Team Ninja’s 2004 Xbox hit, Ninja Gaiden, wasn’t just a franchise reboot for the 3D era – it helped to define the template for the melee combat games to come across two further console generations. You can play that seminal release locked to 60fps at extreme resolution via Xbox One X enhanced backwards compatibility – and now its sequel has received the same treatment to spectacular effect. Ninja Gaiden 2 launched as a platform exclusive designed to highlight the strengths of the Xbox 360 architecture but it was compromised by several technical problems – aspects that are entirely cleaned up ten years later on Xbox One X. Quite simply, it’s the best way to play the game – and when it comes to Ninja Gaiden 2, users certainly have plenty of choice.
Ninja Gaiden 2 is actually one of the most fascinating cross-platform development projects Digital Foundry has looked at across the last decade. A year after its Xbox 360 debut, a PlayStation 3 version emerged, dubbed Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2. It featured a vast array of visual changes alongside a fundamental shift in gameplay, all designed to better suit the capabilities of Sony’s hardware. This was followed by a PlayStation Vita port of the PS3 game, which doesn’t really work as a Ninja Gaiden game, but it is fascinating to take a look at, nonetheless.
But why is Ninja Gaiden 2 so fascinating and why is the X-enhanced back-compat support such a big deal? It’s all about the gameplay. To my mind, the original Ninja Gaiden redefined 3D action games: the gameplay was fast, fluid and challenging but it was the brilliant level design and hub system that really pushed it to the top. In many ways, it almost feels like a much faster progenitor to the space that Dark Souls would come to inhabit years later, not just because of its challenging melee combat, but also because of its overall flow and level design. It still works brilliantly today – and it’s awesome on Xbox One X.