Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection Review – Not Quite Masterful

More of a Head Ninja, if anything.

Posted By | On 10th, Jun. 2021

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection Review – Not Quite Masterful

I bought the original Ninja Gaiden because of its demo. It came on an Xbox demo disc and I played it over and over and over again. Part of the reason I played it so much was that I lost to Murai, the demo’s boss, several times before I learned how to beat him. But really, I kept playing because I loved it. Everything about it impressed me: the combat, the level design, the music, the graphics. When Ninja Gaiden released, I was on it as soon as I could, playing it to near completion before my Xbox ate my save file. When Ninja Gaiden II came out, I immediately bought it and played it quite a bit…until my Xbox 360 ate my save file.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of the series, and I’ve been looking forward to the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection for a while now. This seems like a home run, right? Take two beloved games and Ninja Gaiden 3 and bundle them together for the current platforms. The collection combines Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, and as far as I can tell, the games run very well. The core issue, really, is the games that Team Ninja has chosen to port.

"Ninja Gaiden is the best kind of action game: it gives you tools for dealing with everything that it throws at you, and then it throws everything at you. When you die, you’ll know why, and it’ll always be your fault. So, let me be clear: Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a great game."

We’ll start at the beginning: Ninja Gaiden Sigma is the fourth revision of the original Ninja Gaiden, following the Hurricane Pack and Ninja Gaiden Black. Sigma is essentially a remake of Black, adding improved graphics, an additional weapon in the Dragon Claw and Tiger Fang dual katanas, reduced enemy difficulty, a couple of new bosses, slightly reworked levels with sections that were cut or remade for Sigma, and three levels in which you play Rachel. There’s also a mission mode to play around in. In exchange, you lose two costumes from Black, a piece of equipment, and playable versions of the Ninja Gaiden NES games.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma is an excellent game, largely because it’s built on the backs of the three excellent versions of Ninja Gaiden that came before it. From the level design to the enemies, who are absolutely relentless, Ninja Gaiden demands precision. The game mixes up puzzles, platforming, and combat extremely well, and while you’ll always be challenged, you’ll likely never be bored. This is also true of the game’s bosses, who are consistently challenging without feeling unfair.

Ninja Gaiden is the best kind of action game: it gives you tools for dealing with everything that it throws at you, and then it throws everything at you. When you die, you’ll know why, and it’ll always be your fault. So, let me be clear: Ninja Gaiden Sigma is a great game. But it’s still a flawed one. The major problem here is really that it isn’t Ninja Gaiden Black. In addition to lacking some of Black’s content, the stuff Sigma adds just isn’t very good. The biggest issue here is the Rachel missions.

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"Rachel’s levels also take place in the same environments Ryu’s do, which means you’ll often backtrack through the same places multiple times as both Ryu and Rachel. In addition to getting old, Rachel’s missions kill the game’s pacing, coming just when you’d like to keep going as Ryu."

Rachel isn’t a bad character, though her design, which combines skimpy black leather, high heels, and some of the funniest jiggle physics you’ve ever seen, is pretty ridiculous. No, the real issue is Rachel’s kit. By the time you begin playing as her, Ryu will already have access to 5 weapons. Rachel, by comparison, has her war hammer, and that’s it. Worse still, you can’t upgrade it, so your moveset is pretty much locked in from the moment you get her, and it’s extremely limited compared to the options Ryu has to work with.

The game makes up for this by making her incredibly strong, but she’s just not as much fun to use as Ryu is. Rachel’s levels also take place in the same environments Ryu’s do, which means you’ll often backtrack through the same places multiple times as both Ryu and Rachel. In addition to getting old, Rachel’s missions kill the game’s pacing, coming just when you’d like to keep going as Ryu. I hesitate to say Rachel’s missions are bad, but they are worse than Ryu’s and I do think they would be better if they were separate from the main game or at least skippable.

