After years of fighting as the heroic ninja Ryu Hayabusa in the Ninja Gaiden series, superstar developers Team NINJA have decided to introduce us to a new character, Yaiba Kamikaze. He is set to lead us into the spin off series, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Does Yaiba’s beginning measure up to the legend of Ryu? We all got to start somewhere.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z starts off with a brief animated back-story. Yaiba Kamikaze and Ryu Hayabusa are fighting each other. Neither man seems to get the upper hand until Ryu makes a powerful strike. Yaiba, thinking he has blocked it, starts to laugh. Until he sees the blade of his katana slowly fall apart. It is then that realizes that Ryu's attack has sliced through it. As he starts to laugh even more manically the left half of his head, left arm, and a majority of his left torso burst away from his body in a massive explosion of blood. Ryu sheaths his katana and leaves Yaiba for dead.
Fast forward an unknown amount of time to a point where we learn that Yaiba has been brought back to life. Not only that, but those body parts that were sliced away have been replaced with cybernetic parts. This new Yaiba has only one thing on his mind, revenge against Ryu. On the other hand, the people that brought Yaiba back to life also want Ryu dead, but they want him to perform some other never clearly defined task first. Did I mention they drop Yaiba in the middle of a zombie outbreak? In the middle of Russia? No? Yeah, better yet don't think too hard on the story, it's just an excuse to have a cyber ninja slice up waves of zombies and throw out vaguely witty, potty humor, one-liners.
Controls and Gameplay
In holding with the tradition of the series, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z wants to be a challenging, hack and slash, third person fighter. I say that it wants to be, but it doesn't seem to know quite how to get there. Parts of it seem to be a button mashing, zombie slaughtering, gore fest that gives the player the feeling of being a powerful cyber ninja. Then they introduce the mini-bosses. Suddenly the huge amounts of damage you caused in previous encounters dropsdown to mere scratches, doing hardly anything. Oh and as you progress the mini-bosses become more common and more numerous until it the player feels less like a powerful cyber ninja and more a pinball going down the drain.
Other Ninja Gaiden games are challenging; but there is a fine balance of weaponry and magic at Ryu's disposal that helps let the player meet that challenge. Here you have a broken katana, a cyber punch, and a flail with minimal upgrades going up against bad guys that can take you out in one or two shots. You have an upgrade path, but that doesn't help much. There are powerful disposable weapons you can take off the mini-bosses, but getting them is near impossible and because they are disposable they don't last long. Did I mention the only way to heal is to perform combos that bring the various enemies to the edge of death? Then, when an exclamation point appears above them, you can perform an execution move. This rewards you with a random gory cut scene and bit of health. Hopefully you weren't in the middle of a combo when that exclamation point appeared, otherwise the combo would finish and slice up that enemy before you had a chance to use your execution move.
Lastly I have to mention the camera. Nine times out of ten your camera angle will be wide and there will be a lot of gore and animation going on and you lose track of yourself. Other times you can cross a certain point suddenly your camera whips around to a new, equally bad, camera angle.
Graphics and Sound
The best part of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is the cell shaded graphics. The look is straight out of superhero comic books; colorful and unique and just plain beautiful art. To be honest the art is part of what first attracted me to the game.
Another good part is the voice acting. The actors are honestly giving some pretty awful cornball lines, but they perform them with a gusto and glee the makes them seem to be having fun. I mean really how often are you going to hear a cyber ninja say, "They're ruining my panty party!"
Where to start? Well let's begin with the story, or the lack thereof. It's a shaky framework at best with antihero and ninja clichés held together with lowbrow sex and potty humor. Occasionally you get some good jokes or interesting pieces of story, but never enough to keep it going. Here is an example of most of the "humor." A strip club, complete with giant fishnet stocking clothed legs on it, has a semi-truck crash into it, between the legs. Everything is destroyed except for the legs, which land pretty much as they were displayed on the roof, only now with a bright light coming from between them and a choir of angles singing as panties rain from "heaven" down upon Yaiba who raises his hands skyward. Classy.
Then there is the ever swinging and off balance combat. It can't decide if it wants you to revel in button mashing bliss or a more precise game of memorizing multitudes of combos. I mean there is a blocking button, but the combat never gains a steady enough rhythm for you clearly know what, where, and when to do anything. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is not a challenging game, it's a series of pure luck and cheap shot gotcha moments. I was playing at the normal difficulty level and I died early and often. I seriously considered dropping to easy just to get through it, but my pride made me keep playing at the normal level.
I applaud Team NINJA for trying to grow the Ninja Gaiden series beyond Ryu Hayabusa and going so far as to try to introduce an antihero in Yaiba Kamikaze, but there is very little about him that is likeable. He kind of rushed into our faces and never really gets to grow as a character beyond the revenge minded pervert (for lack of a better word). He has a good look and I want to like him, but there just isn't enough personailty there.
For as muddled as the game seems to be in almost all aspects of play, I couldn’t find anything glaring out at me as far as bugs go. It wasn’t broke, just badly assembled. The game is solid for what it is. I just wished it focused more on what it wanted to be. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z scrapes in at a 3 out 5, but only just.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is rated M for Mature fo Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
For more information see the Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z web site.