|System: PS3*, Xbox 360, PC|
|Dev: Team Ninja, Spark Unlimited, Comcept|
|Pub: Tecmo Koei|
|Release: March 18, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
Everything these days is getting a dark and gritty reboot, from Spider-Man to the Bionic Commando. However, Ninja Gaiden has avoided the reboot train for quite some time. It’s already a super hard game about a lone ninja fighting against hordes of demons, robots and corrupt government officials. It’s ultra-violent, super grim, and incredibly serious. It already feels like a dark and gritty reboot. So how do you grittify Ninja Gaiden? The answer: Profanity.
Enter Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, the recently released side story to the main Ninja Gaiden universe. Instead of controlling iconic ninja Ryu Hayabusa, you are controlling Yaiba, a random ninja mook who Ryu saw fit to chop in half one day. Some rich guy we have never met before decided to rebuild Yaiba with cybernetic parts… you know, as a hobby or something. Now, fueled by his lust for revenge, Yaiba seeks to hunt down Ryu Hayabusa and settle the score. There’s only one problem… zombies. Yes, Yabia’s entire conceit is essentially “cyborg ninja versus zombie outbreak.”
(A side note: Gaiden is Japanese for side story. So Yaiba is a Ninja Gaiden Gaiden… which comes off as a little annoying to anyone who speaks the language.)
Yaiba’s personality is way different from Ryu’s. Instead of being a silent and stoic murderer, Yaiba has a mouth that would make a sailor blush. He’s constantly tossing around f-bombs and talking and blood boners in an attempt to seem cool, like a middle schooler that just learned what curse words are. He frequently makes fun of Ninja Gaiden series staple characters, especially the females, usually mouthing off the sexual fantasies that fans have for them but never really vocalize. Unfortunately, this is the only note his personality ever hits. He is loud and lewd, but he is lewd for the sake of being lewd, and for the sake of making the game edgier than previous Ninja Gaiden installments. Aside from that, he doesn’t really have a personality of his own.
It feels like the developers were trying to make Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z badass and humorous in a Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or Mad World sort of way. The stylized cell shaded graphics are evidence enough of that. Blood splatters everywhere in a cartoonish matter, and the gore level is turned up to the extreme. Enemies are executed in “funny” ways from falling off a building, to being put into their own death traps. Unfortunately, these executions are only funny in the theoretical sense. While you may get a few chuckles out of seeing a zombie slowly get run over by a steamroller driven by another zombie, seeing two scantily clad zombies making out before they fight you will really just hit all of the disgust buttons you have. Once again, it feels like the game is trying too hard to be edgy, which makes these scenes come off as forced and immature.
Of course, we can forgive a game with a poor story and setting if the gameplay holds up, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Honestly, the main problem is the whole zombie motif. These are the enemies that you will face off against the most throughout the game, and you very quickly get bored of them. The whole zombie clown thing is shocking and interesting the first time you face one, but as you stab your seventeenth it just feels like you are beating a dead horse.
In fact, sending more zombies at you is all Ninja Gaiden Z ever does to up the difficulty. In past Ninja Gaiden games, players could deal with the ultra-hard difficulty spikes by participating in an intricate dance of blocks, dodges, and strikes at an enemy’s weakpoint. However, the roving zombie hordes of Ninja Gaiden Z don’t work that way. There’s no point in dodging or blocking because someone will always be ready to hit you in the back. Yes, this makes many attacks in the game literally unavoidable. Your only recourse is to button mash harder in an attempt to think out enemy forces before they take you down.
Sometimes, this actually works. Killing zombie after zombie in a huge radius around you give you a rush in a Dynasty Warriors or Lollipop Chainsaw sort of way. After all, it’s always enjoyable to see mooks simply fall to your unstoppable onslaught of attacks, and Yaiba’s ability to combo together his many weapons, a sword, flail and his fists of literal steel, is pretty open ended, giving you plenty of opportunities to be creative.
Unfortunately, whenever the difficulty ramps up you’ll regress to button mashing, and this is problematic. You get power-ups by performing executions on enemies who are only seconds away from death, but when beset by a zombie hoard you rarely have the time to stop and do this. If you try, you’ll probably get caught in a stun lock and die.
Unfortunately, without power-ups you can’t restore your health, so you’ll eventually get nickel and dimed to death. Nearly every death in the game felt cheap, coming at me from an attack I couldn’t avoid or do anything about. In fact, I never even altered my strategy after death. I just mashed buttons in the same exact way, and the game’s random number generator decided whether I lived or died.
The rest of the game simply feels sloppy and ill thought out. There is a little bit of platforming, but it’s entirely uninspired. It’s not challenging in any way, and some segments are even reduced to little more than quick time events. You don’t get the rush of wall jumping, wall running, or any of the other ninja parkour moves Ryu Hayabusa was able to pull off. You just feel like you are being ferried from one killing location to another.