Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection review for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

There are two important things you need to know about the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection:

  1. It?s super fun, for the most part.
  2. Its performance, at least on the Switch, is good in the first game of the trilogy, before it falls off a cliff for games two and three.

Those two sentiments aren?t unrelated. In fact, I?d go so far as to say I wouldn?t have to add ?for the most part to that first statement if it weren?t for the fact that the game generally performs so abysmally.

What?s disappointing is that none of these performance issues are new. If you look back at our review of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus on the Vita from eight years ago, you?ll notice that my colleague Dustin spent a large amount of time talking about framerate dips. These issues persist here, despite the fact that the Switch is a more powerful machine.

How bad is it? I?ll put it this way: as someone who really likes handheld ports of games and who?s willing to put up with very sub-optimal performance, even I was a little put off by how bad Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor?s Edge look here. What?s worse, the performance had serious gameplay repercussions, as it wasn?t uncommon for enemies to pop in and out of existence while I was battling them. Given we?re talking about a game that?s built around hacking, slashing, and blocking, you can see why that may be an issue.

I?ll also add that Ninja Gaiden 3 performs much, much worse than Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. With the second game, while every new scene — and, at times, every new environment — looked atrocious, eventually things would settle down and the game would at least perform at a reasonable level. With Ninja Gaiden 3, however, it never even achieved that. The game looked fine during the cutscenes, but you could tell as soon as it switched over to the action on account of the fact the whole thing suddenly looked like garbage.

One other unfixed flaw — though one that?s intentional, rather than simply because of lousy porting — is something else that this very site touched on in our review of Ninja Gaiden 3, also from eight years ago. To be blunt, the camera sucks. It never moves quickly enough, or finds just the right angle, so you?re constantly battling not just hordes of enemy ninjas but also the game itself. Admittedly, this is more a design choice that the developers never fixed than a problem with this specific collection of games on the Switch, but that hardly makes it any better.

All that said, even with these flaws, this collection of games is still pretty enjoyable — though I?ll note that if you?ve never played any of these games before, be aware that Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 are enjoyable in very different ways from Ninja Gaiden 3. While the first two games are obviously very violent, there?s something almost balletic about the way protagonist Ryu Hayabusa slices and dices his way through his many, many enemies. Even on the lowest difficulty levels, there?s a lot of emphasis placed on getting your timing just right. Both games give you ample opportunity to learn and to improve, so they never feel impossible, but they?re both demanding in their own ways.

Ninja Gaiden 3 basically throws all that away in favour of brutal combos and covering the screen in blood. You can tell that God of War 3 came out between Sigma 2 and this game, because the gore is ramped up here to a ridiculous degree. The game delights in showing you literally ripping and dicing your enemies limb from limb. There?s none of the subtlety — such as it was — that defined the first time games. That said, it?s still a very fun game, even if it?s fun for completely different reasons than is the case for the first two-thirds of this trilogy.

Even as I say that, however, I?ve still got to go back to the game?s performance to add a caveat. The third game is fun…but it?s also borderline unplayable at times when you combine the gore with the lousy performance. It?s hard enough to see what?s happening at the best of times; add in blood splashing across the screen, and you?ve got a recipe for zero visibility during some action sequences.

Personally, though, that was a trade-off I was willing to make. As rough as Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection is in places — and it?s very, very rough — it makes up for that by also being a whole lot of fun. I leave it up to you to decide exactly how much poor performance you?re willing to put up with to play a very enjoyable trilogy — because in this case, you?ve got to be wiilling to put up with quite a bit.

Koei Tecmo provided us with a Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B-