Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

I love the Ninja Gaiden series to the point of obsession. Long before it came to Xbox, and eventually the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I cut my teeth on the NES entries and the arcade game. I have vivid memories of five-year-old Shelby in the Piccadilly Circus at the Ridgedale mall, pumping quarters into the cabinet so Ryu Hayabusa could storm New York in a little dinghy, and then get his ass kicked by dudes in hockey masks.

When the continue screen appeared, with its descending saw blade creeping ever closer to the Dragon Ninja’s chest, I would panic until, just before the counter hit zero and the screen faded to red, I’d run and hide from what I was sure would be a shower of blood.

The arcade game isn’t in the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection. It was an unlockable bonus in Ninja Gaiden Black — the enhanced rerelease of the Xbox title — and Ninja Gaiden Black is not part of this collection.

My favorite game of all time, I used to say (and maybe still believe), was the second NES entry: Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos. It made wall scaling easier by allowing you to travel up and down any vertical surface you could cling to, rather than requiring you to do a weird looping jump where you’d kick off and then turn back, reattaching slightly higher.

It was also the only entry in the series to have phantom doubles — the power-up that immediately spawns a second (and, on a subsequent pick-up, a third) Ryu behind your avatar, flickering orange and copying your movements on a split second’s delay. Your doubles would attack at the exact same time you did, though, in whatever manner you did. You could triple your ninpo power at no additional mana cost, and since your doubles could hang in the air indefinitely, you could sustain attacks against elevated foes.

This game, too, is absent from the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection. It was included, along with the other two entries in the NES trilogy, in the original Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden as a set of unlockables. The Xbox Ninja Gaiden is not part of this collection.

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

Instead, Team Ninja has rereleased slightly updated ports of the Sigma versions of the first two games, with some additional features pulled from the Sigma Plus releases of the first two games on the PlayStation Vita. The collection also includes Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge rather than the original, but that’s a far less controversial decision. The original version of Ninja Gaiden 3 was an absolute mess, flouting the best aspects of the series to provide a more “cinematic” experience.

The problem is two-fold.

First, for a self-proclaimed “Master Collection,” this package doesn’t do the series as a whole justice. It’s missing everything that wasn’t already available on the PlayStation 3, eschewing much of the series’ history. These are just the most readily ported versions of the most recent games in the series.

Second, everything surrounding this collection reeks of a quick-and-easy cash grab. From the games chosen, and the explanations for those choices, to the PC port’s barest-of-the-barebones feature set, this is not a loving remaster. The reasons are many.

Missing Source Code

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

The explanation for the omissions of Ninja Gaiden, Ninja Gaiden Black, and Ninja Gaiden II is that the source code for them couldn’t be recovered. While wholly believable, and with the understanding that the Ninja Gaiden series has never been a cash cow for Tecmo the way the Kingdom Hearts franchise has been for Square Enix, I can’t help but compare this to the HD remaster of the original Kingdom Hearts for PlayStation 3.

In that situation, faced with the loss of the data and assets from the original version of the game, the developers reconstructed the entire thing from scratch in the Kingdom Hearts II engine. If the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection was really an attempt to give fans something lasting and wonderful, reconstructing at least Ninja Gaiden Black — by far the most highly praised entry in the series — would have been on the docket.

That they instead went with the more readily available Ninja Gaiden Sigma, despite the ways in which that version disrupts the near-perfect balance and flow of Black, says a lot.

Switch’s Performance Anxiety

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

The game is playable now in the wild, but even before it was, reviews of the Switch version noted that there were some significant performance issues. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, in particular, would drop to unacceptable frame rates in handheld mode, and wasn’t much better docked. According to Nintendo Life’s review, this wasn’t even tied to intense action sequences, or heavy rendering loads. It would occur even during seemingly low-impact sections of the game.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge also seems to have performance issues, which is particularly perplexing since the original version of this game was exclusive to Nintendo’s previous console, the Wii U. This includes slowdown, but also unacceptably poor visual fidelity (a problem with Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, as well).

Considering Tecmo Koei promised the Switch version would hit a consistent 60 frames per second at 720p resolution — a feat not even achieved outside of the first entry in docked mode — these issues are absolutely unacceptable.

A PC Port Devoid Of Options

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

The PC version of the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is the first time these games have been officially released for the platform.

And they’re terrible, for a litany of reasons:

  • Framerate capped at 60 FPS
  • Three resolution options: 1280×720 (720p), 1920×1080 (1080p), and 3840×2160 (4K)
  • Switching between resolutions must be done from the properties dialog box of the game in the Steam Library, not in-game
  • No ultrawide support
  • No mouse and keyboard support

The primary appeal of PC versions of games is their modularity, and the ways in which users can tweak them to take advantage of their hardware. This eschews all of that, offering nothing in the way of graphics or performance options aside from resolution.

But You’ll Still Buy It, Right?

Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection

No. Not right away.

It’s true that, right now, I don’t have access to any versions of these games. And they’re undoubtedly some of my favorite action games of all time. I’d love to sit down and test my memory as to the locations of the 50 golden scarabs in the first entry, but I just don’t have the nostalgia and warm feelings for the Sigma versions of the first two games that I do for their predecessors.

Ninja Gaiden came out when I was in high school, after years of my only connection to Ryu Hayabusa being his NES outings and appearances in the Dead or Alive series (where, as soon as I unlocked his classic blue costume in each entry, it was all I used). And the way it managed to be challenging, but also entirely fair, was refreshing in an era before Dark Souls made that an entire genre unto itself.

That Ninja Gaiden Black somehow improved on this, both refining the gameplay of the original version and injecting it with additional variety, made it a day one purchase for me. I was such a fervent devotee that it actually inspired a small gaming clique in my college fraternity, with people who hadn’t even played games in years joining in to learn how to play, and eventually beat, the Ninja Gaiden revival.

At this point, I’ve owned almost every entry in this series multiple times. This even includes the Vita versions of the first two titles, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus. Seriously, does anyone else remember Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on the Nintendo DS? Actually, that one was good. It’s Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z that I’d rather forget (and is, thankfully, the only real gap in my history with the series).

I want to believe that, by purchasing the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection, I’d be voicing my support for a future entry in the series. Something new, something fresh. But given that Team Ninja couldn’t even be bothered to churn out a competent collection of their existing titles, much less one that caters to the desires of their audience, I find suspending my disbelief in that fantasy utterly impossible.

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