The other major problem Ninja Gaiden Sigma has is that it loads in odd places. Sometimes this happens when you’re accessing a save statue, entering combat, or just entering a new area. I once entered a new area, realized I’d missed something, turned around, and immediately got a loading notification. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Most of the time, it’s fine, but when it happens in combat scenarios, it often results in the player getting hit when they shouldn’t. These restrictions made sense when Ninja Gaiden Sigma was released on the PS3 in 2007, but there’s absolutely no reason it should be doing this on consoles that are several times more powerful nearly 15 years later. Sigma is still a very good game overall; it’s just not Ninja Gaiden Black.

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"The biggest mechanical change from the original Ninja Gaiden is dismemberment, which allows you to remove an enemy’s limbs and then execute them. Enemies who have had their limbs chopped off become more dangerous, however, giving the system a nice element of risk and reward."

That brings us to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, which is just a lesser game. Part of this is because Ninja Gaiden 2 just isn’t as good as the original. The game’s development was notably trouble and famously resulted in the departure of series creator Tomonobou Itagaki. As a result, parts of Ninja Gaiden 2 feel unfinished, especially during some of the later levels, and the game is substantially more linear than the original. The upside is that the enemy count has been greatly enhanced.

Ninja Gaiden 2 was built around the Xbox 360’s architecture, which meant it ran poorly on the PS3. To compensate, Sigma 2 makes some substantial changes to the original Ninja Gaiden 2, reworking it to the extent that it’s not really the same game anymore. It reduces the enemy count substantially, largely because the PS3 couldn’t handle the huge amount of enemies in the original game, and significantly tones down the gore. In addition, Sigma 2 reworks some of the game’s levels, adds and removes some bosses, removes the need to find keys to open doors, removes certain weapons and adds others, removes several DLC costumes, and adds levels for Rachel, Ayane, and Momiji. Like the original Ninja Gaiden Sigma, there’s also a mission mode.

The biggest mechanical change from the original Ninja Gaiden is dismemberment, which allows you to remove an enemy’s limbs and then execute them. Enemies who have had their limbs chopped off become more dangerous, however, giving the system a nice element of risk and reward.

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"For all its flaws, Sigma 2 is still a good game. It has an excellent combat system, it feels great to play, and while the game never achieves the highs that the original game does, it also irons out its lows, making for a more even playing experience."

The real issue here is that much of what Sigma 2 added from the original game isn’t very good. Rachel, Ayane, and Momiji just aren’t very interesting to play compared to Ryu, several of the new bosses are more interesting as spectacles than actual fights, and the removal of the games puzzle elements means it’s a more rote experience because there’s nothing to break up the combat.

The decision to reduce the enemy count also substantially harm’s the game’s combat system, which was designed for larger groups of enemies. Sigma 2 attempts to compensate by upping enemy health. That helps, but it also results in combat that never achieves the balance it should. Like the original Sigma, Sigma 2 will also load at random times.

And yet, for all its flaws, Sigma 2 is still a good game. It has an excellent combat system, it feels great to play, and while the game never achieves the highs that the original game does, it also irons out its lows, making for a more even playing experience. It’s still a good game, and while it’s not nearly as good as either Ninja Gaiden Sigma or the original version of Ninja Gaiden 2, it is still very much worth playing.

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"Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is Team Ninja’s attempt to fix the game without totally reworking it, but it’s still not a very good game, especially compared to its predecessors."

Then there’s Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. The original Ninja Gaiden 3 was not met with a positive critical reception, and often didn’t feel like a Ninja Gaiden game at all, slowing things down, limiting Ryu to a single weapon, and the like. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is Team Ninja’s attempt to fix the game without totally reworking it, but it’s still not a very good game, especially compared to its predecessors. Razor’s Edge maintains the focus on dismemberment found in Ninja Gaiden 2, and its enemy count is much closer to the original Ninja Gaiden 2 than the Sigma games. And, of course, the combat, which is also largely based around dismembering and executing enemies, generally feels pretty good.

