The launch of a new game system is an event to be met with great caution. Whether you're buying a console or a handheld, you want that first game to be perfect. It has to show off the system's capabilities, give you a reason to play for extended periods, and reinforce the feeling that you made the right choice in spending that $200 to $400 for hardware. In bygone eras, you could rely on a solid pack-in, but today you're pretty much on your own.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is one of the best 3D action games ever, period.
I'm going to mention once at the top of the review that Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is the Vita version of a game that first came out on the original Xbox. It has been greatly augmented since then - and we'll talk about that, but don't expect me to knock off any points because I played 90% of this content back in 2004. No matter how many times it's come out before, the point is that it has rarely been matched, or even approached. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is one of the best 3D action games ever, period.
Ryu is in the top echelon of indomitable video game heroes, like Samus Aran without as much armor. He has can masterfully wield multiple weapons, fall safely from ridiculous heights, run and/or successively rebound off walls in order to reach higher levels, skip across the top of opponents' heads, and decapitate a line of demonic creatures with one massive slice. And that's before his morning meditation; you should see him when he really gets going.
If you need to send a mortal to Hell on a mission, you've pretty much got your guy right there. But getting back to the real world and all that talk about launch games, what can Ryu do for you?
The greatest weakness of Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus as a launch title is that the backgrounds can look a bit brown/gray and blocky at times. The characters look good, the cut scenes are pretty, but the visuals overall take a hit from some of the locations. Unless you have a graphics fetish, I don't think this is a deal breaker, but you will have to look elsewhere if you really want to see the kinds of dynamic effects a Vita can lay out.
Otherwise, this is an exceptional place to start your Vita honeymoon. The main story consists of close to twenty chapters, which took me well over twenty hours to complete in my usual "don't miss any treasure chests" style. Equipping a melee weapon changes Ryu's attack patterns. Controlling him while he uses the Dragon Sword is almost like using a different character compared to the way he fights with the nunchaku. There are also a few different kinds of spiritual attacks and several projectile weapons to master.
But the most important skills may be blocking and rolling, because Sigma Plus is merciless in its desire to show you the "Game Over" screen. You can get far on pure aggression, but many of the battles will require you to make smart use of your talents - blocking, flipping into the right position, and closing the deal. More than once, I found myself down to my last potion, having just beaten a boss, only to have another boss pop up immediately. You never want to assume any battle is under control, because this is one game that can take down your guy and leave you wondering what the heck just happened.
A good example of this is found midway through the game. (This paragraph contains very minor spoilers.) After walking into a courtyard fairly far away from the nearest merchant (who sells the health potions of which you can only cary a very limited supply), the door locks behind you and you're attacked by a tank. Unless you're pretty good and spot-on, you're going to lose at least a few potions on this battle. When you finally come out on top, you get approximately zero seconds of breathing room before another tank comes after you. Want to go back and buy some more potions? Too bad, the door is still locked. The way forward has a save point, but it also brings soldiers with rocket launchers, a third boss fight - this one against an armored helicopter, and a battle where you have to take out a communications tower (which is almost impossible to do unless you figure out how to use not only Ryu's hardware but also your own).
If you love challenge and progressively building your skills in a video game, you will eat this stuff up. If you like to feel like you're in God mode all the time - well, you probably won't get that far in the game anyway. The feeling you get when you finally master this death run is an amazing rush. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus tries to smother you like this from early on in the game all the way until the end. Which, to me, means that you should be in for one amazing rush after the other.
You'll get to know your Vita pretty well along the way. The front touch screen can be used for aiming projectiles. The rear touch screen can be used in various ways to power up your magic as you cast it. And the entire body of the Vita is put to the test as you grip it hard and try to resist throwing it after that damn lava boss beats you again.
Once you get good, there are sixteen multi-stage levels of "Ninja Trials" that you can take a crack at. These put you back in different areas of the game and ask you to clear out a horde of enemies or accomplish other feats. In short, you have dozens of hours of single-player gameplay in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, and it is about as rewarding as any you have ever played, I'm guessing.
If you're at all interested in what I've been describing, and you can handle a little rejection, pick up Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus and spend some time with a true classic.