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If I was going to be rude about Ninja Gaiden Sigma, I would tell you that it’s a relentlessly violent action game made by and for breast-fixated adolescent males with an obsessive interest in martial arts, fantasy, the more dubious flavours of Japanese anime and the worst kind of low-brow heavy rock.
OK, so the more I think about it the more that description sounds pretty good. It leaves out, however, that this is a remix of a three-year old game, and of a three-year old game aimed squarely at what you might call a pretty hardcore gamer. Why, then, is it being heralded as the best PS3 game in months?
Well, it helps that it comes at a time when the PS3 is still woefully short of decent action titles, but it also has to be said that – despite its age – Ninja Gaiden still has a powerful appeal. Some of this is visual. Ninja Gaiden was near if not the pinnacle of Xbox graphics, and then addition of enhanced HDR lighting, high-resolution textures and new water and flame effects for the PS3 port means that the game still stands up well in the age of Gears of War and MotorStorm. Early scenes feature some delightful woodland scenery and traditional Japanese architecture, and as the game goes on there’s plenty of spectacle and textural detail to be enjoyed. The original boss encounters were some of the best to emerge from anywhere outside of Capcom, and in their new PS3 livery they still make an impact today.
The star, however, is the animation. With Ryu Hyabusa, Team Ninja bought to life one of the most acrobatic, energetic heroes around; one who shares the Prince of Persia’s wall-running, somersaulting antics, but who outshines the prince’s swashbuckling swordplay with a deadly range of weapons and serious martial-arts expertise. Watching Ryu race, slice and dice his way around a city square or underground chamber is one of he great delights of the game. Swapping from sword to staff or nunchucks isn’t merely a tactical choice but an aesthetic one. Sometimes it’s just nicer to see monsters bludgeoned through a whirlwind of staff blows than it is to see them carved into chunks by Ryu’s newfound twin katanas.