been an excellent addition to the collection.
The artbook is a fantastic addition and worth viewing, however, it does contain spoilers for those that haven’t finished the games, as you see the enemies and environments of the games before you have met them. It is also debatable as to whether having a 180 song soundtrack is a selling point to advertise the game, but it’s there if you are a fan.
A fantastic collection of games for a new audience, that highlights everything great about the hack and slash genre. Bypass Ninja Gaiden 3, as every gameplay choice by the developers was the wrong one, and just focus on the brilliance of the first two outstanding hack and slash adventures.