Back in 2012, it had been revealed that Keiji Inafune (co-designer of Mega Man) would be joining forces with Team Ninja to produce the next installment in the Ninja Gaiden series of games. Since then, as the various clips and screen shots have been trickling out towards the game’s release, alarm bells began to ring with some of the more fervent fans to the series. With a new cyborg ninja being the game’s main character, cartoon graphic choices and zombies (why does everything need zombies now?) – Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z could either be an unexpected smash hit, or a spin-off title that will probably fade into obscurity during the years to follow.
• Developer: Team Ninja/Spark Unlimited/Comcept
• Publisher: Tecmo Koei
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360
• Also Available On: /PlayStation 3/PC (Windows)
• Release Date: Available Now
Starting the story will put players in the shoes of one Yaiba Kamikaze – a ninja who after being slain by the franchise mainstay Ryu Hayabusa and then brought back into existence using cybernetic technology, has embarked upon a mission of revenge. Taking pursuit through a zombie-infested Ukrainian city (for some reason?), Yaiba must hack his way through an army of undead in the hopes of accomplishing vengeance.
Gameplay-wise, Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z is a hack-and-slash and seems to lift (like most modern day titles of the same genre) the majority of its feel from the God of War series. Combat is formed of a rapid button-mashing style that you’d probably expect from such a game. Basic attacks are formed using a sword, strong attacks consist of punches and quick attacks bring out Yaiba’s chain whip. Armed with this familiar set-up, causing pretty much every single enemy’s defeat is rather easy, meaning the vast majority of gameplay will consist of you blitzing your way through countless hordes of stiffs with minimal effort. It’s when you start to progress through levels and new threats – such as zombies infused with electrical, fire, poisonous and explosive abilities, begin to ramp up the difficulty level.
Beyond the normal zombie attacks are more themed type enemies – including a
pant wettingly terrifying butcher knife wielding Zombie Clown, these baddies are not only harder but they also give you a chance to grab some temporary weapons to help aid you in your quest. The majority of these weapons tend to show powerful effects when combined with each other, hit a toxic type of enemy with an electrical weapon and you’ll see the foe suddenly encased in orange crystals for a period of time. It’s quite fun working out which powers cause what reactions and working out how to incorporate them into your regular attack plans. After some progression you’ll find this super zombies to be the norm and using some well timed blocks and attack spamming, they’ll be little to no hassle at all. Unfortunately the game’s level bosses provide very little challenge either and tend to be an easy take down when you figure which elemental attack will do them in.
Some of the key differences between Yaiba and the previous Ninja Gaiden titles is its very distinctive visual style and humour. While the cartoon style certainly looks great when you see streams of colourful gore being splattered around the screen, it can also bring about a lack of clarity when trying to navigate and becomes infuriating when crossed with the oh so familiar camera angles that often plague a game of this style. Probably the biggest hurdle I found whilst playing though however, was the writing. Comedy seems to have been split into two categories – outdated movie references like the Austin Powers steamroller gag and then there’s the puerile jokes and scenes that seem to be targeted at 13 year old boys (though the game’s rating is set at 18). For instance; one of Yaiba’s puzzles sees you trying to get into a building with two giant female legs sticking out of the roof by ramming a large truck right into the centre of them, before being showered in a panty explosion. I’m not sure what demographic that is aimed at exactly, but it just plays out like a misguided tribute to Suda51.
Something that excited me when installing the game, listed on the back of the box as Ninja Gaiden Z Mode. Described as “An homage to old-school Ninja Gaiden side-scrollers,” this is meant to be a fun retro style side game and actually delivers in most areas. What this consists of is all the game’s cut scenes replaced by 8-bit stylised images, complete with poorly translated Japanese to English subtitles. Rather than a hunt for Ryu though, this time you must guide Yaiba through a quest to replace his spilt Sake. Sadly the pixelated look only lasts as long as the storyboards, with the gameplay keeping it’s current look and the side scrolling/top down sections being nothing more than a camera angle. I did however find this version of the game more entertaining and challenging than the main campaign.
As you’d probably expect from an arcade style hack and slash, Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z is hardly going to be the longest game you’ll play or the most challenging. The campaign plays at a pretty straight through 6-8 hour story (depending if you get caught on any boss battles), which really should be played at a high difficulty level to make the most of the experience.
While it’s always interesting to see a developer attempt to breathe new life into a franchise by mixing things up or updating their style, the decision to change this long running title into an arcade type experience (filled with immature humour) to me is a strange one. Upon originally previewing Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z last year, it played like a throw away downloadable title and unfortunately this finished version feels the same. Though not hugely recommended for long term fans of the series, regular hack and slash players may find something here to enjoy (Just don’t expect something on par with say DMC: Devil May Cry).