The story never takes center stage, though it has the proper over-the-top sensibilities to frame what the game is really about: kick-ass action in the form of throws, slashes, wall-running, and acrobatic tumbling. If you think a ninja should be able to do it, you can do it in Ninja Gaiden Sigma. The controls for doing so are smooth and seamless, and aside from a few camera angle issues, at no point will you feel you have to struggle with the controller to pull any of these moves off. They result in astounding sequences of somersaulting, swordplay, offensive magic (called ninpo), and countermoves that are as gratifying as anything found in gaming. And as you progress through the game, you can upgrade your weapons, add new attacks, and earn other enhancements.
As you may have heard, Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was a difficult game, and it's no different here. That isn't to say it's as tough as Ninja Gaiden Black, nor does it ever reach punishing levels. But it is no walk in the park, and newcomers may find it initially intimidating. If you've already cut your teeth on the series, you may be inclined to think that Sigma is a little easier, though that is due more to certain level design tweaks than it is to a reduction in challenge. In particular, Rachel's first chapter may strike fans as a little too easy thanks to a nice smattering of health potions, but the impression won't last once you reach her later appearances. As it is, you'll encounter armies of strong, agile opponents of all sorts, both human and, well, not so human--and you'll fight them in a variety of environments, from winding city streets to subterranean caverns.
The boss fights are as challenging and invigorating as ever.
Some of the most touted improvements in Ninja Gaiden Sigma over the original release are in the visual department. That isn't to say that it looks exactly next-gen, because there are signs of porting in the form of some bland textures and a few other blemishes. But it looks great, and a side-by-side comparison reveals a lot of nice enhancements in elements like shadows and color saturation. Animations are particularly spectacular, and Rachel's movements are as sleek as any of Ryu's. The sound effects and soundtrack remain the same as before. Still, as with the visuals, the audio additions are beautifully woven into the rest of the design, so nothing seems out of place or glued on.
And once you're done with the tour de force the first time around, you've got new difficulty levels to try out, stand-alone combat missions to play, and in-game leaderboards to peruse. There's simply a lot of game here, and the fact that this is a retooling of a three-year-old title for a new audience shouldn't dissuade you from playing it. Whether you're a series veteran or a newcomer, the in-your-face action of Ninja Gaiden Sigma is as exhilarating now as it ever was, and the new, slickly embedded content is surprisingly meaty. Play this game.