Review – Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection
I have been praying for a compilation like Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection for years. Ever since playing the infuriating yet near-perfect original reboot for the Xbox, I’ve been in love with this franchise. Ninja Gaiden is stupidly hard, punishing, and unfair, but at the same time, it offers some of the best hack n’ slash action ever made, with lots of weapons to wield, combos to pull off, and ultra-bloody finishing moves to rejoice in. And you know what’s even better? You can now play these games on-the-go.
Yep, Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is available not only on the PS4, PC and Xbox One, but also on the freaking Switch. When I first heard of these news, I started salivating at the thought of playing these games on-the-go, but I also started feeling a bit skeptical. You see, even though they’re older games, this is the Switch we’re talking about, a console with a mobile architecture and a severely limited GPU. Games like Star Wars: Republic Commando struggled to run on the system, for instance. Ninja Gaiden is a series that has always pushed the hardware they were being played on to their absolute limits, always aiming at the best visuals with the best framerate possible. How would these games fare on such weak specs?
Thankfully, they run pretty well for the most part. Well, at least the games that actually matter on the trilogy, but more on the explanation for this statement later. If you are worried that a game like Ninja Gaiden would run at a locked 30fps on the Switch, and that the controls would feel uncomfortable on the Joy-Cons or Pro Controller, relax: the games look and play incredibly well, even in portable mode. Which means that yes, you have access to portable Ninja Gaiden running at 60fps. Isn’t life beautiful?
The reboot of Ninja Gaiden was originally released for the Xbox almost seventeen years ago, and at the time it was easily the most challenging game of its generation. The first boss alone was already harder than most bosses in any other game back then, and I cannot imagine how many kids must have hated the game for not being able to beat a guy who was holding back and not using his full strength, as he was TESTING us all along.
The version of Ninja Gaiden included in here is actually the PS3 port released a few years later, Ninja Gaiden Sigma. It featured slightly better graphics, an upscaled resolution, and easier difficulty settings. One of these settings featured automatic blocking mechanics if you don’t possess the lightning-fast reflexes the game forces you to have in order to survive the waves of brutal enemies being thrown at you at all times. The harder difficulty settings are as punishing and unfair as they were before. So don’t worry, if it’s a challenge you’re looking for, you’re still getting it here.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma runs at a buttery smooth 60fps at all times, no matter how many enemies and particle effects are onscreen. Granted, it still looks like an OG Xbox game, not featuring the same graphical fidelity from its successors, but it’s a very good looking Xbox game, all things considered.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is the 2009 PS3 re-release of the Xbox 360 title released in 2008. It is also easier than the original game on lower difficulties, with less enemies to deal with onscreen, but that doesn’t make it any less punishing. It’s still stupidly challenging, with the slightest mistake resulting in your eventual demise. The inclusion of an automatic heal at the end of each fight might give the false impression that this game is a cakewalk in comparison to its predecessor, but it makes up for it with a much improved AI system for enemies.
Of all three games in the rebooted trilogy, I like Ninja Gaiden 2 (or Sigma 2) the most. It featured the best boss battles and set pieces, as well as the coolest visuals and best performance of all titles. Surprisingly enough, this port does run at 60fps on the Switch… but nowhere near as smoothly as the first Sigma. It all depends on how detailed the environment is at any given moment: if you’re outside a building with a busy background, the framerate will drop. If you’re inside a building, then it’s going to be a smooth 60fps, even with tons of enemies onscreen. It also looks amazing for a game originally released thirteen years ago, especially in portable mode. All in all, it’s the highlight of the collection.
Then there’s Ninja Gaiden 3. Welp, every trilogy has its ups and downs. The Godfather Part III, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Rise of Skywalker, the list goes on and on. A lot of people hate Ninja Gaiden 3 for focusing way too much on elements that don’t fit at all with the franchise’s identity, such as an increased focus on storytelling and a crap ton of quick-time events, but it’s not all that bad. Compared to the previous two games, it sticks out like a sore thumb, but it’s still an average-at-best action game. Especially since the version included in here is Razor’s Edge, which fixed SOME of its problems.
By fixing problems, I mean ditching a lot of its original gameplay ideas and replacing them with mechanics that feel more like Ninja Gaiden 2. And for that, I thank Team Ninja. The problem is that the game is still way too focused on the thing we care the least about in a title like this: a weak and forgettable story. With that being said, it’s still occasionally fun, but it’s not exactly the kind of game you’ll want to revisit over and over again. You will most certainly do that with the other two Ninja Gaiden titles.
The problem with this version of the game is that it doesn’t run nowhere near as well as its predecessors on the Switch. It mostly sticks to 30fps, very rarely reaching its targeted 60, and its visuals look way more downgraded when put aside with its PS3/360/Wii U counterparts. Ninja Gaiden 2 looks way prettier, for example, and that game is five years older than Razor’s Edge, being released at the beginning of that console generation. Some of these issues are mitigated when you play the game on portable mode, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment.
I am pretty sure the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection don’t feature the issues mentioned on this review (well, besides the inclusion of Ninja Gaiden 3), but I really don’t care. Having Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection on-the-go is downright amazing. You’re getting two of the best action games of all time, as well as Razor’s Edge, with great controls and that borderline satanic level of difficulty that makes Dark Souls look like Elmo’s Fun With Numbers. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I love this collection even though I’m more than sure I will eventually break a Joy-Con or two out of anger during some of its harder sections.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma looks a bit dated, but runs at a solid 60fps. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 looks the best, but its framerate is all over the place. Ninja Gaiden 3 looks quite downgraded and doesn’t always achieve a decent framerate.
Some of the best hack ‘n slash gameplay ever made. Sadly, the latter two games suffer from framerate issues, but they’re still extremely playable. Ninja Gaiden 3 relies way too much on dumb QTEs as well.
All three games feature excellent soundtracks and pretty good voice acting in whichever language you decide to play with.
The novelty of having two of the best action games of all time (and Ninja Gaiden 3) on-the-go more than makes up for the fact they suffer from a handful of technical issues that are most certainly absent from the PS4 and Xbox One ports.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch
A copy of Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection was provided by the publisher.
For thoughts on the PS4 version, check out Entertainium’s review.