Whether you prefer Ninja Gaiden Sigma over Ninja Gaiden Black, or ‘vanilla’ part two over its enhanced edition, or don’t really care either way and just wanna get on with slicing and dicing everything in your path, the prospect of enjoying Team Ninja’s legendary action series on Switch is a pretty tantalising one. Here is a trilogy of games that, for all their many idiosyncrasies and ageing elements, still possess the power to provide some seriously satisfying combat. All that these three old stalwarts really needed was a decent port job with a nice smooth frame rate and crisp, clear resolution, and they would have likely earned an instant recommendation from us. Unfortunately, at least on Nintendo’s hybrid console, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection just ain’t what we were hoping for.
With pre-release press touting a Switch port that aims for 720p and 60fps — and Platinum Games’ similarly madcap Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 managing to pull this feat off on Nintendo’s console — we had high hopes that the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa would arrive on Switch in fine form. However, outside of the older first entry in the series, what we’ve actually got here is a disappointing offering that can neither stick to its target resolution or its intended frame rate for large chunks of time. This is a surprisingly messy conversion, a “master” collection that does these golden oldies absolutely zero favours.
Let’s try to remain positive for as long as possible, though. Getting stuck into the classic Ninja Gaiden Sigma, things do get off to a promising start with Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection and we had zero issues blasting through what is undoubtedly the finest entry in the series. Whether playing in docked or handheld modes, Ryu’s virgin adventure is a smooth ride on Switch – as it really should be given its age – and it’s still an absolute riot to return to all this time later. This really is Ninja Gaiden at its very best; a brutally tough but always fair challenge that demands you take the time to learn, approach every enemy with caution and utilise each and every one of your combos, special moves, items and Ninpo in order to survive.
At fourteen years of age, there are certainly aspects of this one that are well past their best, most notably a camera that can be a right old pain in the backside when jammed into a small area with multiple opponents. Beyond these expected issues, though, it’s amazing just how well this first outing holds up in 2021, and it’s a real joy of a thing to get to grips with in portable mode on Switch. Sigma may not be everyone’s preferred version — and we fully understand why — but the underlying quality of the original game still manages to shine through and anyone who has yet to sample its delights is sure to be blown away by just how well it all still holds together.
Moving on to Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and, well, in terms of gameplay there’s still plenty to enjoy with this more bombastic take on the franchise. It may not be anywhere near as difficult, as thoughtful or refined as its predecessor, it may drop the original’s maze-y, secret-strewn levels in favour of pushing you through corridors full of rinse-and-repeat bad guys, but this sequel still absolutely manages to deliver when it comes to action and spectacle. Want to face off against a possessed Statue of Liberty, kick twenty shades out of a lycanthrope army or make the canals of Venice run red with your enemy’s blood? Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 has got your back and, for all the complaints about how it’s been watered down in this Sigma version, it’s still a bloody tough game on anything higher than normal difficulty.
The added decapitations and overcharged finishing moves that punctuate the action in this sequel give combat a totally different rhythm. This is a fundamentally easier game that allows you to take a moment as you pull off an obliteration technique or use a super-charged Ninpo to make some space in a crowd of enemies. There are far more opportunities to heal and save your progress, too and as a result this is an action game that’s got replayability in spades; a completely OTT, boss-packed affair that wants you to come back again and again, improving your rankings and upping that difficulty as you go. This Master Collection also returns all the lovely blood and violence to proceedings via a Day One patch, so gore hounds can rejoice as they literally paint the town red instead of purple and green.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is also packed full of modes, with chapter challenges, ninja races and tag missions to keep players busy once they’re done with the roughly ten-hour-long campaign. In short, there’s plenty of lovely violent fun to be had here, or at least there would be if the whole thing wasn’t marred by incessant technical issues that drag the entire experience down.
Right from the get-go these issues rear their head with this Switch port of Sigma 2 and, in both docked and handheld modes, some pretty harsh dynamic resolution scaling sees the image quality drop seriously low as it attempts to keep the frame rate at an acceptable level – something it completely fails to achieve for the most part. We reckon for the vast majority of our time with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 on Switch we were looking at a frame rate that was absolutely nowhere near the touted 60fps. We’re no Digital Foundry, so we can’t provide an exact figure, but the game just wasn’t managing to hit its target at all in combat, or indeed when just strolling around environments.
This technical inconsistency on Switch is a real shame, a messy experience that is perhaps the worst playthrough of this game we’ve had on any system we can remember. Its struggles don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason, either, with reasonably quiet stretches stuttering terribly as the resolution drops right down to a full-on pixelated mess, while busy areas — such as the infamous stair fight scene — perform surprisingly well in contrast.
What you’re left with as you play through this old classic is constant stuttering and, even in docked mode, a resolution that varies wildly and very noticeably from moment to moment. It’s headache-inducing stuff and not the way you really want to experience a game of this ilk, struggling to decipher enemies in a furious mob as you get your Ninja head absolutely kicked in.
Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge doesn’t fare much better here, either. The London-based opening to this rather disappointing third entry in the series immediately set our alarm bells ringing, especially in handheld mode where it’s a dark mess of pixels that chugs along, making it a chore to successfully time anything you’re attempting to hit your opponents with. Switching to docked mode does see Razor’s Edge performing reasonably well in comparison to its portable counterpart — and even much better than Sigma 2, bizarrely enough — but it still suffers ceaselessly in terms of overall image quality and frame rate. It looks and feels unpolished at all times and you end up waiting uneasily for the next frame rate drop or jarring image blur. These just aren’t the types of games you want to be having constant issues with, and jumping back into the likes Bayonetta 2, as we did for comparison here, it’s quite remarkable just how big the gulf in quality is in terms of how this port has been handled. It’s just nowhere near smooth or clear enough.
In the end, what Switch owners are getting with this one is anything but a Master Collection, really. The original Ninja Gaiden Sigma may run well enough, but otherwise what’s here has served only to whet our appetites for versions of this collection on other platforms that are promising 4K resolutions and a rock solid 60fps. If your only viable option is to play on Switch, you’ll at least still get to experience the joy of the original Ninja Gaiden, albeit in its slightly watered down Sigma incarnation. Otherwise, this is a thoroughly disappointing experience that delivers stuttery, pixelated and rather unpleasant versions of Sigma 2 and Razor’s Edge.
Note: A Day One patch for Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is adding gore and decapitations from the PS3 versions of Sigma and Sigma 2, plus minor bug fixes. Performance isn’t specifically mentioned in the notes, but it’s not impossible things might improve. Should that be the case, we’ll update this review to reflect the changes.
Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection gets off to a promising start on Switch with a decent port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma that performs well in both docked and handheld modes. However, as soon as you boot up parts two and three it’s all downhill, with dynamic resolution resulting in a pixelated mess in places as the frame rate consistently struggles to keep up with the action. All we needed here was a solid, no-frills port and this collection would have been an instant recommendation. As things stand, it’s a disappointing experience that needs patching ASAP and should be the last version you opt for if you’ve got the choice to play elsewhere.