Ninja Gaiden was once an institution for the Xbox brand, which in turn was a rebooted 3D revitalization of the classic NES series of the same name. On the original Xbox, Ninja Gaiden was among the console’s must have exclusives, and by the time the Xbox 360 came around Ninja Gaiden II became one of its notable hyped releases. From that point, the series would venture onto numerous other platforms, with the games going through major revisions, before the third game in the trilogy wrapped things up in a less than stellar fashion. There was also a spin-off by the name of Yaiba too, but by then the series and any attempts to keep it relevant had become null. Ninja Gaiden Master Collection on Xbox brings together the original trilogy in one place, largely for the benefit of newcomers, but also as a convenient way for older fans to jump back in.
The various versions of Ninja Gaiden is a complex subject, yet the short of it is that most purists will favour the unaltered Xbox originals. Master Collection contains the Sigma versions, which were PS3 remakes and revisions of the Xbox originals. Now, unlike other platforms, Xbox owners are in a unique situation where they already have access to Xbox One X enhanced versions of both Ninja Gaiden Black (an expansion of the original) and Ninja Gaiden II, while Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge has always been backwards compatible.
So, for Xbox owners the first real question becomes whether it is worthwhile getting this collection, especially when the originals can be picked up right now from the Xbox store for a much lower price. The answer isn’t so clear, but before diving into the collection and each of the games in-depth, it’s worth pointing out that for complete newcomers, Master Collection might be the ideal way to get introduced to the franchise. But for returning fans on Xbox it may just be a choice of convenience over authenticity.
Ninja Gaiden Master Collection essentially gives players access to the three games separately, meaning that there is no master main menu so to speak, but those willing to dish out a little extra for the Deluxe edition are able to get their hands on all the DLC content for the entire trilogy, and also get hold of a museum app filled with artwork, music, and development history. At the time of this review, the Xbox version of Ninja Gaiden Master Collection has a range of issues, with the most notable being the difficulties in accessing the artbook app. While other patches and updates have taken effect, the artbook issue remains unresolved.
What this collection also does is introduce a range of quality-of-life features among other content. Of note to newcomers is the Hero difficulty setting; something which may be helpful as long before Dark Souls it was Ninja Gaiden that served as the bastion for difficult action games. Another feature of the series was its over the top violence and gore, which was strangely stripped back for the PS3 Sigma releases back in the day. At the time of this review, a post launch patch updates the Sigma versions of the first two games by restoring some of the violence and gore. This isn’t terribly exciting, as it is at best a marginal visual update, with a touch of blood and gore to the existing visual effects. Ultimately, if you want all the messy bits then you need to look to the original Xbox releases. With all the schematics of the collection outlined, let’s dive into each of the three games.
The original Ninja Gaiden is presented here as Ninja Gaiden Sigma, an enhanced and modified version of the PS3 remake. As noted earlier, the Microsoft Store already has the One X enhanced version of Ninja Gaiden Black. There are mostly certainly some major differences between the two versions, but holistically speaking the core experience is identical where it matters, and so you can’t go wrong either way. Regardless of which version you pick, Ninja Gaiden back then and even now is as close to perfection that any action game can ever hope to claim. This is a sublime and meticulous action game, with a stunningly nuanced and rewarding combat system, presenting players with enemies and bosses that genuinely test skill. The fluid and scientific ninja action is situated within impeccably designed levels, where every nook and cranny ensure there is meaning and substance to the level progression and pacing.
Whether you are returning after a long absence or playing for the first time, Ninja Gaiden is still up there as the best of the best, even with alternatives like Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition available. Even in 2021, nothing about the experience feels dated in the slightest; instead it has aged like the most expensive wine in the cellar.
Ninja Gaiden II on Xbox 360 was an ambitiously messy release at the time, and while the game succeeded at what it set out to do, it suffered from a range of technical performance issues. The free One X Enhanced patch addresses virtually all of the issues, bringing the experience up to where it always intended to be. To be clear, Master Collection contains Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, also an enhanced and modified version of the PS3 remake.
Now, the subject of Ninja Gaiden II versus Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is a far more complex debate, and there is no right answer here, but if you’re a newcomer looking for a relatively convenient and accessible way to experience the game, then Sigma 2 in the Master Collection might be the ideal way to try it, as even the One X Enhanced Ninja Gaiden II is one of the most punishing action games ever made. Regardless of the version, the second Ninja Gaiden game took on a more combat focus than its predecessor, opting for epic set pieces and high kinetic combat over methodical pacing and level design. It may lack the sublime polish and design of its predecessor, but the second game basically does more of everything, and is still an entertaining action-adventure experience by any standard.
Ninja Gaiden 3 isn’t just the black sheep of the trilogy, it’s also one of the worst and most poorly designed action games ever made. To be fair, Ninja Gaiden Master Collection features Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, which at the very least is complete and functional. However, the third game not only feels like a major departure from the gameplay style and design of the series, but really just feels like a parody of Ninja Gaiden altogether. The combat system is a button mashing mess, completely far removed from the methodical nuances of the first Ninja Gaiden, and the level design is completely non-existent; instead players go from room to room battling wave after wave of tedious enemies, with the occasional set pieces and special segments being superficial at best.
This is just not what Ninja Gaiden is supposed to be, but nevertheless it is presented here with all of its pointless bells and whistles intact. At the very least, it is a good comparison piece to satisfy one’s curiosity.
In all, Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is a convenient way to experience what still is one of the best action games ever made in Ninja Gaiden Sigma, along with its highly entertaining follow up in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. At the same time, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge is provided for the sake of completeness and curiosity. Xbox owners certainly have viable means to experience these titles in other forms, but when it comes to convenience and accessibility, Ninja Gaiden Master Collection is a solid value proposition all the same.
Enter the dojo with Ninja Gaiden Master Collection on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One