|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Team Ninja|
|Pub: Tecmo Koei|
|Release: Q1 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Shelby Reiches
The Ninja Gaiden series, in its modern incarnation, is most defined by its laser focus on precise yet exciting fast-paced action. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z has absolutely nothing to do with that tradition of fighting game-esque mechanics combined with sharp and technical action. It also doesn’t star series protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, though he does make an appearance as the new main character’s nemesis.
In fact, the E3 demo of Yaiba started with a brief cutscene. In this cutscene, Ryu approaches a resting Yaiba in a bamboo forest. Unlike Ryu’s understated, staid personality, Yaiba is a boisterous and foul-mouthed ninja slayer. Despite his fang-like canines, Yaiba appears to be human enough. A brief fight with Ryu highlights the distinctions in their fighting styles; while Ryu’s style is precise and technical, Yaiba’s style is almost animalistic, striking wildly in grand arcs. The battle leaves Yaiba’s sword broken, the man himself cursing as Ryu’s final blow leaves him missing his right shoulder and part of his head.
The action picks up later with Yaiba now outfitted with cybernetic parts, traversing a cityscape overrun with zombies of various stripes. The aesthetic is something ripped out of a dark, almost cyberpunk/noir comic, mixed with the underpinnings of a zombie apocalypse. The violence here can be over the top, even for a Ninja Gaiden title, because it is so animated as to be wholly unrealistic.
Violence comes in many forms in Ninja Gaiden Z. There’s the basic sword attack, utilizing Yaiba’s broken katana, as well as a grab maneuver that either finishes wounded enemies with a brief flourish (a longer and more involved one is performed against larger enemies) or allows regular zombies to be used in place of the standard secondary weapon. They can be swung around on the chain in Yaiba’s cybernetic arm like a flail or chucked into a mass of foes, bowling them over.
When one isn’t grabbing a standard zombie, the secondary attack defaults to the cybernetic arm; this is a powerful strike that carries Yaiba into the air before slamming him back down atop enemies, striking the ground with a powerful shockwave. Alternatively, it can be charged up for a “rocket punch,” which launches him forward with increasing distance and force that changes depending on the time one holds the button down, though there is a limit. If one exceeds this limit, the limb overheats and Yaiba is blown back by the resulting explosion. This can be replaced by other weapons Yaiba picks up, and while the arm and a second weapon (a zombie-hand nunchaku in the case of the demo) can be switched between at will, those found in the environment can only be used a limited number of times.
The last combat-centric mechanic is Bloodlust, which must be charged by executing enemies or picking up special tokens. Once activated, Yaiba removes his cloak and goes berserk. In this mode his attacks deal increased damage—each possessing intensely more violent visual effects—while his sword strike rapidly teleports him between foes. As of this preview, the Bloodlust mode is a flash in the pan, ending mere moments after it has been activated, making its use fairly limited.
In general, the fighting has more in common with Dynasty Warriors or God of War than with Ninja Gaiden. While it lacks the sheer number of enemies of the former and the grand scale of the latter, it has a certain button-mashing feel to it, and Yaiba can generally rip apart the standard zombies unopposed. Larger foes provide more of a challenge, but without a branching combo system or a strong defensive mechanic (you can either block or dash out of the way), combat against these bigger enemies is less about strategic placement and more about pounding on a foe and keeping them off-balance until they try to strike back. Then you back off, and when their attack subsides, you start again.
Beyond fighting, Ninja Gaiden Z also features traversal, which is aided by “cyber vision.” Cyber vision uses Yaiba’s cybernetic eye to help keep the player moving forward by better outlining the proper path. Traversal is tied to pre-designated objects in the environment. These are specific walls upon which Yaiba can run, outcroppings to which he can cling, and wires upon which he can balance. There are also sometimes walls for him to crash through.
What most distinguishes Ninja Gaiden Z from almost anything else Tecmo Koei has produced, though, is tone. It is at once both darkly humorous and thoroughly debauched. The demo featured a glorified panty raid that involved a large bus plunging into the top of a sex shop between the two large, fishnet clad legs thereupon. There was also an apparent Austin Powers reference that involved two zombies and a steamroller.
Though playable, the version of Yaiba on the show floor seemed distinctly early in development. While the visuals had clearly found their style, they were a bit rough around the edges and included odd clipping issues and special effects that sometimes failed to appear. The gameplay, and traversal in particular, will hopefully find more polish and be more varied when the game is actually released, and it still isn’t entirely clear what kind of connection this title has to the main Ninja Gaiden franchise, or why Yaiba is so fixated on Ryu Hayabusa’s death. The demo was labeled as a “pre-alpha,” though, so there is presumably much, much more to be done before it ever sees the light of day. What’s already there, though, is fairly interesting, and it’s undoubtedly different.
Date: June 24, 2013