‘Ninja Gaiden Sigma’

In most video games and movies, the average thugs have no chance of defeating the hero, even when they attack in a group. Although Ryu Hayabusa, the heroic ninja of the “Ninja Gaiden” series, can defeat dozens of enemies in a row, the game is challenging enough that a normal group of thugs will take Ryu down quickly if players aren’t on their toes. A high difficulty level has always been a trademark of the “Ninja Gaiden” series, with the NES games requiring split-second precision and memorization to overcome each level. While there is an adjustable difficulty level in “Ninja Gaiden Sigma,” it’s refreshing to play a game that requires players to improve their skills and actually learn how to best use each move, rather than just button-mashing through the entire game. In addition to a wide variety of sword, pole and nunchaku moves, Ryu can use special ninpo techniques (like the series-familiar Art of the Fire Wheel) to get out of really tough situations.

Considering that the original NES “Ninja Gaiden” pioneered the use of cinema scenes to tell a story, the story in “Sigma” is fairly bare-bones: Ryu’s village is destroyed and the evil Dark Dragon Blade the Hayabusa clan was safeguarding is stolen, so Ryu journeys into enemy territory to get it back.

The speed of battles is amazingly fast, especially considering how polished and detailed the graphics are. Ryu can dart across walls, fly through his enemies with his sword and then come down like a guillotine all in a couple seconds. Even with the responsive controls and fast attacks, players will need to learn when to put up their guard to block, as the enemies – ranging from other ninjas to monstrous beasts – can be just as quick and brutal. The game isn’t for the squeamish, with copious amounts of blood and beheadings throughout.

All the top-tier titles on next-generation consoles have gorgeous graphics, and “Ninja Gaiden Sigma” even improves on the graphics from the Xbox 360 version, “Ninja Gaiden Black.” The PS3 version also includes stages where players control Rachel the Fiend Hunter, who has a different fighting style than Ryu.

A great bonus is that PS3 users can download a demo from the PlayStation Store to see if they like it before buying. It’s a rare game nowadays that gives players a rush of satisfaction and accomplishment upon finishing a level, because not much trouble goes into beating it. For those who appreciate a challenge, “Ninja Gaiden Sigma” brings back those feelings.