Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection brings together three incredibly challenging, classic action games. Given the rise in popularity for challenging video games in a post-Souls world, it seems fitting that these titles would see a re-release that should appease fans of these titles or those who enjoy difficult action games and may have missed these titles the first time around. The collection itself doesn’t bring a lot of new frills to the packaging, but the games themselves are still fun to play.
Specifically, you are getting Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge. For those unfamiliar with the names at play here, just know that these are the enhanced versions of the original games just… re-enhanced? What this means is we get souped up visuals, complete with 4k and 60 frames per second with most of the DLC and modes (but not all) that were part of these earlier packages. However, with a lack of online features and nothing additional added besides the games (many collections bring new features, some developer videos, behind the scenes artwork, etc to the table – but not Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection) themselves.
To me, it has always been interesting to see how these games evolved from the original Ninja Gaiden games (both the arcade beat-‘em-up and the NES action / platformers). This series has always been punishing, just in different ways. The arcade game was meant to devour your quarters, and it did so in typical fashion – throwing tons of enemies at you and watching them inevitably chip away at your health and your life savings. The NES titles were a different kind of brutal, with heavy platforming elements that forced you to memorize enemy patterns and make pixel perfect jumps and attacks to avoid often plummeting to certain death. What made these titles so interesting was their heavy reliance on narrative. I still remember being in awe of the many cutscenes. They were just cool to watch, and the music was often fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I beat those games just to relieve some of the cooler story moments again.
Then the series saw new life as something new. It had the many enemies of a beat-‘em-up, but still relied heavily on precision reflexes and timing. The Sigma versions of the games made things a little easier (mostly through reducing the number of enemies being thrown at you at any given time). The story still follows Ryu Hayabusa, though the narrative certainly feels stiff by today’s standards. These three titles never really hung their hats on storytelling, but the stiff dialog and sometimes odd camera angles are where the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection shows its age most prominently.
If you look beyond those aspects however and focus on the combat – which is what these games really wants our attention to be anyways – odds are you will find a lot to like here. You don’t just button mash away like in a brawler. You need to be fast, but also careful and intentional at the same time. There are minor tweaks to the controls from one game to the next, but the core system is about using different weapons and upgrading your abilities, adding layers to Ryu’s combat options. Each newer game in the series feels just a bit smoother, making even basic actions such as defensive maneuvers more fluid. There are certainly periods where I was able to put my reflexes on autopilot as I got further into the games and found my groove – but caution is still required. However, new enemies do force you to study them just a bit to make sure you learn how to properly deal with them. You need to block, dodge and counterattack, and to this end all three games serve up platters of bloody, flashy goodness.
The aforementioned DLC touches on some nice additional features as well. Costumes, modes, other characters besides Ryu and more give these games some replay value outside of difficulty and achievements. Those are nice touches, but it still has me wondering where the other ‘collection’ extras are at. Also, as popular as those first two games in the series are, Ninja Gaiden 3 is often viewed as something of a stepsibling to the others. It makes sense to include it in this collection, but many fans chastise it for being far easier than the first two entries. That being said, the third title was the most advanced in terms of its presentation, and it sure is flashy and fun to look at with this new gloss of paint.
The Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is a fun trio of games that will challenge most action fans while providing plenty of gore and flashy combat. There are times the games remind us that this series kicked off in the mid 2000’s, with camera angles that can still aggravate and a narrative that has not aged particularly well. Thankfully the combat is as fast and fun as ever, despite not really adding any extras to fully round it out as an actual collection.Score: 7.25 / 10