Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PS3 Look - Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2

Remember the last time I talked about Ninja Gaiden 2? All I can recall of it is infinitely spawning exploding jellyfish. There were also other things like billions of exploding projectiles all over Ryu like chickenpox and some of the worst uses of water ever in an action game. I said everything I could just short of breaking the unwritten rule by cursing up a storm. Now you're reading this and you are all but certain that I am clearly insane. I'm blaming the Internet for this one. I was pretty content never playing Ninja Gaiden 2 ever again but all these people are saying "Sigma 2 is better because it fixes all the stupid stuff but Vanilla 2 is better because it's more challenging and rewarding." Curiosity gets the better of me as it is wont to do and I played through Sigma 2.

The story hasn't changed at all. Ryu has to do some globe-trotting to try and fail to stop a bunch of greater fiends from summoning the greatest fiend. I guess I wasn't trying hard enough because I couldn't skip any of the cut-scenes. Thus I was forced to endure footage of a woman bathing in blood, another woman being a pathetic damsel in distress, and Ryu telling all of the girls to stay in the kitchen where they belong. The only difference in this version is that Rachel, Momoji, and Ayane have their own stages where they kill demons because that is what people like to see in videogames.

Momoji is the young Acolyte who Ryu trains in the DS Ninja Gaiden game. Her outfit is at least somewhat sensible. Ayane is probably more recognizable from her work in Dead or Alive but nevertheless she's here to assist Ryu in matters of Ninja concern. Rachel is from the first Ninja Gaiden and she's still dressed in tight leather because I dunno maybe she just likes the way it feels. Upon completion of their respective side-stories the ladies become playable in the Team-Missions mode.

Team-mission mode is suitably named as the player can team up with another player or the computer to take part in all sorts of missions. The goal is to kill everyone and score a lot of points. Really there isn't anything else to it aside from a unique combination spell and the fact that if one player dies the other has to revive him or her to keep the battle going. It's a really good addition although since the missions take place in various locations in the game it becomes a real pain in larger stages. While it is true that Sigma 2 cuts back on the projectiles that doesn't stop enemies from sniping away at the heroes from miles away if given the opportunity.

It's rather strange how Sigma 2 turned out the way it did. Almost all of the issues I had with the original game have been rectified in some way. Unfortunately this doesn't mean that I love the game now or anything of the sort. When problems get fixed all this usually does is lead to new problems or it gives me the opportunity to look at other aspects of the game that are problematic. Some would argue that this is unfair to game developers but who cares what they think? Eventually they'll get it right in a future game or die off. Sometimes they die off anyway even when it isn't their fault and that truly sucks.

Anyway let's start off with water. Yes it is fantastic that the jellyfish are gone and Ryu isn't picking fights with snake-demons that effortlessly glide on water. So what happens then? Well...at least in the normal setting apparently nothing at all. Venice is one stage I despise due to all of the water-based fighting so Sigma 2 cuts it all out and replaces it with nothing. Suddenly we have a break in the pacing as after some battles with dozens of werewolves Ryu decides to take a leisurely swim through the canals for awhile. It's times like this that I wish the Master Werewolf Volvo or Vulgus or Vargas or whoever was an ice fiend and he turned Venice into a Winter Wonderland. At least we'd probably get some neat ice-based enemies out of the deal. These breaks in the pacing continue in other parts of the game, either featuring a lack of enemies or the enemies are replaced by more ghost-fish. Seriously?

To make up for the jarring changes in pacing all of the puzzle-elements in Sigma 2 are gone. Now when I say puzzle-elements I'm also referring to all those times where Ryu needs to grab a key or hit a switch to continue. This makes the game-world feel rather lifeless. It feels almost like Ryu has already done everything in the past but somehow he got tricked into fighting everyone again so he has to retrace his steps. All the same it's an acceptable solution but I would have preferred more fights. At least there's the team-mission mode and harder difficulties for that sort of thing.

This game throws in a number of new enemies and replaces some fights with new bosses and other fun stuff. Some bosses like the horrendous Water Dragon also saw changes. I guess I should be happy about these changes but they highlight a lack of ambition going on throughout the game. When doing a sequel or a revision it's not enough to merely fix what was wrong but to expand upon and push the game even further. All of the new bosses feel like more of the same while the changes to existing bosses make them slightly less interesting. They are several times more consistent in their design but somehow I get the feeling if the time was spent to make them actually work in the original version they could really be exceptional. Also one of the new bosses is a rampaging Statue of Liberty. It's far less cool than it sounds and the fight feels too much like the Colossus from God of War 2.

Obviously I have to say something about the lack of blood as well. I'm an unapologetic gore-hound so of course I'm peeved about the lack of crimson-action in this game. It really makes the cut-scenes look ridiculous when everything is getting slaughtered but there's not a drop of blood to be seen let alone the decapitations and other fun stuff. Purple mist is a poor substitute since a lot of the time it's hard to tell if something is missing a limb and thus can be finished off. Plus I have to look at it from an artist's point of view. Way back when I was in community college I did a presentation on Paul Verhoeven. You may remember him as the director of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. Needless to say the presentation itself had a lot to do with Paul's usage of violence in film. With blood he can make vivid images that affect the audience in multiple ways. If he wanted to shock the audience he could use a specific amount of gore at just the right moment, or if he wants to do something humorous he goes for comical amounts of spilled blood. Most of all however Paul uses blood to help tell his stories. Without the blood in Ninja Gaiden 2 there are no stories to tell. All the battles tend to leave behind are corpses, that's hardly any proof of evidence that a battle ever happened. Though Ryu has wrought untold levels of destruction upon his foes he is effectively without his paintbrush that would record these deeds for all time.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I hate Ninja Gaiden 2 at least I can admit it drives some emotion out of me. All I get from Sigma 2 is...indifference. I played through the game with hardly any issues and while some things could have been handled better I just didn't really care if they mattered or not. There is neither frustration nor satisfaction, just this feeling that if I keep doing what I'm doing eventually it'll end and I can move on.

I don't feel right calling one game better than the other because to do that I'd have to play through them on the hardest settings, master them, and analyze every little detail. My life simply isn't long enough and I enjoy it just a bit too much to shorten it drastically on these games. Still this game can be a lot of fun when things come together and there's not much else out there if you're looking for a cooperative action game. All in all while the game makes me feel empty inside I recommend it.

Game Rating 3.5 out of 5
My Rating 2 out of 5

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