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August 2022

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: June 10, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 10, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection packages the classic game Ninja Gaiden Sigma alongside Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge with most of the previously released game modes and DLC costumes in one thrilling collection.

Buy Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

As a franchise, there's a similar play style between all of the Ninja Gaiden games. Players take on the role of master ninja Ryu Hayabusa as he inevitably ends up fighting scores of evil ninjas, evil soldiers, and extra evil demons. At first blush, the gameplay has a lot in common with Devil May Cry, and the two franchises had something of a "Sonic and Mario" rivalry. It's a fast-paced action series that borrows ideas and concepts from fighting games, rewarding players for razor-sharp gameplay and mastery of gameplay mechanics. Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection combines three titles into one package: Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for the Ninja Gaiden series was that it focused on telling you to "get gud" long before Dark Souls hit the market. This is no less true now that it was before, and the series does not hesitate to punish you. Ninja Gaiden Sigma, despite being arguably the easiest version of the original game, will still chew you up and spit you out if you give it a chance. You can die quickly. You can die from the tutorial enemies. You can struggle through five hard rooms, die, and return to your last save point to try again.

The combat mechanics are a blend of Devil May Cry action and fighting game mechanics with an emphasis on parries, grabs and defense while baiting openings. More often than not, you'll know exactly why you died, and it was because you overextended, mistimed a counter, or otherwise screwed up. The game occasionally veers into the cheap, especially with some of its boss fights, but for the most part, it feels like a fair game and rewarding experience. The overall balance is a little worse than Ninja Gaiden Black, which was the original updated port, but it seems like Sigma is the version that we'll see from now on.

Ninja Gaiden in the Master Collection appears to be based on the PlayStation Vita version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. The original Sigma was a modified version that was released for the PlayStation and included some polish and new weapons, but it also lacked some of the bonus features found in Ninja Gaiden and its original re-release, Ninja Gaiden Black. Plus has all of Sigma's features in addition to a new Hero mode that lowers the difficulty, adds the ability to equip accessories to change your character's appearance, and includes a pair of dual katanas that can be used as a weapon. It's a perfectly fine version of the game, but it has seen no real touch-ups.

Visually, Ninja Gaiden Sigma isn't particularly impressive. Since the core game is based on the Vita version, I can't help but feel like that includes some of the visuals. They don't look that impressive, and there doesn't appear to have been a ton of work put into cleaning up the visuals beyond the basics. It leaves the game looking aged in a way that even a fellow competitor like Devil May Cry 3 doesn't. It's still easy to play, but it's disappointing that my favorite of the three games is the least polished.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is similar to the first game, so it's a hack-and-slash action game with a focus on brutal difficulty. The biggest change is the addition of the ability to dismember your foes during combat. This isn't just a visual effect, as enemies who lose an arm or a leg will be weakened and more desperate, so they may unleash a suicidal high-damaging charge if you don't finish them off quickly.

Compared to the first Sigma, Sigma 2 is still a fun game but not as tightly balanced. It has an overreliance on cheap shots, such as enemies shooting from off-screen or unexpected suicide attacks. Sigma 2 is better balanced than the original release in that regard, but it's still not perfect. There are some cheap areas usually involving ranged attacks that are not fun, and when compared to the first game, it is the primary thing that drags down Sigma 2.

Sigma 2 is also a significantly bigger change from the original Ninja Gaiden II with bosses being rebalanced, changed, and replaced, the removal of some weapons, and retouching some core mechanics. The result is that if you played the original Xbox 360 release, you'll find Sigma II to be a very different beast. Some of the changes are for the better, while others feel needless. For example, there are fewer on-screen enemies, likely a response to the poor frame rate of the original X360 release, but in a legacy collection like this, it's a touch disappointing. If you liked Ninja Gaiden II, you'll still have fun here.

Unfortunately, Ninja Gaiden 3 is probably the weakest entry in the series, and it boils down to the fact that it's an attempt to add polish to an even weaker original release. Razor's Edge is a re-release that was originally designed for the Nintendo Wii U after the negative reception to Ninja Gaiden 3. The original release contained little of what people liked about the previous two games and contained a lot of needlessly cruel gameplay mechanics like murdering helpless foes. Mechanically, it was simpler and more focused on violence and bloodshed. Razor's Edge went a long way toward fixing this by trying to add mechanics to a game that wasn't designed for them.

The result is a Ninja Gaiden title that doesn't quite work. It's miles ahead of the original release, and it is very clear that the developers took the original complaints into account when redoing it for the Wii U, but you can only go so far when designing from the ground up. It's a fun enough action game if you take it on its own merits, but it lacks the sense of white-knuckle punishment that people associate with the Ninja Gaiden series. The original release included a multiplayer mode, which has been removed and revamped so you can use characters from it in the single-player content.

As a whole, the Master Collection is a mixed bag. A big part of this is the fact that the Ninja Gaiden franchise changed significantly between the original release and the new releases. Getting the Sigma versions is fine, but it's disappointing that there's a fair bit of Ninja Gaiden content that is lost to time. Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 are still two incredibly good action games, and whatever flaws they have can be easily ignored in the excitement of taking on the Hayabusa Clan's enemies once again. Ninja Gaiden 3 is … well, it's there. It's a better filler game for an HD collection than Devil May Cry 2, but it's easily the least interesting part of the collection.

Aside from Sigma looking less than impressive, the graphical updates to the Master Collection are fine but mostly workmanlike. Not a huge amount of effort has been put into making the games shine more than they already did, but the big bonus here is the frame rate. The titles run much smoother than they did in the original release, but in handheld mode, I still noticed some slowdown here and there. The biggest benefit of this release is being able to play the titles without the gameplay slowing down to a near crawl during busy sequences; it's a must for such a technical franchise.

All that aside, it's difficult to express how incredibly fun and satisfying the Ninja Gaiden games are to play. Yes, you'll die. You'll probably die a lot. You'll be blown up by rockets, devoured by werewolves, and thrown off airships. When you come back and end up styling on the same enemy who ruined your day, it's as satisfying as anything in Dark Souls. The franchise's reputation for difficulty is well earned, but the addition of Hero mode and the Sigma balance tweaks should make it enjoyable for most players.

From that perspective, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is a solid pack with two good games and one OK game with little in the way of polish or improvements. It's not hard to negatively compare it to something like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in terms of content and quality, but that doesn't change the value of the games within. If you like challenge and struggle or enjoy feeling like the coolest ninja on the block, Ninja Gaiden is a franchise well worth checking out. Just be careful not to throw your Switch across the room when you die for the gazillionth time.

Score: 8.0/10

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