The first two Ninja Gaiden games are not perfect. Far from it, really. Regardless, they’re two of the best action games you can find anywhere. They have tight, rewarding mechanics, extremely high skill ceilings, and some of the most murderous enemies in the medium. Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is not a definitive compilation. Instead, it’s a few bare minimum ports of the lesser versions of two of the world’s greatest action games, plus the not-as-awful version of Ninja Gaiden 3, Razor’s Edge. There’s a lot of fun to be had here. But the series honestly deserved a lot better, and I’m not buying the excuses as to why it couldn’t get it.
What’s here, then? Versions of all three 3D Ninja Gaiden games. The installments that fans actually wanted were undoubtedly Ninja Gaiden Black, an enhanced version of the 2004 original, and Ninja Gaiden II, the sequel that took the mayhem to new heights. Instead, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection contains both Ninja Gaiden Sigma games and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, the significantly reworked version of the third game. To be clear, all three of these are good games. There’s plenty to enjoy from the Sigma variants, and even Razor’s Edge is a solid title.
If you’re not familiar with all of the hullabaloo, though, it’s easy to break down. Sigma 1, a further version of the first game, released on the PlayStation 3 with better character models, an extra playable character, and some bonus content. So why do fans prefer Ninja Gaiden Black? Mostly because Sigma 1 cuts out content, including puzzles and some fights. It also made some changes to the game’s balance, including removing some boss weaknesses. Also, the additional playable character’s chapters are mandatory and, well, not all that great, nor is the character herself.
I used to be surrounded
The reasons that Ninja Gaiden II is preferred are much simpler. The game originally released on the Xbox 360, and the PS3 couldn’t do some of the same things. As a result, far fewer enemies appear onscreen at once and they were made spongier. The blood spray upon removing enemy limbs was also too much for the PS3 to handle, so that was replaced with a strange, purple mist. The game’s PS Vita version somewhat alleviated that by adding the option to have blood instead of mist.
Now, these versions of the Sigma games have much of the content from the PS Vita renditions, such as additional challenges and modes. For whatever reason, the blood option for Sigma 2 is not here. I have no idea why. Sigma 2 is actually a better game than its Xbox 360 version in some ways, though. The graphics look nicer, the projectile-spamming enemies aren’t nearly as pervasive, and there’s some additional content including bosses. Of course, some content from the original was cut, too. Still, the frenetic carnage of the initial release is simply preferable. Also, much like how Sigma 1 cut out the puzzles from Ninja Gaiden Black, you don’t even need to find keys in Sigma 2 to unlock doors. The games are needlessly streamlined.
The ideal result would be that elements from two versions of the games would combine to make definitive releases for each. Instead, Team Ninja said that it lost the source code. It’s hard to fathom how this could even come about. After all, Ninja Gaiden Sigma released a year after NG II. That’s not a long stretch of time for a game’s source code to vanish, but that is what we’re led to believe. As for Razor’s Edge, it makes a lot of sweeping changes to the original Ninja Gaiden 3 that make for a much better experience. It isn’t even close to the level of the other two games. But, despite many poor design choices and too much linearity, it’s fine.
History lesson over
If you want to know why I thought that trip down memory lane was necessary, it’s because I think it’s imperative to have that information to understand the worst thing about the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection. All three of these games are pretty much straight ports that have been dumped onto PC. You can set each game’s resolution via special launch options on the Steam menu, but that’s it. There are no in-game menus, no graphics options, no nothing. The game starts and a window pops up. You maximize it and it’s fullscreen.
At least the games run well. All three perform flawlessly at 4K, even with a weaker GPU. I didn’t notice any screen tearing or slowdown, nor did I have any crashes. The only issue I noticed was that attempting to shut down Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 always locked the program for me. Regardless, the bare minimum was done here. I am glad that the ports run well, though, as the collection could have been so much worse in a multitude of ways. There’s a lot to be said about simple functionality, especially considering similar endeavors.
But what about the games themselves? Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the standout here. It isn’t quite as impaired as its sequel, although I do need to mention that Ninja Gaiden II is my favorite in the series. Sigma is a great game, though, even if it’s not without its problems. The camera is the biggest of these; it aged so horribly. Most of my deaths while playing were simply, “well, I can’t see.” But it was the same in Ninja Gaiden Black. Some of its design elements feel archaic after 17 years of progression.
A little bit of effort would have gone a long way
However, make no mistake. All three of these games can be cheap as fuck — especially Sigma, but especially Razor’s Edge. Sigma allows you to revive at full health by using a talisman of rebirth. But you can’t turn them off. If you’re trying to only use these when you absolutely need them, you’ll have to quit back to the menu and reload your save. Sigma 2, thankfully, lets you not use them. Sigma 1 and 2 only use manual saves, so if you want to redo a section for whatever reason, it’s always somewhat of a pain.
Razor’s Edge has autosave checkpoints, but the game doesn’t have healing items. You often end up fighting ridiculous waves of enemies and have no way to heal yourself, save for buying a health upgrade in the middle of battle. That game streamlines the series so intensely that playing it after the others is weird as hell. But it’s even weirder considering how significantly the game was reworked to more closely resemble Ninja Gaiden II. But since that game isn’t here, new players will be surprised by how strange it is to go from the relatively tame, almost bloodless Sigma 2 to the blood-soaked dismembered madness of Razor’s Edge.
I do want to stress again that, even though we didn’t get the better versions of the first two, the Sigma games are undeniably good. They are perfectly playable and have plenty to offer. But after waiting for so long, I was really hoping for more. Even if there are no definitive versions of the first two games, even if Black and NG II aren’t here, little things could have been done to make the Sigma versions a bit more appealing to series fans. That’s honestly what makes my feelings regarding the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection so mixed. I love Ninja Gaiden (I also fucking hate Ninja Gaiden, but you know what I mean). It’s frustrating to see the series finally acknowledged again after so long, only for it to be a disinterested, half-hearted release like this.
I still enjoy playing these games, however. I’m hopeful that modders will do something with Sigma 2 to give us a title that’s at least a little closer to the game it could have been. But we’ll find out soon enough. If you’re a fan of the series or a newcomer itching to try it out, there are plenty of reasons to buy and play the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to forget how it massacred our boy Ryu with this lackluster effort.