Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
Ninja Gaiden’s gone from being a core gaming darling in early-to-mid ’00s, thanks to the reboot, to a franchise that people are a bit skeptical of over the past decade. Censored PS3 ports hurt the momentum initially, while Ninja Gaiden 2 and 3 lacked that little bit of extra polish that made the initial entry in the reboot series so special. Now, with some good faith restored thanks to excellent Vita versions of the reboot, Ninja Gaiden is back with a side-game focusing on Yaiba. Instead of playing as Ryu Hayabusa, you’re a foul-mouthed, partially-cybernetic ninja out to kill Hayabusa (and maybe the benefactor who brought you back to life as well).
With cel-shaded visuals, dubstep blaring from the start menu, and a new character, Yaiba stands out immediately from the other Ninja Gaiden games. If you’re wondering what the Z stands for, it isn’t just random gibberish like Sigma being thrown around – it stands for zombies. Fortunately, there are more than just zombies to attack, and you’ve got some variety to your attacks. There’s a strong short-range attack, a medium-range, medium damage one, and a longer-range one that’s a bit like the Chains of Olympus from God of War, but it does the least damage of anything. You can mix and match any kind of attack you want, and can grab weapons from certain enemies after killing them. If you kill them with an execution finisher (basically just a little QTE for some enemies), then you can regain health.
These weapons do a ton of damage, but have a short shelf-life. You’ll want to vary your attack patterns up and try to survive each wave of enemies. Since the game saves after each one, a death isn’t too big a deal, but they’re annoying when caused by a two-hit kill from an overpowered enemy. The camera will lead to a few deaths as well since you can’t control it much. Sure, the right stick technically controls the camera, but it’s at a snail’s pace and doesn’t allow you to customize your viewpoint of the surroundings. This means that enemies will be obscured at times, and while you can activate the robotic retina with the left bumper to get a better idea of where they are in relation to you, it’s not a perfect solution.
Yaiba has quite a bit more puzzle-solving than the other 3D Ninja Gaiden games, and is far jokier. Yaiba himself comes off as a bit of a ninja version of Duke Nukem, but with a lot more needless vulgarity. Yaiba, his female companion, and her boss all swear like sailors and it’s a bit distracting. The light-hearted tone reminded me a lot of DmC, but that had a bit more polish than this does and was much funnier. The fixed camera leads to it being tough to figure out where you’re supposed to go during the free-falling or free-running sections. Actually, they’re not really that since they’re totally linear, but you can at least move a bit. Timing is a little tricky as well since you can barely be seen at times due to the wide angle, while going with the zoomed-in look makes things too claustrophobic.
The core mechanics are reasonably well-done – although things can get old quickly. Some levels are just non-stop waves of enemies, and while you can mix up tactics for each one, it can wear you down. Luckily, mixing things up with puzzles and humor helps. The core combat being rock-solid helps too and thanks to responsive controls, you’ll do every attack when you want to, but there were some definite shortcuts taken with the animation. This is especially distracting during the execution kills since the animation is so jittery. There are clearly many frames of animation missing, and it makes things look cheap. Given how smooth the animation is otherwise, it’s even more jarring than it otherwise would be. Everything but that iffy animation is gorgeous though.
The cel-shaded art allows this last-gen game to be impressive in 2014, which is no easy feat. Everything has solid lines and a lot of color depth and shading between the lines as well. Attack animations are crisp and it’s easy to get into the flow of combat as a result. If that wasn’t the case, then the game’s shockingly poor reception would make sense because there’s a lot of combat here, but the core isn’t broken. There are times when you’ll be up against too many enemies to handle, but then you eventually farm enough XP to just go into berserk mode and beat that section – so it’s a war of attrition more than anything else.
As bizarre as it seems for a Ninja Gaiden game to have dubstep in it, it actually fits this game well since Yaiba is such a completely different character that it works well. Right away, you’re shown that he’s nothing like Ryu Hayabusa, so while the traditional wooden instrument soundtrack works for his games, it wouldn’t fit this character very well. The dubstep here has a rock sensibility to it that I like, and I could honestly see myself throwing the OST on my MP3 player if it was available. The voice acting is also very good and the cast plays everything fast and loose – no one’s taking things too seriously, but anything that should have weight does and while the game’s humor is more immature than I would like, the delivery did get a few chuckles out of me even if the joke wasn’t really to my liking.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z isn’t the best NG game on the market, but I honestly enjoyed it a lot even with its flaws. Given the high level of hatred going around towards it, it’s understandable to skip over it entirely, but I encourage people to at least give it a rental. At $60, it’s an overpriced purchase, but if you’re a Gamefly member, try it out for yourself now or wait for it to get a drop to $40 or so. That honestly would’ve been the best price to launch it at since it is a side game that takes so many risks compared to the norm. Giving the game a whirl will reward you with a visually impressive game that has an enjoyable soundtrack, iffy humor, and a few gameplay problems – but also features a fluid fighting system for the vast majority of the time that is a lot of fun to use.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
This review is based on a digital copy of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z for the PlayStation 3 provided by Tecmo Koei.