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Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection (PC)

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection (PC) - Review

by Paul Broussard , posted on 22 June 2021 / 2,837 Views

Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a ninja? No? Well then good, because Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection certainly won’t do that. It will, however, give you the chance to experience what life as a blood soaked psychopath is like. Ryu Hayabusa’s 3D adventures are back with the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, featuring Ninja Gaiden SigmaNinja Gaiden 2 Sigma, and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, and readily accessible for a new generation of players to do their best to help Ryu enact his quest to create a worldwide shortage of ninjas and thugs for hire by murdering them all.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I actually do like Ninja Gaiden quite a bit. Gaiden 1 Black and the original Gaiden 2 still remain two of my favorite hack and slashes to-date, although the series seems continually dedicated to spite me in return. For the uninitiated, the Master Collection is a re-release of the 3D Ninja Gaiden games, originally titled Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3, and not the 2D titles, which were also labeled as Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden 2, and Ninja Gaiden 3. So don’t come in expecting a 2D side-scrolling affair; this is a re-release of  the sixth/seventh generation console titles.

The most significant change to the older Sigma titles is the improved graphical fidelity, which is a welcome addition. Resolution is higher, models and textures have been improved, and the game still manages to run at a solid 60 fps. For some reason, though, the pre-rendered cinematics haven’t been touched at all, which means that every so often gameplay will be interrupted to introduce a climactic showdown in stunning modern 480p.

Beyond this, I didn’t notice any changes from the Sigma versions of these titles. If you’re not familiar with the distinction, the Sigma versions were themselves definitive editions of Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2, and added on to those games with a good deal of additional content. Unfortunately, not all of this content was especially good, and in many cases was forced onto the campaign. Rachel’s missions in Ninja Gaiden 1, for instance, largely force you to repeat older levels, just with a different, less versatile character.

One additional nitpick I would be remiss in not noting is that arguably the best versions of Ninja Gaiden 1 (Ninja Gaiden Black) and 2 (the original release) are not present in any form. While it might be a lot to ask for additional versions of games that are already included, I think given how barebones this re-release is otherwise, it wouldn’t have been too crazy to ask for. At the very least, the option to purchase these as DLC would have been nice; personally I would likely have been willing to pay an extra 5 bucks or so for the Black version of Ninja Gaiden 1 and original release of Ninja Gaiden 2.

The core of Ninja Gaiden primarily focuses on its fast-paced combat. For the most part, the combat here still holds up pretty well, with a variety of satisfying weapons that range from a spear gun, to a whip, nunchucks, claws, and plenty of flavors of swords, staffs, and spears. All of these animate smoothly and are generally pretty satisfying to use, even if a couple of them are ultimately rather useless. I’m pretty sure whoever was responsible for creating Ninja Gaiden 1's nunchucks was more interested in designing an item to gently caress the enemy’s face rather than forming a weapon with the intent to kill.

There’s not a lot to complain about with regards to weapons individually. What is a little more disappointing is that there isn’t quite as much to be done with all this weapon variety. While a lack of on-the-fly weapon switching wasn’t too out of the ordinary for the time, it does feel a bit restricting and perhaps even archaic that there isn’t a method to seamlessly swap between weapons mid battle like you can in other action games such as Bayonetta or the Devil May Cry series from the third installment onwards. 

Granted, Ninja Gaiden has never been focused on “style” in the same way those series have, and instead prefers to emphasize high difficulty and efficiency. That said, I’d posit that there’s a middle ground to these concepts, and allowing for more freedom with weapon variety (especially on-the-fly) would encourage players to experiment more with new weapons. As it stands, having to press pause to manually switch weapons or wait in place for the game to register pressing up on the d-pad means that players are more likely to just stick with what they’re familiar with, which is a shame, as they’re likely to miss out on the variety of weapons.

That said, even with this self-imposed handicap, the moment to moment combat is incredibly visceral and fun to engage with. Unlike many other modern action protagonists, Ryu Hayabusa isn’t particularly well-equipped to handle multiple enemies at once, and so gameplay largely revolves around playing defensively until you have an opening. Fail to block when a free enemy is nearby and you’ll almost always get punished. Block for too long and you’ll likely get thrown. Enemies are relentless, and you have to catch on to their strategies and react quickly if you don’t want to get shredded.

It’s nice to see that much of the original difficulty (of the Sigma versions of the earlier titles, at least) has been preserved. That said, this is also a bit of a double edged sword, as it does make certain strategies centralizing. For instance, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that an easy way to beat ~80% of all encounters in the first game is to abuse the living daylights out of Ryu’s launcher attack with the Dragon Sword, as it can break enemy guards, has an immense amount of priority, and the enemy AI can’t quite seem to grasp how to punish an airborne opponent. 

This can make the games start to get somewhat repetitive, as most weapons have one or two moves that are just clearly better to throw out consistently in a crowd and also have a relatively low chance of getting punished. Ideally, some balancing would have taken steps to address this. As it stands, players may opt to just default to the moves that work best to get by, which does rob combat of much of its frenetic pace and requirement for skilled decision making.

Boss fights are something of a mixed bag too. Some bosses are fantastic, skin of your teeth encounters that require you to put all of your skills to the test and have razor thin margins of error (such as the first fight with Genshin in Ninja Gaiden 2). Others are... absolute clunkers, like the final boss of the same game, which at one point eschews its melee combat system entirely (i.e. the whole point of these games) and instead forces you to stand in place and use limited use projectiles to hurt it. And this inconsistency is preserved fully for this collection as well. Ninja Gaiden bosses are a maddening bunch, with some great and some just terrible, and you never really know what you’re going to get.

Now then, to address the elephant in the room. Ninja Gaiden 1 and 2 were both genre defining titles which, while they certainly had their share of problems, provided very solid combat experiences designed around quick thinking and a high degree of difficulty. Ninja Gaiden 3 was... pretty much the opposite, and just a miserable experience overall. The Razor’s Edge version of Gaiden 3 is included, which does improve on a lot of the original’s problems, but is still a fairly average experience at best, and nothing has been done to address the problems that the Razor’s Edge version of 3 didn’t fix from the original release.

This means that you’re getting two very solid, if a bit dated, games, and one mediocre experience, for $40. The question of whether Ninja Gaiden warrants a purchase for you will ultimately likely come down to whether you’ve experienced these titles before, because if you have then there’s really nothing here that makes them worth buying again. In fact, you may realistically very well own what at least I would consider to be superior versions of these games to the ones included. 

For new players, however, this is a good way to get into one of the most famous hack and slash series created to-date. $40 for three titles that are still fun to play and are decent representations of the originals isn’t bad value by any means, especially if you’ve never experienced them before or don't own the consoles necessary to play the older versions. It’s just a shame that so little effort seems to have been put into fixing the problems that did exist with these games.

This review is based on a digital copy of Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection for the PC, provided by the publisher.

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