Review: Ninja Gaiden Master Collection
Reviewed on: PS4
Publisher: KOEI TECMO LTD
Developer: Team Ninja
Available on: XB/PS/NS/PC
One of the best action series of the last two decades is back giving everybody the possibility to discover or re-play the adventures of the Dragon Clan ninja, Ryu Hayabusa.
The franchise has a long past; this series started as a trilogy on NES with different names in each continent (in Europe, for example, was called Shadow Warriors). Ninja Gaiden was then rebooted in 2004 as an Xbox exclusive developed by Team Ninja and, after two direct sequels, five remasters and various spin-offs, the series comes to PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC with Ninja Gaiden Master Collection, which includes Ninja Gaiden Sigma (the PS3/Xbox 360 remaster of the original Ninja Gaiden), Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3.
Compared to other recent remasters, like Mass Effect or NieR Replicant, Ninja Gaiden Master Collection does not have any dedicated launcher so you have to start the single games directly from the home menu. Despite this, I had very good impressions of this collection and, even if the first two games are PS3 remasters of PS2 games, the only outdated features are the camera system and some platform mechanics, but these have always been terrible.
Ninja Gaiden is a third-person action game published by Koei Tecmo and developed by Team Ninja. The story of the series is absurd. While you start off tracking down a demon and stop an evil sword from causing havoc, things quickly become unpredictable when robots get involved and you end up fighting against men with rocket launchers and spider tanks. Plot coherence is something you won’t find here, but you’ll have great times playing this collection. Gameplay mechanics are quite simple and extremely entertaining; you have light and heavy attacks, a blocking system which automatically turns to face the attacking enemies; there are some platforming sections with jumps and wall-running, they’re nice moments but sometimes the camera angle and the jump dynamics make the whole thing frustrating. The camera can be freely moved but usually, it has a static view ala the Resident Evil/Onimusha style. These issues have already been criticized back at that time and nowadays they feel even more outdated and unfair; you will get used to it but still is something that might cause frustration.
In Ninja Gaiden 2 the camera problem was only partially fixed but it’s a great example of the bigger, better, more approach to sequels. This second game is even crazier than the first, which starts with a relatively sane story of warring ninjas and magic swords and then starts adding whatever kind of enemy it wants, from robots to demons, in true arcade fashion. Unfortunately, the third game is worse than the first two. This is mainly because the plot suddenly becomes very serious, which doesn’t work at all as the script is still terrible and now all the enemies are a lot more repetitive. The combat and pacing are also nowhere near as good as the other two games; this happened also because the Koei director Tomonobu Itagaki left the project right before the development of Ninja Gaiden 3.
With a great soundtrack, enjoyably awful dialogues, extreme violence and blood everywhere, the games feel like the mix of 80s action B-Movies, which seems to be exactly what Itagaki was aiming for. The Σ versions of the first two games added more game modes, playable characters and rebalanced the game but, according to many, it lowered the difficulty and spoiled the pace. This Master Collection just updates the general resolution and stabilises the framerate but it would have been nicer if it included also the possibility of playing the original version of the games.
Fortunately, Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 are still a lot of fun, which is a great achievement for action games that are over a decade old. The third one has deeper issues in too many aspects, such as a narrative that lacks focus, introducing random villains and strange plot twists, a poorly balanced pace and repetitive enemies. The Master Collection may not be an exceptional one, but it brings back a beloved series that represents one of the milestones of action games. However, despite the great fun these games can give, they show their age; movements are a bit clunky sometimes and the camera angle, as mentioned before, can negatively affect some platforming section. The fascinating aspect of this collection is that you can see how these games have evolved and aged since their original debut.
I would recommend Ninja Gaiden Master Collection to all fans of action and hack and slash games, to 80’s action movies fans and to players who want a hard challenge but also love brutal and fast-paced fights against hordes of foes. Whether you know this franchise or not, you will spend many hours mastering all the combos, all the weapons and the magic arts you can use to defeat your enemies. This collection can also be a starting point for continuing the series on modern consoles; maybe a Ninja Gaiden 4 created and developed by Itagaki? For now, though, we can join Ryu and his friends in their mission to save the world from darkness.