Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review
You’ll spend most of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z on the floor.
We don’t mean Yaiba himself, the cyborg-ninja armed with a razor-sharp sword and potty mouth. We mean you. You are the one who will spend most of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z on the floor.
And you won’t remember how you got there. But you will remember staggering back to the sofa as the red haze of anger slowly dissipates, your HDTV displaying a ‘YOU DIED’ message (although the screen will be slightly at an angle from where you threw the PS3 pad at it), bitemarks the size of craters in your wall, your nearby bottle of Lucozade spilling its sugary contents on the floor from where you knocked it over.
Because while Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z could have been brilliant – and in fact, probably should have been brilliant – it’s frequently the most frustrating game you will ever play, triggering apocalyptic fits of rage and mushroom clouds of anger than can be seen from space.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – What Goes Right
It starts off so well.
You play as a villain of sorts, Yaiba having slaughtered his ninja clan because they were too weak and now hunting down Ryu Hayabusa in the midst of a zombie outbreak. It’s not exactly Kafka but then again, it’s not meant to be – this is a B-movie style hack and slasher, tongue firmly in cheek and sword firmly in zombie torso.
There’s a lot going on here. A lot.
It’s a zombie-flick-turned-video-game, a B-movie, a horror, a comedy and a Ninja Gaiden title through its links to Ryu Hayabusa. It has a few lines that will cause ‘sexism!’ debates amongst the Twitter crowd and it has an unusual comic-art style that serves it well.
There are three developers who have been involved with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – Team Ninja, Comcept and Spark Unlimited – and that’s reflected in its shotgun approach towards its ideas and design.
Whether you’re throwing zombies into steamrollers or watching burning underwear fall down around you, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is frequently interesting, funny and different, testament to the creativity of the three teams involved and the willingness to throw anything and everything out there, to see what sticks.
It’s an unusual mish-mash of ideas but it’s a successful one, and Yaiba rarely finds itself having to recycle ideas because it’s running out of creative juice. In that regard, this game is brilliant.
Unfortunately, it’s that same shotgun approach that fatally injures the gameplay in a way Yaiba never quite recovers from.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – Zombie Hack And Slasher
Again, it starts off well.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a hack and slasher, with sword attacks, punch attacks and flail attacks forming the cornerstone of your offensive arsenal.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the usual ‘light attack, heavy attack’ trope but attacks with actual differences – sword attacks are the standard go-to move, punch attacks break guard and have the best combo enders while flail has the most range but misses ground targets.
Furthermore, you can upgrade your flail as you progress, from rainbow-coloured nunchucks to hulking zombie arms that you swing at enemies.
Yaiba has a regular zombie horde – Stiffs, as they’re called here – and slicing through them is bloody (get it?) enjoyable, undead limbs sloshing around in buckets of blood as your combo count ticks ever higher. Experimenting with the different combos, switching from your flail to your fist to your sword, is great fun and there’s just about enough resistance from the undead that you can’t completely switch off your brain while doing so either.
There are a few simply puzzles that involve throwing zombies into the environment and a few platforming sections that Yaiba never feels too routine. Throw in hidden secrets and there’s a lot to love here. What could go wrong?
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – What Goes Wrong
It’s not long the slapdash nature of Yaiba comes through, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that different enemies and ideas have been haphazardly thrown together with no consideration for the end result or how the player is expected to stumble through. And this really is stumbling through – there’s often a sense of relief at navigating difficulty spikes here without suffering any long-lasting trauma besides leaving permanent bitemarks in your pad.
So to explain what the problem is, it’s when the bigger enemies trundle along that Yaiba falls apart.
Individually, they’re fine. Whether they are fat fire-spewing priests or lumbering wrestlers who suplex you or zombie-brides who hover safely out of reach firing off electricity attacks, there’s enough variety in both their look and how you have to deal with them that you’ll be kept engaged.
These bigger enemies have attacks that can’t be blocked or projectile attacks that need to be avoided. They obviously soak up far more damage than regular fodder and demand extra care and attention in combat. So far, so usual.
But then these bigger enemies are mixed in with the horde, and with other types of bigger enemies, and it becomes far, far too difficult. The balancing is completely off – wrestler zombies that crush a third of your life-bar from a single suplex, rockets that cause unblockable splash damage which also detonate on nearby zombies, electricity and fire combinations that fill up the entire screen so you can’t see what’s happening and so on.
For all the potential Yaiba has, these combat scenarios are far, far, far too difficult and often feel unfair.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – The Checkpoints
Compounding the problem is the checkpoints. The stupid, ridiculous checkpoints. Yaiba’s favourite trick is to throw a few big enemies at you and once they’re cleared, throw even more big enemies at you, with an added zombie horde nipping at your heels, just in case it was too easy.
The theory here is that the zombie horde helps you deal with the bigger threats – executing them causes health packs to pop, which is obviously useful. The reality is that there’s so much chaos and carnage going on that it’s difficult enough to survive the attacks and threats of the bigger enemies, let alone finding time to execute the zombie horde, let alone fending off the zombie horde as well.
It’s simply too much and ultimately, it’s not the overall difficulty that’s the problem. Rather, it’s that Yaiba swings too violently from too easy to impossibly hard too often, so you’re never allowed to get into a rhythm or enjoy the pace of the game.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review
It shouldn’t be this way.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is stupid, in a good way – it never takes itself seriously and crushing the zombie horde is good fun in a way few other games can match, thanks to your ridiculous arsenal of moves and the dark sense of humour involved.
When Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z clicks – when it flows as you imagined it did in the minds of Inafune and Hayashi, when you’re smashing your way through the mangled corpses of thousands of zombies – it’s a glorious cocktail of cheap thrills, gore and B-movie fun.
But even if it’s enjoyable for 80% of the time you spend with it, you’ll absolutely loathe the other 20% with every inch of your being. Too often you’re retrieving your pad having bounced it off the floor in terrifying fits of rage, your head sinking into your hands as a defeated Yaiba sinks to the floor with an empty lifebar for the thousandth time.
Even though persistence and patience are the demands often asked of players tackling tricky games, having to gore yourself on ridiculous difficulty spikes over and over again is no fun, and something we suspect few Yaiba players will have the stomach for.
Version Tested: PS3