If you look past the original Halo games, my favorite game for the original Xbox was no doubt the first Ninja Gaiden game for the system. The Ninja Gaiden Master Collection doesn’t just bring that game two (to three) console generations forward with all the usual bells and whistles, it also bundles it with the second and third game in the series. The collection is out now for all major consoles as well as PCs – we tested on a PlayStation 5 with backward compatibility.
Part of me still hopes that Team Ninja will resurrect the Ninja Gaiden series now that they’ve wrapped up work on Nioh 2, but we’ll see if that happens. Until then, the new Master Collection is a great way to get reacquainted with these classic ninja action adventures. They may lack the finesse and multi-layered nature of games like Nioh, but they’re still tremendously entertaining.
To be fair though – the games included are actually the Sigma releases of the first two games rather than the originals, so if you’re coming from a PlayStation background the difference will be smaller than if you’re an original Xbox player of the game. It’s also worth pointing out that none of the games received a full remaster treatment, so besides a higher resolution and better frame rates you’re essentially getting the PlayStation 3 versions of the game without any improved textures and/or animations. There’s some additional content, but mostly in the shape of fan service: costume DLCs, an artbook and access to the soundtrack.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1 was a serious upgrade to the original Xbox version, especially in the visual sense, but as a 14 year old release it still shows it age despite being one of the more impressive titles or its era. The devil’s in the details though, and it’s the sometimes awkward camera angles and distinctly last-gen visual effects that sometimes pop up and are clearly technical workarounds for the less powerful hardware of that time.
Look beyond that, however, and you can still see what made this game so remarkable when it launched. The traversal and combat were ahead of its time, and made me relive that 80s obsession with all things ninja in videogames, movies and TV series – much more so than a game like Tenchu ever did, because the action in Ninja Gaiden just pops a lot more.
Ninja Sigma 2 feels like a natural evolution of the concept, with a more streamlined UI and overall better gameplay design – taking an already excellent game and making it better. Even the camera work feels much more mature/modern this time around, even though both Sigma games were released just two years apart. It also feels a tad more forgiving than the first game, which was notoriously difficult for most players.
The third in the series, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, wasn’t as well received as the first time, but I find it to be the Hollywood adaptation of the franchise in the sense that it goes for style and action over substance. That’s exactly why people didn’t like it, but it’s also the most cinematic of the three, brings set pieces that fit with gaming as we know it today and provides a few hours of entertaining albeit forgettable entertainment. The stealth aspects of being a ninja get ignored almost completely though, so in certain ways this is definitely an odd one out.
As a collection, this pack offers excellent value for money, unless you still have the originals and a PS3 console available, in which case the changes are relatively minor. It’s a testament to the quality of the games that their visuals and gameplay hold up well even after 15 or so years, and there’s an unmistaken charm to this kind of straightforward yet well-executed gameplay. I still can’t think of any games that are better at channeling my 1980s ninja fantasies.