Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection (PlayStation 4) Review

By Renan Fontes 14.06.2022

Review for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on PlayStation 4

The original Ninja Gaiden trilogy is rightfully considered one of the best sets of action-platformers on the NES. Brutally difficult but driven by reflex based gameplay and strong level design, the series caters to audiences willing to sit down and dedicate their time to mechanical mastery. This is a philosophy the franchise's modern reboot followed in the 2000s, which the Master Collection consists of. Worth keeping in mind, however, is that modern Ninja Gaiden is divided between two specific sub-series: the original Black duology and the re-released Sigma titles. Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection compiles both Sigma remasters and Razor's Edge together for the first time, but franchise purists might find themselves missing Black.

Where Ninja Gaiden Black featured Zelda-esque sensibilities which resulted in plenty of exploration and puzzle solving, Ninja Gaiden Sigma streamlines the campaign so the focus is almost entirely on combat. There are still platforming setpieces that require protagonist Ryu Hayabusa to wall-run or wall-jump, but they're few and far between. Backtracking is still at play in a few stages, but nowhere near to the degree it was in Black. Purists are bound to miss these segments, especially since they made the original feel like a grand adventure, but Sigma's changes aren't without merit.

Losing the bulk of puzzle-solving means that the gameplay loop highlights its best quality at all times: the action. Ninja Gaiden's platforming and puzzles aren't bad, but the title doesn't find the same balance between thought provoking set pieces and swordplay the way a franchise like The Legend of Zelda can. Sigma simply leans into what was already the title's high point and trims the surrounding fat. It isn't as if content is outright removed, either. While rooms with puzzles and platforming set pieces are mostly gutted, they're replaced with enemies so players aren't trudging through empty level design. Where Black's pace ebbed and flowed, Sigma is non-stop action from top to bottom.

Genre veterans unfamiliar with modern Ninja Gaiden might be caught off guard by how methodical the original's core combat is. There's no stamina to contend with, but Ryu commits to his movements and actions take time to play out in full. Button mashing or simply attacking at the wrong time can lead to disaster. It's important to learn combos (done by finding and studying Scrolls) to formulate an actual battle strategy. Similarly, it pays to observe enemy and boss telegraphs before jumping into the heat of combat.

Aggressive play styles rarely pay off and success is intimately tied to blocking, dodging, and fighting back carefully. Ryu has a wide assortment of abilities across many different weapons - both melee and projectiles - offering plenty of variety. Enemies are quick to punish sloppy gameplay, but healing items (which can be used in real time unlike Black) and equippable accessories help downplay the difficulty curve. Ryu also has access to Ninpo, which is essentially ninja magic. It is never explained how one uses Ninpo in-game, but holding down Triangle and Circle unleashes this fairly useful magic.

Screenshot for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on PlayStation 4

As streamlined as S1 is, the inclusion of Rachel as a playable character does hurt the story's overall pacing. Black's narrative is slow, but deliberately so, and in order to craft a mood. Sigma's breakneck storytelling and gameplay work well whenever control isn't suddenly swapped over to Rachel. For what it's worth, her levels are often much shorter than Ryu, but it's hard not to miss playing as him. Especially since Rachel's presence seems to go against the re-release's philosophy of making gameplay more fluid overall.

There are perfectly valid reasons to prefer Black, and it is worth playing, but Sigma is a more beginner-friendly experience that puts a spotlight on Ninja Gaiden's strongest qualities as a video game. The archaic camera will take getting used to, but Ryu's controls hold up well and the art direction keeps level backgrounds and the story's presentation compelling over a decade and a half later.

Sigma 2 is a bit more of a mixed bag when compared to Ninja Gaiden II, especially since both titles are philosophical counterparts. Both focus on fast paced and aggressive combat unlike their predecessors, but utilize their action in notably different ways. Ninja Gaiden II pits Ryu against massive waves of weak enemies who could be cut down with a few quick hits. Not just that, dismemberment functions as an actual gameplay mechanic where Ryu can cut off his opponent's limbs. This resulted in gory, frantic, morbidly realistic combat where body parts linger on the battlefield and battles move the player from enemy to enemy with little breathing room.

Sigma 2 scales back how many enemies appear on screen at once, compromising by greatly buffing their health. Limbs can still be dismembered, but they simply vanish after being cut and blood spatter is replaced with purple haze. There is still blood, but really only specks here and there. Worse, cutscenes are actually censored to reflect this change, removing most - if not all - of the violence's narrative weight. Weapon upgrading also undergoes a strange shift. Players could use Essence (essentially currency/experience) at shops in S1 to upgrade weapons. This is still the case in theory, but S2 makes it impossible to upgrade every weapon and certain upgrades are locked until later in the story, making Essence feel almost worthless while removing the element of choice from the in-game economy.

