Review: Ninja Gaiden Master Collection

We all know Ninja Gaiden as the spiritual predecessor to Nioh and Nioh 2. We loved those games and Ninja Gaiden used to be too! But, is the remaster for the first 3 parts worth the submission price?

As a child I already liked Ninja Gaiden, although it was very difficult. I had to call my father for assistance almost every boss fight. So I couldn't wait to try the Master Collection when it was announced. However, there are some disclaimers to go by, such as what exactly the franchise is and what we can expect with the Master Collection. It's been out for a few weeks now, the E3 crowds were here too, but better late than never!

What is Ninja Gaiden?

In Ninja Gaiden, you follow Ryu Hayabusa through his dark ninja adventures. The games consist of flashy real-time action combat, a dark atmosphere of graphics and a pretty cool and extensive story with quite a bit of lore. The combat is a powerhouse of combo attacks that you have to figure out yourself and that gradually become crazier and more extensive. It is basically a combat system with only 2 attack buttons. But the mechanics are what the games have to rely on. As well as the boss fights, which always take place in crazy stages and with cool enemy designs. The games stimulate their own fighting style and that's what makes it so cool for me to play a Ninja Gaiden title.

The games are essentially all very cool, not you Razor's Edge. The third part is in my opinion the least cool, the second on the other hand the coolest. Part 1 had its issues and that shows again in the Master Collection, unfortunately. The game also has mechanics that provide health restores and Ki restores. This all has to do with Essences. Besides the hand-to-hand combat you also have Ninpo, a kind of magic. Here you can cast different 'spells' that, for example, let you blow fire.

What does the collection bring?

For example, the collection fixes little of the problems that occurred in the past. The collection also does not address fundamental issues, including the camera in the first and second parts. These are the Sigma versions for both titles by the way. These versions weren't all that believed in their prime anyway. So you get Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Sigma 3 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge. Part 3 was already the lesser of the titles anyway. The Sigma games are like true ports for the Playstation 3, with updated character models, better performance, balance updates and more characters to play.

Anyway, let's take a closer look at what the games do well and less well and how a remastered collection connects to this.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma

The first part was already the hardest to dive into. The camera perspectives often made the game almost unplayable. I noticed this from the very first sequence. The game itself is also very experimental, so it was a first iteration at the time. In Sigma, you play as Ryu Hyabusha, whose village has been destroyed by the right hand of a demon god. Not only does Ryu want justice for what has been done to his fellow villagers, he also wants a special item back, something taken from his village. So it's up to you to take on the role of Ryu and set this all right, as far as you can of course…

The map you play in is quite large and Sigma is full of atmospheric areas. The level design is fantastic, unfortunately playing through it is not the experience I had hoped for. In the past, the developers got away with experimental mechanics and camera angles that make you fall over. I expected a bit more improvement in both the camera and controls in this collection. This does not make Sigma a bad game, on the contrary. The puzzles are great, the areas are really fantastic and the combat is really nice. The story was a unique experience for the time we lived in at the time. There is simply too little changed from the original to warrant it in 2021.

The successor

Sigma 2 is a game with many opinions. I personally thought it was a nicer experience (now), than the first part. Perhaps also because it feels a bit less dated in the controls and camera angles, which still show their age. Ninja Gaiden 2 didn't add too much in terms of mechanics, but plenty of new iterations were added in both combat and exploration. The game plays better anyway, even now. But, here too, very little has changed except for the resolution and performance, which is a pity. The Sigma version of 2 was where the more negative opinions came out anyway. For many, the Sigma variant removed the challenge that the original presented. The developers spent a lot of time balancing Ryu against his enemies, which many fans regretted. So the same applies here as with Sigma 1, a strong game that unfortunately has not been changed enough in this collection to make it contemporary.

Razor's Edge

The third installment, titled Razor's Edge, put Ninja Gaiden 3 in a completely different light. The original version of this part was a terrible experience, one that this time came to a better whole with a remake. Razor's Edge was received many times better than 3 itself. What's the fundamental problem with this part is how linear the experience has become. While Sigma 1 and 2 had a strong level design with a fairly large arrangement of mechanics and puzzles, this third part felt like both a step forward and a step back. This is the part where you see a lot of mechanics coming back in Nioh, so that's definitely a good thing to keep in mind. For example, the Bone Counter is comparable to the Yokai Counter in Nioh 2. This counter plays a major role in combat, as indicated in our review about Nioh 1 and Nioh 2 !

The combat and mechanics were in general quite simplified in this part, but this ultimately benefited the game. Where it was not a real Ninja Gaiden for many, it was in the linear level design and less strong puzzle design. Also the enemies in this part were often quite unfair, it was sometimes simply impossible to avoid attacks, to frustration. This part comes out the best in the current collection, but better camera angles, performance, graphics and combat that feels less dated. However, little has been done here to make the experience contemporary.

And now?

Well, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection may be a cash grab that has had little new inspiration thrown in, but the franchise isn't dead yet. You've heard the name Nioh swarm by before, because it comes from the same developers. These games are extremely fun to play, extremely challenging and have level designs that make you say YOU. You can also play these games with friends, especially Nioh 2 is a nice experience in this.

In my opinion, the Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is not worthy of being bought at full price. Really little has been done to improve the games, for whatever reason. But, the games themselves are very strong, so if you're a real fan, this review won't stop you and that's a good thing. The franchise brings memorable characters, rock-solid combat, a unique setting and cool level design, so don't be scared away if you really want to give it a chance!

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