Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox was a true modern classic. It featured smooth, challenging gameplay and amazing production values. It was, in short, one of the finest games of its generation. In 2005, its gameplay was reworked and expanded for a second release, Ninja Gaiden Black. And incredibly enough, the third time's the charm. No, Ninja Gaiden Sigma isn't a true next-gen sequel, nor is it a simple port of the Xbox release. But it does add a good deal of new content, both subtle and obvious. If you're a Ninja Gaiden enthusiast, you'll want to see the new chapters, reworked levels, and slicker graphics. And if for some reason you missed it before, this is a must-play game. The action is intense, focused, and certainly not for the faint of heart. It's also among the most satisfying in all of gaming and remains as awe-inspiring as ever, three years after its original release.
So what's changed? The biggest addition is that Rachel the fiend hunter is a new playable character. She's a badass buxom babe who gets three chapters of her own, and a few levels in mission mode, too. She may be top-heavy, but she still manages a good number of terrific moves. Her minicampaign isn't as expansive as Ryu's: She's limited to using the warhammer and has only a single magic attack (called sorcery, rather than ninpo). The chapters are remarkably refreshing though, particularly because Rachel isn't as agile as Ryu--though a swing of her hammer does a huge amount of damage. Playing her requires you to adjust because her levels are interspersed among the others, so as the game's groove shifts, so must yours. Along with her chapters come new cutscenes, new bosses, and even a few feminine touches that humanize a story that was (and still is) more summer blockbuster than art house drama.
Rachel appreciates her unique talents. And so should you.
Her chapters aren't just disconnected additions, however. Ryu's chapters are shifted and reworked to give greater context to Rachel's. In fact, every level offers unexpected surprises, both big and small. In some cases, it's as simple as different items found in treasure chests. In others, the significance of the adjustments will catch you off guard, but pleasantly so. For example, one of the central chapters of the original Ninja Gaiden featured a straightforward puzzle to end the sequence. Now, a replica of an earlier boss returns, complete with a few new attacks to round out the surprise. Throughout the game, you'll find new enemies to uncover, such as glowing spirits and soldiers on motorcycles. You'll even get to play with a new set of weapons: Dual swords called Dragon's Claw and Tiger's Fang.
The changes are great, and they do more than throw in stuff for the sake of stuff. In some cases, they refine the pace and address frustrations of the original to make for an even tighter, more centered experience. One such change is the addition of a shop near the final save point before a major, difficult boss fight. It sounds insignificant, but it soothes a large frustration from the original and keeps the difficulty level steady without removing any real challenge from the boss encounter itself. Needless to say, there are countless additions, subtractions, and modifications, and they run the gamut from superficial to substantial. For the most part, all of them are for the better. The only questionable one is the ability to shake the Sixaxis controller to give more power to your ninpo skills. It feels needlessly tacked on, and shaking the controller doesn't really jibe with the general slickness of the other controls. Thankfully, it's the only element that stands out as unneeded among legions of improvements.
And if you haven't played Ninja Gaiden? Well, there's no better time than the present, and you won't need any previous experience with the series to understand what makes it excellent. Ninja extraordinaire Ryu Hyabusa is on a quest to recover the legendary Dark Dragon Blade and avenge the destruction of his peaceful village. Along the way, he meets Rachel, who is on a vision quest of her own. Their two stories mesh nicely in a single-player campaign that may take you 25 or more hours the first time through, depending on your skill level and prior experience with Ninja Gaiden Xbox.