Ninja Gaiden Sigma Hands-On

Tecmo stops by with Ryu Hayabusa's shiny PlayStation 3 adventure, and ninjas die.

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Let's face it: the PlayStation 3 is sorely lacking in the ninja-action department. There are racers, shooters, sports games, and action games, but ninjas? Not so much. Thankfully, Tecmo's Ryu Hayabusa is slashing his way to the PS3 in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a new take on the Xbox installments in the series, Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black. The game was announced last year, when it was shown off in flashy trailer form at the 2006 Tokyo Game Show, but we hadn't been able to get our hands on the game until recently, when Tecmo stopped by with a work-in-progress version of the game for us to try.

We were able to get a sampling of both old and new content during a brief demo with three chunks of the game, all of which is looking like a nice fit for the PlayStation 3. Our first taste of the game came with a quick run-up to the first boss in the house of ninjas. The run was similar to the original game and Ninja Gaiden Black. The control is already good and tight (as if we had doubts). Our big points of scrutiny were the visuals and extra content. Though the game's core experience is based on the content in the original game and Gaiden Black for the Xbox, Tecmo is peppering new stuff throughout.

The visuals will obviously be the first thing that gets scrutinized in the game and they already hold up to nitpicking. Polygon counts have been bumped up, textures have been buffed to a nice 720p sheen, and lighting is being improved, so you'll see all sorts of self-shadowing and the like. In terms of performance, the game runs at a fairly consistent 60 frames per second. There were a few dips here and there, and we're pretty sure people will die if the game ships without a solid frame rate, so we hope the game will run like butter when it's released.

The ninja chops. The ninja slices. Ryu Hayabusa returns in Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PlayStation 3.
The ninja chops. The ninja slices. Ryu Hayabusa returns in Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PlayStation 3.

Animation is also getting some tweaks to give the game a more polished flow. Hayabusa's already fluid movements are being enhanced with more variety, which looks great and complements one of the other new elements we saw, new weapons. We were able to try a wicked new pair of Nito swords that showcased Hayabusa's fun and exciting dual-wielding ways of death. In speaking with director Yosuke Hayashi we got the lowdown on the addition: Basically, the team wanted to offer a cool companion to the game's default weapon, the dragon sword, and offer players a new weapon they could use regularly through the game--which wasn't always the case with the other weapons you'd find.

Besides all the expected new content we saw, Hayashi showed us one of the ways the team is taking advantage of the PlayStation 3's Sixaxis controller. When casting Ryu's ninpo magic you can charge up the effect, in this case fire, by frantically shaking the controller up and down. If you do it properly you'll notice a visual cue; in our demo it was a column of fire appearing around Ryu to let you know your magic is going to pack some extra hurt. Though you pretty much lose all dignity and cool while using the feature, take heart that Ryu still retains his.

Once we made it through the final boss, we got our chance to see and play as Rachel in one of the three missions in the game's mission mode that will feature her, in addition to the few levels in the story mode where you'll play her. The buxom fiend hunter rolls with an enormous war hammer. The mission we tried was a simple one; we just had to kill demons that spawned in waves. The tight space kept the action fast and let us get a feel for how she handles. Though her war hammer is a bit slower on the attack than Hayabusa's weapons, it got the job done. The nice thing is that the tail end of Rachel's hammer is shaped like a scythe and works quite nicely for killing. Like Hayabusa, she has two types of melee attacks you can chain for combos. In addition, she has a chain she can use in combos and to swing around briefly while jumping. One of our favorite moves so far has been the way she can move around and over opponents when blocking. Besides looking cool, it's possible to get in some neck slicing if you time your button presses properly. While the timing is a little tricky, it's quite satisfying to slide over enemies and slice their necks. Though she shares many of the same fundamental mechanics as Ryu, including chargeable magic, she definitely has her own feel.

Mr. Hayabusa's got some competition this time around.
Mr. Hayabusa's got some competition this time around.

The final bit we tried was with Ryu in a mission in mission mode where he faced a boss, an updated version of Dynamo, everyone's favorite gun-toting boss from the blimp stage in Gaiden Black. The mission shows off a souped-up version of Dynamo and drops you in a ring to face him. Though that may seem a little easier to handle than the rainy nighttime blimp where you fight him in the Xbox game, it's not a cakewalk. You have to deal with a new kind of rain in the battle, a rain of rockets from the sky. That's challenging.

Based on what we played, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is shaping up to be a dense piece of ninja action for the PS3 that should hit the spot for fans of stabbing. Though the core game should be familiar to Ninja Gaiden fans, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Gaiden and Gaiden Black remain among some of the best games in their class. The new content should keep things interesting for fans of the series. Newcomers will still have to face a learning curve that could be considered a tough nut to crack, but the game is far from impossible to get a handle on--you're just going to have to work a little at it. Though we'd like to have seen an all-new installment of the series on the PS3, or some online features, this marks a promising first showing for the series on the console that will hopefully be followed with a meaty new installment sometime down the road.

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