Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
When I first heard of ‘Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z’, I didn’t think much of the announcement. In fact, I probably uttered “meh” and then went onto gush about one of the more heavily-marketed games, like Titanfall. Now that I’ve actually played the finished game, I’m happy to say despite being extremely linear and having a few minor issues, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is both a challenge and enjoyable for action games fans.
Yaiba is not your typical action game, at least not in terms of its story. It casts players as Yaiba Kamikaze, an insane shinobi who in the game’s opening cut scene is almost killed by Ryu Hayabusa (protagonist of the Ninja Gaiden series). After being revived by Forge Industries (and transformed into a cyborg), Yaiba is then hired by Forge to put an end to a zombie outbreak. The zombie outbreak means nothing to Yaiba, who merely wishes to exact his revenge on Ryu Hayabusa, and kill the head of Heavy Forge industries as well.
Yaiba himself is an absolute jerk, and that’s putting it nicely. He is foul-mouthed, bloodthirsty and has absolutely no loyalty or moral compass to speak of. If you like jerk characters then you will love Yaiba’s smartass remarks, and his tendencies to rip someone’s arms off on a whim. If, however, you grew tired of similar characters such as Deadpool in his feature game, you might grow sick of Yaiba’s constant cussing and ultraviolent work ethics. Other characters in the game, are relics of games gone by. There’s Miss Monday, the busty and highly-sexual Forge employee who acts as Yaiba’s guide. That is, if she wasn’t cracking jokes and spouting double entendres at every opportunity. Alarico del Gonzo, is your typical corporate sleazebag who harbors ulterior motives for rebuilding and hiring Yaiba Kamikaze, which pretty much sums him up.
It might be that I’ve played every other Ninja Gaiden game, and it might also be that I came into the game with lowered expectations, but as much as Yaiba’s story and characters feel uninspired, they do still manage to entertain. Political correctness is enforced everywhere today, and even though Yaiba is far from a respectable character and Miss Monday is a sultry maneater, I don’t feel they cross any lines in terms of taste. Much like Suda 51’s Killer is Dead game, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is heavily influenced by movies and other entertainment forms from yesteryear and as such, the characters are more like sexualised or foul-mouthed cartoons rather than politically-incorrect tools. I’m sure there will be arguments about the political correctness of some of Yaiba’s content, but I feel the game is fine, and will appeal to a variety of people (particularly those with a sense of humour).
If you’ve played any of the Ninja Gaiden games (or any other hack-n-slash action game), you will know what to expect from Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z’s gameplay: Combos, slashes, counters and a metaphorical sea of enemies to carve your way through. While it has its roots in Ninja Gaiden’s style of combat, I actually feel that Yaiba has fairly unique combat compared to other hack-n-slash games. Quite an achievement really, as I’ve played countless other hack-n-slash games and I found Yaiba to be the most fun I’ve had in a hack-n-slash game in years.
Combos are primarily made up of sword slashes, bionic arm punches and flail strikes. These weapons are all assigned to three different buttons and combos are executed via a simple mixture of these three buttons.
Sometimes though, combat does not go as smoothly as one would hope, and it feels as though the more unique zombies that appear (and end up appearing in mixed groups quite frequently) only create frustration, due to Yaiba’s paper-rock-scissors style of combat. Some zombies are vulnerable to punches, but almost immune to sword attacks. Some are weak to fire, and others are just about fireproof. At first, this adds strategies to individual encounters, but eventually (when you’re fighting a hundred zombies at once) it just makes you attack the wrong zombie with the wrong weapon, or waste a hard-earned weapon on a zombie that required a single strike. In this regard, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z feels sloppy, and not a knee-deep in zombie guts kind of sloppy. A bad one.
Throughout the game, Yaiba has numerous chances (via a combo or distracted zombie) to improvise and gain a new-but-temporary weapon. These are quite often the result of the horrifying execution of an enemy, such as ripping a clown’s arms off (yes, I said clown) and creating “nun-chuckles” (nunchaku made from dismembered arms) or ripping the spine out of an electric zombie and creating the “spinal-zap”, an electric spine-whip. Creating these weapons is usually extremely gory and within the context of Yaiba, absolutely hilarious.
Unfortunately for Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, its level design is all over the place. At times, it can be competent, but boring (a graveyard, really?) and at other times, it seems to be an absolute mess. You won’t get lost, but you will get frustrated that you can’t leap and wall-run throughout the levels as gracefully as, well, a ninja should.
Unless, of course, you count the scripted wall-running and flail-swinging moments, which are actually pretty damn cool. Throughout his journey, Yaiba will have to think of his feet to quickly traverse numerous obstacles or escape certain death. These stunt sequences function as QTEs (quick-time events), where players will have to press a certain button at an exact moment to successfully navigate through a level. Let me put you at ease: these aren’t the extremely worn-out and/or annoying QTEs you’re used to, and you will probably only die a handful of times. I didn’t encounter a QTE that held me back, and managed to beat most on the first attempt. This was no thanks to Yaiba’s camera system, which at times seems to hate you like you slept with its girlfriend. It’s not a constant onslaught of camera hiccups, but is enough to annoy you more than once, particularly in urban levels.
- Mindless violent fun (yes, that’s a good thing)
- Annoying camera angles
- Unrefined combat ideas
- Forgettable story
After my time with Yaiba, I’m left a little confused. I don’t feel like it aimed for a mass audience, but rather the small group of people who enjoy Ninja Gaiden games and the enjoyable button-mashing offered by Japanese hack-n-slashes. On one hand, I enjoy the combat and the B-grade characters, but on another hand, it feels like yet another dated Japanese action game.
Yaiba would have been amazing on the PlayStation 2, but this is the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 we’re talking about. We’ve seen the almost-flawless God of War titles and other great hack-n-slash games that came in their wake, and although Yaiba certainly qualifies as a game I would enjoy, I doubt it will make an impact on most other gamers, who are probably happily assassinating pirates and templars, or piloting their titans. If you enjoy zombies, humourous games and the Ninja Gaiden series, you probably qualify as one of the few this game aimed to please.