Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review
Slicing through a million zombies as a ninja turns out to be more dull than expected
The developers at Team Ninja haven’t exactly been on a hot streak lately. After creating the popular Ninja Gaiden franchise back in 2004, they followed up with a good sequel, but the third entry wasn’t well received a couple of years ago. Their other popular franchise, Dead or Alive, has also seen better days. The developers are back, offering a spinoff entitled Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. But even with a new visual style, setting, and hero, the franchise continues to struggle.
Players assume the role of ninja Yaiba Kamikaze. The game opens with a battle against the usual Ninja Gaiden protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, who subsequently defeats Yaiba. During this encounter, Yaiba also loses his left arm and eye. After some time passes, he is resurrected by an unknown organization who have restored his arm and eye with robotic parts. They tell Yaiba of a zombie outbreak in the city, and ask that he put a stop to it. They provide motivation by suggesting that Ruy is already searching for the source of the infection, and Yaiba can have his revenge if he tracks Ruy down and also stops the spread of infection. Although everyone is undoubtedly driven by their own hidden motivations, Yaiba agrees to the deal.
Like the franchise entries before it, Ninja Gaiden Z offers little storytelling prowess or character development, with a mostly nonsensical plot. Yaiba is a cursing, loud antagonist that shows the developers trying to create something different from the typically quiet Ryu. However, Yaiba is just not funny or clever, with a sexist and randomly violent attitude completing his unlikeable persona. Other characters fill out the usual gamut of stereotypes, from the evil villain to the overly attractive assistant.
Although a spinoff, Ninja Gaiden Z is still very much a hack and slash game, filling the screen with enemies for Yaiba to dispose of. This time around, those enemies are now the ever-popular zombie hordes. The combat is just as fast paced and violent as before, and there’s some satisfaction to be had as you build up huge combos and dispatch foes. Your health can be restored by executing enemies when their health is low enough. Some enemies also provide temporary use of their limbs that players can pick up for new attacks. The standard attacks with the sword have a short range but higher damage output, while using your chain provides a wide area of attack, with less damage. You can also grab and punch enemies with your robotic arm.
Yaiba will be taking on mass amounts of the undead foes, who are given little exposition or reasons for their existence. From the usual grunts to some more distinct enemies and even bosses, the game is very focused on providing the player with tons of action. Unfortunately, as enjoyable as the combat can be at times, it’s highly repetitive. The enemy variety is exhausted rather quickly, as the game only ups the ante by throwing an increasing number of tougher foes at the player. Bosses are similarly disappointing, as you fight the same type of enemy multiple times, and your tactics need not change.
Aside from picking up the occasional short-use weapons dropped by enemies, nothing about the combat changes much. Nearly all enemies can be defeated using the same basic combos and your stock weapons. There is, of course, a stock-standard progression system which lets players redeem points for various survivability upgrades, but most are only passable in their usefulness.
Numerous difficulty spikes make the game an often frustrating experience – you’ll breeze through the levels by mostly mashing the buttons and occasionally blocking or dodging, until a set of opponents create a very tough combat scenario. And if you die, you’ll be sent back to the start of the encounter, regardless of how many foes you’ve already dispatched. Towards the end of the game, it becomes an exercise of patience as multiple tough foes and bosses all descend on poor Yaiba at the same time. All these elements are further burdened by the very poor camera. The game employs a static viewpoint, meaning players cannot control what they are looking at. This often results in awkward maneuvering of Yaiba to get the camera to face the direction you want.
Outside of combat, players will be faced with extremely simple environment traversal sections, where your biggest concerns will be to either jump or use your chain to swing at the right moment. The game is completely linear, with only a few secrets hidden around the small levels, and these are either out of the way or hidden behind a wall. Again, the camera presents some unnecessary annoyances even during these stages.
Once the main campaign is done, which is setup for replayability because every level is scored, players can check out the arcade mode called “Z Mode”. Almost a whole new experience, players will now attempt to play through the game in a side-scrolling fashion, complete with a classic NES soundtrack. It’s a nice gesture, and is very tough, but hardly makes up for the rest of this full-priced title.
The game further attempts to differentiate itself by using a cel-shaded graphical style. Like zombies, this visual novel presentation used to be unique, but has recently been employed in a wide range of games. In Yaiba’s case, the focus on colorful, stylized violence does pay off, and helps the players forget the shallow background music and poor voiced dialog. The action is smooth and animations help combat flow . On the technical side, the game runs adequately, with some screen tearing and the occasional crash to desktop.
Spinoffs can sometimes offer a fresh start for the franchise or its main characters, but for Ninja Gaiden, Yaiba’s adventure presents more signs that the series is struggling. The action can be fun, but it quickly becomes repetitive and shallow, compounded by poor difficulty pacing and completely linear progression. Stylish visual presentation is as new to popular culture as the zombies, while the plot and characters are forgettable and aren’t fun to spend the hours with. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a barely serviceable action title, one that offers poor value and lacks fun.