Review: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

Developers: Team Ninja, Spark Unlimited, Comcept - Publisher: Tecmo Koei - Platforms: Playstaton 3, Xbox 360, PC - Release Date: March 18, 2014

Concept: A rage-fueled cyborg ninja seeks revenge against gaming's greatest ninja while combating a zombie outbreak at the same time.

Graphics: The stylish and colorful art style make the game look like a graphic novel in motion

Sound: The techno/dubstep soundtrack gets old really quick as does much of the mindless banter between the main characters.

Playability: Action is decently fun yet repetitive and the counter system is completely unreliable

Entertainment: Between the botched camera system and the cheap difficulty, you'll be scrambling for the easy option - and you should

Replay Value: Low

If Only Yaiba Had Stayed Dead

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z features an intriguing premise. As the villainous ninja, Yaiba Kamikaze, you’re hunting Ryu Hayabusa, the hero of Ninja Gaiden who also happens to be the guy that killed you. After Yaiba is resurrected by a mysterious organization and outfitted with cybernetic enhancements, he seeks revenge against the man that killed him while also battling sudden zombie outbreak.

Like previous Ninja Gaiden games, combat is extremely fast-paced. Yaiba utilizes lightning-quick sword attacks, slow yet powerful punches with his mechanical arm, and a chained flail that keep the undead at a distance. In addition blocking, counters can be activated by hitting block just before taking a hit. Don’t bother, though, as countering rarely works and usually rewards you with a zombified smack to the face. Filling a rage meter causes Yaiba to go insane with damage, as you'd expect, but it's duration is too brief for my liking.

Once Yaiba has foes on the brink of…another death, he has a split second to trigger stylish and gory executions that drop health pick-ups. Executions are extremely vital, as it’s the only way to replenish your life during combat. Upper tier zombies leave behind sub-weapons such as nunchucks, rocket launchers, electrical whips, and more to add variety in battle.

Zombies can come in three elemental flavors: fire, electric, and corrosive. Turning these elements against one another is Yaiba’s most interesting feature. Shocking a fire-based zombie with electricity creates a violent cyclone of both elements that wreak havoc across the area. Drenching electric enemies in acid crystalizes the substance, encasing them in rock. The marriage of fire and acid causes the recipient to quickly melt into nothingness. Outside of battle, this system also plays a large role in puzzle-solving and navigation.

Slicing hordes of zombies into decaying bit, nailing a chain of executions, and turning elemental powers against themselves definitely has its fun moments, but Ninja Gaiden Z may as well have grease-coated butterfingers for how many times it drops the ball.

Difficulty spikes early on with many arenas overwhelming the player with massive waves of zombies. It’s frustrating beyond belief to battle zombies with unrelenting melee attacks while being bombarded from afar by a devastating long-ranged assault. Because of this, many skirmishes force you to constantly dodge and deal token chip damage during small windows of opportunity. A brutal checkpoint system forces you to restart lengthy battles from the beginning when it’s feeling generous and to replay entire sections when it’s not. The lengthy load time between respawns make the sting of death even more painful.

A skill tree is present but new abilities only offer marginal enhancements. Sure, you can improve the durability of sub-weapons, unlock new combos, but the ability to improve Yaiba’s general health or endurance would have been better. Yaiba starts with pretty small health bar and upgrades for that, as well as those granting resistance to elemental effects, are hidden within the levels. Unless you thoroughly search areas, you’ll be stuck with the same, limited, health for the entire adventure.

The camera causes more problems for Yaiba than Ryu and the zombies combined. Most arenas are large, open spaces and the camera tends to pan out too far, making it very easy to lose track of Yaiba big crowds. The fact that the screen goes grayscale when Yaiba is close to death only makes finding him even harder. Moving to a different corner of the area doesn’t cause the camera to adjust to a better view; it either stays fixed or zooms farther out. When the camera does decide to get closer, it gets a bit too intimate, making it difficult to see where the smorgasbord of projectiles hurtling towards you are coming from.

Several technical issues hold Yaiba back even further. Sometimes the frame-rate plummets to a near crawl when there are too many zombies on-screen at once. Other glitches include zombies moving without their animations. A particular battle broke down completely because one of the enemies wouldn’t attack nor could it be harmed. Since I couldn’t kill it, I couldn’t progress. The game doesn’t offer the option to simply restart from the last checkpoint so my only way past this segment was to replay the entire chapter and pray that the fight would work properly the next time.

Proud players shouldn’t hesitate to lower the difficulty when things get rough as there’s a big difference between failing due to lack of skill and failing due to lack of polish. I played Yaiba on normal difficulty until I hit an absurdly difficult gauntlet of zombies in the fourth chapter that forced me to bump things down to easy. While that helped make the rest of game a bit more enjoyable, encounters still get pretty rough, most notably the annoyingly drawn-out final boss battle. The story is no saving grace either, as it’s more interested in crude humor and bad innuendo than telling a compelling narrative. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a unique offshoot, but you’re better off playing the earlier (and better) games in the series instead of giving this flawed experiment a try.

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