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12 Reviews

Ninja Gaiden: Sigma II

Brutally tough and incredibly slick: a cut above

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is a game. Sounds obvious right? That's like saying grass is green, water is wet, Jeremy Kyle is evil. Wrong. In an age where games are desperately trying to be movies, rock concerts, sporting events or fitness aids, it's wonderfully refreshing when a game comes along that is so blatantly sure of itself and its medium. If we were to get all flowery about it, we could even make a case for comparing Sigma 2 to Pong or Tetris - placing it lovingly into that category of classic games that champion the purity of play, and dismiss everything else as window dressing and chintz. Don't worry, though: we won't.

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What we will say is that Ninja Gaiden has always been about action, and Sigma 2 is no exception. The plot is thinner than Posh Spice on a nothing-but-millet diet, and the levels are relatively ugly and sterile compared to more bombastic adventure games like Devil May Cry and God of War, but at its heart there's a silky-smooth combat system that makes you feel like an absolute god: once you get to grips with it. Fighting almost feels too simple - quick slashes are mapped to square, heavy attacks to triangle, blocking to L1, and jumping to X. The key is chaining together slashes to pull off incredible, beautifully animated combos.

Bashing buttons and learning the basics will get you through the first few levels on acolyte (easy), but to finish the game - and get the most out of it - you need to master the deceptively deep martial arts mechanics. It isn't until you look at the moves list in the inventory screen that you realise how many combos are at your disposal... per weapon. Rather than being intimidating, it encourages you to play around with each blade, learning Ninja Gaiden's intricacies.

Combined with the steep difficulty curve the quantity of devastating moves and well-designed weaponry makes every kill, from the lowliest of enemy ninja, right through to the biggest demon, feel like a small personal victory. When you see Ryu Hayabusa (your playable character through the majority of the story) flick a ninja above his head with his Eclipse scythe before neatly chopping him in half, it's a seriously satisfying moment.

The way the camera zooms in for a closer inspection of the kill, and the meaty slicing sound that accompanies each 'obliteration' move feels like a mini-reward too. It's definitely something you have to earn - each fight with every individual enemy is a dual in itself. Learning to block, counter and time your attacks (and even know which weapon will be most effective against who you're facing) is the key to coming out on top. Difficult enough in a one-on-one brawler, but it reaches a whole new height of challenge when you're battling seven or eight different opponents at once.

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This unforgiving level of difficulty can also be the game's undoing. We lost count of the number of times we had to hit the Continue option after being felled by a particularly hard boss, and we're not proud of the language we used on those all-too-common occasions we were wiped out with a Heal and Save statue in sight. For some, this game will simply be too tough, and no amount of busty female ninja or larger than life instruments of death with convince less hardy players to push beyond the third or fourth level. Shame. And when regular play requires nerves of steel, every sloppy section or gameplay defect is twice as noticeable. The camera, which many complained about in NG2 is still a little unruly, although it is noticeably better, and never proves too much of a problem.

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