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Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (Playstation 3) 

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is the definitive version of Team Ninja's classic Ninja Gaiden II, originally released for the Xbox 360, but refined in the PS3 update. While the basic parameters are fairly similar, the new revision is more than a port. Several new gameplay modes, including the viscerally thrilling team missions give the game much more content than the original release. The gameplay has also been tweaked, with new additions, such as impressive boss battles, giving Sigma 2 some unpredictable twists. Graphical enhancements include a steadier frame rate and smoother animations. These changes are substantial which this makes Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 one of the best action titles released on the Playstation 3 yet.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has players once more in control of master ninja Ryu Hayabusa, along with some of the other characters you've seen in previous games. This time, you can unlock and play three additional female characters including Rachel from the main game, Ayane from Dead or Alive or Momiji from the DS version of the game. In addition to giving the game added appeal amongst otaku, each of these additions has a unique set of moves and techniques which further deepens Ninja Gaiden's already comprehensive gameplay mechanics. Team Ninja has also made other adjustments, the biggest of which is difficulty. There are now easier levels to play, and while veteran players might breeze through these without much effort, novice gamers will probably appreciate the more accessible approach. Even if you do get stuck, there are several dragon statues in each level, so you won't have to spend a lot of time backtracking. The new characters can be played as you complete missions in the single player game, or used in the new Team Mission modes. Ryu's mission is to stop a character names the Arch Fiend and his demonic minions before he can succeed in this endeavor and his progress plays out between levels in elaborate cut-scenes. Those who played the original game should be immediately familiar with the basic parameters in the new game, though there are numerous changes and enhancements to the combat system that make for a deeper game. When he's battling waves of standard foes, Ryu can use his standard attacks at close range, to slice and dice opponents. He's got a number of familiar weapons at his disposal including his trademark Dragon Sword, the devastating Lunar Staff and a cool new weapon, called the Falcon's Talons which are claw-like extensions that allow him to slash opponents at close range. There are also several projectile weapons such as bow and arrow from the first game and shuriken which allow you to attack enemies from a distance. All of this should be somewhat familiar to Ninja Gaiden II veterans, but there are a few unexpected surprises this time around. If you find yourself running low on energy, you can use one of your scrolls to replenish your life force instantly, which is a great help.

Even if you beat the previous Ninja Gaiden II, you'll find significant differences. The biggest of these are the new screen-filling boss encounters, which seem to be ripped from God of War. You'll face a huge demonic Buddha early on and other nasty bosses that weren't in the original release, which makes the game all the more challenging. Many of these are very difficult to beat and you'll have to switch characters or try multiple times before you knock them out. Even the standard enemies seem a little bit harder this time around. As in the previous titles, enemies can be difficult to beat because they cluster together and fight smarter. In addition, instead of being killed immediately as in the previous games, many times foes will survive minus an arm and a leg. They'll still attack you if they can, so it's important to finish them off, even in their weakened state since they can still cause significant damage. As you play through Sigma 2, you'll be able to use different weapons including standard ninja blades, sharp claws and katana. Each of these gives you different techniques to master, which are special attacks that can cause a lot of damage. Ryu's techniques allow him to attack from a distance without much risk, though they do lower his power-bar. A prime example of this is the Obliteration technique. Using this lets you finish off these fallen foes in dramatic fashion when you're standing near them. When you kill many enemies, you'll collect their life force in the form of essence which increases your own health bar. There are several types of these which replenish your energy in different ways. Since the enemies attack you from all directions, and won't stop until they're completely destroyed.

Ryu has a number of cool athletic abilities that he can master as he moves through the levels. He can run sideways along walls, jump over gaps in the levels, swing from bars and climb over objects to escape attacks. He can also move very quickly and instantly change position to attack unsuspecting foes in his way. There are also a number of special attack techniques called Ninpro that he can learn along the way. These devastating attacks can kill or damage any nearby foes, though they can only be used a certain number of times depending on Ryu's energy bar. Each of these moves can be learned by collecting scrolls, which detail how to perform them. As an added bonus, mastering these moves adds to your trophy collection. Other scrolls and magic items allow Ryu to increase his skill set, add to his energy bar or collection more essence from fallen enemies, all of which helps him to survive his brutal mission. The game offers frequent save points, which have the added benefit of completely restoring health completely when used. Additionally, he can purchase items that can further enhance his abilities. The menu selection screen is fairly easy to navigate and use and can be called up at any point during the game. His weapons are quite powerful on their own, but he can carry two at a time later on and these can be further upgraded as he catches essence and earns Ninpro by defeating fallen foes. Most of the action can be viewed from a third person perspective, but the game gives you the option of viewing some areas in first-person mode, which is decent. Some of the camera angles can be distracting and annoying, and allows opponents to attack you unseen. This can make for some frustrating moments but they aren't enough to ruin the experience. While the game is mostly action, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2's also adds some puzzle sequences. Some of these are a little oblique and can be annoying because they get in the way of the action, hurting the game's momentum.

Team Ninja has added new characters and bosses and tweaked some of the camera issues that plagued the first game. It's still not a perfect game, but it comes closer than the original. The game seems to move at a smoother frame rate on PS3 and feels better with more polish. As in the first game, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 offers an impressive selection of environments. Your quest will take you to sleek, futuristic office towers, isolated villages and other locations. Ryo himself is an impressive character and he moves through the levels with an elegant grace and style befitting a master ninja. Three other playable characters have been added and their movements and animation are also impressive. The beautifully rendered character models move with an incredible amount of grace and realism, and feel quite natural. The game's impressive environments feel alive and authentic. Excellent light-sourcing, detailed textures and seamless levels allow you to focus on the action. There are some areas where the camera still gets in the way of the action, but the ability to manually change the angle makes this less of an issue in Sigma 2. The game's soundtrack mixes techno and traditional Japanese themes to create a score that fits the futuristic yet traditional action perfectly. Ninja Gaiden II's elaborate cut scenes give things a nice cinematic feel, but they don't overwhelm the story. You can see that a great deal of attention has been paid to every element in the game, and this helps to create a coherent and believable game universe.

One of the more impressive changes this time around is the new Team Mission mode. Here, you and a friend join forces to defeat demonic hordes. This mode can be played either on or offline, with an AI partner used if you want to practice solo. In this mode, two characters are assigned a specific task, which plays out like a mini-game. You can select from any of the character's you've unlocked and play through certain areas of the game for bonus points. In most of these missions you're confined to a small portion of a level and have to defeat as many enemies as possible to score points. The cool thing about this section is that it allows you to play through action sections without having to sit through the cinematics. In this mode, you work together to clear each area and you can revive your partner if they run out of energy, or they can revive you. Waves of enemies make this mode more a test of endurance, and an enjoyable diversion from the main game. When taken together, these changes mean that Team Ninja has made an impressive series of changes in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. It feels and looks much smoother than the Xbox 360 edition, with additional characters adding even more depth to the experience. While the new boss encounters are cool additions, the essence of the original game hasn't been changed. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2's level of difficulty isn't nearly as intimidating this time around, which should make it more accessible to new players. When you take it together, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 ranks as an excellent revision of the original game that brings new elements that should please those who enjoyed the original release and offers a solidly entertaining experience for those new to the series.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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Ninja Gaiden Sigma (Playstation 3)
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