Review: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (360)

Team Ninja, Comcept Inc. and Spark Unlimited are attempting to take Ninja Gaiden into new, less serious territory with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. While the title is a somewhat non-canon spin-off, is it worth it for Ninja Gaiden fans to experience, or is it too far into the realm of ridiculous to bother with?

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (360)
Score: 7.5/10

Platform: 360, PS3, PC
Release Date: 3/18/2014 (USA)
Developed by Team Ninja, Comcept Inc., Spark Unlimited
Published by Tecmo Koei

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a stand-alone spin-off to the current Ninja Gaiden series. Developed by Ninja Gaiden veterans Team Ninja, former Capcom staff Comcept Inc., and Call of Duty: Finest Hour creators Spark Unlimited, Yaiba stands as a raunchy and humorous counterpart to the Ryu Hayabusa saga. Players take control of Yaiba Kamikaze, an irrational, wild and overconfident unmentioned enemy of Ryu. In the opening moments of the game, Yaiba confronts Ryu and is slain in a matter of moments. The ninja is resurrected as a cyborg by scientist Miss Monday and her boss Del Gonzo for the purpose of revenge, and to find a cure for the sudden zombie outbreak. Other details regarding the story and character background information are scattered throughout each of the stages as collectible items. Upon finding these, the player learns about the true relationship between Yaiba and Ryu (Yaiba’s sword is actually a sacred artifact), and the personalities and ulterior motives of Miss Monday and Del Gonzo. Yaiba’s uprising is told through a promotional online comic from Dark Horse; a miniature physical copy is included within the limited edition case (the pre-order version which also includes a physical soundtrack). For a game whose main character is bent on exacting revenge upon his murderer, Ninja Gaiden Z has very little focus on Ryu Hayabusa as an antagonist; the primary focus of the title, and crutch for most of the action, is on the zombie outbreak.

Ninja Gaiden Z is broken up into seven stages, with each stage having multiple sections to progress through. With two exceptions, each stages takes roughly an hour to complete, and features segments based on hack-and-slash arenas, movement-based and progression-based puzzles, and occasionally a boss. A skilled swordsman now infused with futuristic technology, Yaiba Kamikaze has an arsenal of base moves at his disposal. The cyborg ninja has quick sword strikes as a primary attack, and his cybernetic arm can be wielded for a heavy-hitting punch, capable of smashing through parts of the environment; his arm also doubles over as an electric flail, used as a wide-range attack. Each attack type can be chained together in preset combos, which can be found within the Status menu. Ninja Gaiden Z features a leveling system, which allows the player to obtain more perks, weapon variations and combos at each new level. Once more moves and enhancements have been purchased, Yaiba can then perform stronger charged-attacks for both punching and sword strikes.

While the general enemy force of the game is an extensive zombie horde, Ninja Gaiden Z offers a wide plethora of special types, each with their own strategical weaknesses. Right away, the player is introduced to the Stiff, the basic grunt of the zombie outbreak. After dealing a certain amount of damage, Stiffs can be grabbed and either thrown as a projectile, or be swung around as an extended weapon. As the game progresses, Stiffs gain elemental traits and can withstand being thrown. Stronger elemental enemies are introduced as minibosses, and later become typical enemies; defeating these undead abominations will result in elemental-based weapons- a mortar, electrical whip and acid-spitter. To obtain these limited-use weapons, the player needs to “Execute” a dying enemy; if the Execute button is pressed when the on-screen prompt appears over a downed enemy, a short finishing move will occur. Executions yield special weapons, and additional health. Each elemental type is weak towards another; if done correctly, elemental effects can have severe effects on enemies, and sometimes the environment: An example of this would be if a fire-based enemy is attack with an electric weapon; not only does that enemy take extra damage, but a firey electric tornado erupts around them, damaging everything within a certain radius. However, if fire-based enemies are attacked with acid, they ignite and their attack power increases.

A surprisingly large portion of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is puzzle-based. Some segments of the game require Yaiba to either activate generators with elecric zombies, or use a specific combination of elemental effects to break through various obstructions. Other segments have movement-based puzzles, where Yaiba must traverse across environmental hazards by wall-running and grappling across several structures. An accident in most of these actions will result in death, however the player will start at the most recent “safe area” within that segment. Where Ninja Gaiden Z ironically suffers the most is within its difficulty. The Ninja Gaiden series- both NES and current-gen- are legendary for just how difficult they truly are; while Yaiba is a challenging game, it lacks a gradual difficulty curve. Where one area could be a walk-in-the-park, the next area may spike the difficulty up to an insane level without warning. With “Ninja Gaiden” in the title, this is a game that clearly expected to be hard, but random difficulty spikes are sure to frustrate even the most battle-hardened of players.

Upon completing the game, the additional “Ninja Gaiden Z” mode is unlocked, where players can run back through the game, re-imagined as an even more difficult side-scrolling title.

Yaiba features an art style reminiscent of the “3D Inking” scheme found in Ultimate Spider-Man, only darker to reflect the grotesque nature of the environment. This keeps with the comic-book theme, as not only is Yaiba’s origin told within the online Dark Horse comic, but story-based cutscenes are shown as comic-book panels. While the stylized nature of the game makes for some spectacularly vivid and over-the-top gory scenes of chaos, the screen can become an overwhelming, convoluted mess if there’s too many actions simultaneously occurring. The camera certainly does nothing to improve that; while it pans to show the most important area within each environmental segment, there’s very little player-control, and it tends to pan and zoom into unnecessary angles. In one particular boss fight, the camera pans to an extreme distance; while it emphasizes the immense scale of the boss, Yaiba becomes difficult to see among the chaos.

While players interact with Miss Monday and Del Gonzo through cutscene story-boards and radio communication, Yaiba does an excellent job of portraying their individually, quirky personalities. Neither of the characters- Yaiba passively included- grow in any dynamic fashion, but Miss Monday’s passive questioning of Yaiba’s capabilities and Del Gonzo’s posh attitude make for some very entertaining exchanges in conversation. Most of the music within Ninja Gaiden Z is electronic, with hints of horror-movie “stingers” and ambient sounds. This creates an atmosphere that reflects the dilapidated nature of the environments, while creating an ever-present sensation of dread and anticipation as the player waits to encounter the next wave of zombies.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a difficult title to recommend, as it falls into a niche category of games that thrive on B-Movie humor, along the likes of NeverDead, Lollipop Chainsaw, MadWorld and No More Heroes. However, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a finicky, yet entertaining hack-and-slash game that refuses to take itself seriously. This is a title best served to those who are tired of serious “emotional” games, and only want to cause chaos and mischief as an arrogant, zombie-slaying cyborg ninja.

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