The problem is everything around that combat. There are no health items or essence in Ninja Gaiden 3. Ninpo, which is a resource you use in previous games, is now a meter you fill by killing enemies and is the only way to heal yourself outside of a meditation ability that leaves you so helpless it might as well be useless. This wouldn’t be an issue if you reverted to full health after each fight, but you don’t. Instead, each time you’re hit, your maximum health decreases to a minimum. That minimum stays in place until you reach the next save point, meaning you can start fights with exceptionally low maximum health and basically no way to heal yourself.

The other problem is the game’s encounters. Ninja Gaiden 3’s idea of difficulty is to just throw enemies at you. This would be fine, but the game also supplements these enemies with rocket launcher enemies in nearly every encounter, almost all of whom are in places that can only be reached by Ryu’s bow. Standing still long enough to aim in Ninja Gaiden 3 will get you killed, so your only option is to jump and hope Ryu’s auto-targeting will lock onto them. Otherwise, you just run around dodging rockets until you can take them out and actually play the game.

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"It’s neither fun nor interesting, and that could be said for much of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, especially when the other games in this collection are readily available."

This would be fine in some encounters, but it’s basically every encounter in the game. Combine this with the game’s exceptionally poor job of teaching you its mechanics (it doesn’t really explain the game’s Steel on Bone system, which allows you to counter strong enemy attacks, properly until a couple levels in) and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is more frustrating than satisfying. I’m not against difficulty in video games, especially Ninja Gaiden, but the encounter design is so rote that I was surprised when enemies with rocket launchers didn’t show up in one level. About 15 seconds later, of course, they did.

It’s neither fun nor interesting, and that could be said for much of Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, especially when the other games in this collection are readily available. Combine this with the general lack of options compared to the earlier games, the health system that seems only to exist to punish you, the generally boring Ayane levels, and the mechanical downgrade Razor’s Edge represent, and there’s genuinely no reason to play it unless you’re a completionist. The other games are that much better, and while it is better than the original Ninja Gaiden 3, it often doesn’t feel like a Ninja Gaiden game at all.

So the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection offers one exceptional game in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, a very good one in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, which most players should avoid at all costs. It’s not a bad deal for $40, and this is a nice port if an exceptionally barebones one that doesn’t do much to make the games that much better aside from a resolution bump and a better framerate.

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"It’s not exceptional, it’s not the best versions of these games, and it’s not what these games deserved. But it is still a collection that includes two of the best action games ever made. And that alone is worth the price of admission."

It’s also disappointing that this collection is generally made up of the worst versions of the Ninja Gaiden games. This is allegedly because Team Ninja no longer has the code for Ninja Gaiden Black or Ninja Gaiden 2, but they could have reverse-engineered the code for those games had they wanted to. They didn’t. Instead, they got the Sigma games and Razor’s Edge working on modern hardware, made them look and run better, and called it a day. Compared to something like the Mass Effect Legendary Edition, this collection is about as barebones as it gets. What saves it is that these are still good games. Well, except for Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, anyway.

So, should you buy it? That depends. If you have access to an Xbox, you’re probably better off buying Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2 and calling it a day. But if you’re already a fan of the Sigma games, have never played the series before, or are a PC player who is just getting access to Ninja Gaiden for the first time, this collection is worth your money. It’s not exceptional, it’s not the best versions of these games, and it’s not what these games deserved. But it is still a collection that includes two of the best action games ever made and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. And that alone is worth the price of admission.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.


THE GOOD

The games look and run very well. Sigma and Sigma 2 are still two of the best action games ever made. A ton of content to play through. Mission modes and additional difficulties add replayability.

THE BAD

Random loading in the Sigma games. Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge really isn't very good. No Ninja Gaiden Black or Ninja Gaiden 2. The Sigma versions are both the worst versions of their respective games. The Master Collection does not include all previously released DLC.

Final Verdict:
GOOD
The Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is a barebones port of two of the greatest action games ever made and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge. The fact that these are the Sigma versions, and that Team Ninja has done nothing to iron out the weaker moments of these games, drags this collection down, but it's still a good way to play Ninja Gaiden on modern hardware.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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