Screenshot for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on PlayStation 4

While a large chunk of Ninja Gaiden II's enemies are removed from the campaign, the actual level design isn't scaled down to reflect this rather significant change. Sigma replaced its puzzles and platforming with combat, but Sigma 2 replaced combat with nothing. Several stages wind up with too much open space, hurting the gameplay loop's sense of momentum. Restricted upgrades prevent players from fully experimenting with Ryu's kit, a shame considering it's only improved. It's hard not to see the re-release as a disappointment, but there are some surprisingly positive side effects to all these changes.

For starters, enemies having more health means gameplay's combo potential is actually much higher. There's not only more than can be done in basic combat, there's more that should be done. Players are encouraged to make aggressive use of their strongest techniques, chaining smart combos from enemy to enemy. Having a moment to breathe in between battles isn't a bad thing, either. It may not be in the spirit of the original design, but it does lend to its own internal pacing that most titles in the genre make use of. There's no excuse for the blood censorship, but removing limbs as tangible objects keeps performance stable (a notable issue with Ninja Gaiden II).

Rachel returns as a playable character - along with the inclusion of Ayane and Momiji - but non-Ryu chapters are considerably less distracting than they were in the first time around (though they still are distracting). While not easy and likely not a positive for veterans, S2 has a far more manageable difficulty curve. A few battles can feel tedious, but quite a number of enemies have been nerfed and projectile attacks are nowhere near as aggressive as they were in their original release. Some changes make for a better gameplay experience while others take away from what made Ninja Gaiden II compelling to begin with. Sigma 2 is not a bad action title by any stretch of the imagination, but it conforms to the genre while its source material strives for innovation.

Rounding out the Master Collection is Razor's Edge, an enhanced port of the original Ninja Gaiden III which fixed a fair deal of the maligned entry's issues. Unfortunately, this doesn't stop RE from being the weakest entry in the modern trilogy from a pure design perspective. Uninspired level design, lacklustre enemy AI, and bland boss fights stray too far away from the quality surrounding the Sigma duology (even with their faults). Gameplay is also jarringly easy and will be bound to disappoint anyone who takes the time to master the first two titles.

Screenshot for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on PlayStation 4

Like with Sigma 2, however, things aren't all bad. Combat is a bit too easy for its own good, but the actual mechanics are the most refined of the trilogy. Ryu controls so smoothly that it's almost unfair his third iteration isn't in a better action game. Gore goes uncensored, giving violence its intensity again. Combo potential is quite high with the skill ceiling even higher, encouraging experimental combat that rewards varied use of Ryu's tool kit. The inclusion of a progression system also lets players unlock new Feats (techniques) and Ninpo by acquiring Karma through combat. It perhaps goes against the spirit of the original Ninja Gaiden, but this lends gameplay an action RPG quality that keeps the campaign fresh.

This is doubly important because the actual story mode leaves something to be desired. For all its faults with empty level design, Sigma 2 is still built on a strong foundation and never dips into mediocrity. Stages are well put together and visually dynamic, something that's also true for the first Sigma. This simply isn't the case with Razor's Edge, which relies on shallowly linear level design that makes no effort at engaging the player beyond pure combat while lacking the refined quality of its predecessors. Worst of all, Quick Time Events are a staple of cutscenes despite adding little of value to the overall experience.

All that said, the overall campaign is still worth playing if only for how advanced Ryu's skill set can get. Actually getting into the swing of combat ends up feeling far more fulfilling, responsive, and rewarding than either of the Sigmas, to the point where the flaws with level and enemy design are easy to overlook. Bosses may not be as mechanically engaging as they should be, but there's enough gameplay polish where it almost evens out. Razor's Edge doesn't live up to the rest of the series, but tempered expectations make it a very engaging hack 'n' slash.

Screenshot for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is a double-edged Dragon Sword. On one hand, it's hard to overlook the omission of both Black titles. On the other hand, the Sigma duology and Razor's Edge make for a compelling, if at times uneven, action trilogy. What the first Sigma loses from puzzles, platforming, and exploration, it makes up for with streamlined set pieces that highlight combat above all else. Sigma 2 lacks almost all the style that defined Ninja Gaiden II, but it's undeniably a smoother experience that challenges a different set of skills than its predecessor. Razor's Edge is the clear weak link of the bunch on a design level, but the mechanics are incredibly fun to experiment with. It may not be the ideal compilation for hardcore franchise fans, but Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is a great entrypoint for new fans and a solid trilogy in its own right.

Developer

Team Ninja

Publisher

Koei Tecmo

Genre

Brawler

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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