BADGP Reviews: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

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Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (Spark Unlimited, Tecmo Koei)

Alex Linna

Released: March 18, 2014

Review: Falling Apart

I should have had lower expectations.

It was my fault for not knowing Spark Unlimited was attached to this game. The creators of 2008’s Legendary and last year’s Lost Planet 3.  I should have known.  I was blinded by Keiji Inafune (Megaman, Dead Rising) becoming involved with the game and my dormant love of Ninja Gaiden.  I wanted to like this game, but Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z does everything in its power to prevent that from being possible.

Yaiba starts out well enough.  After the first four to five missions, I found myself genuinely enjoying the game; its wacky sensibilities and its unique brand of difficulty.  The more time I spent with Yaiba the more I began to dislike it.

The game begins with a duel between old series playable character, Ryu Hayabusa and Ninja Gaiden Z’s protagonist: Yaiba Kamikaze.  Ryu kills Yaiba in the opening cutscene, but Yaiba is rebuilt stronger, faster, and with more vengeance in his now robotic heart.  Also, there are zombies. The “story” has never been the focus of any Ninja Gaiden title, and Yaiba does not attempt to break the mold in this regard.  The outbreak is barely touched on and the drive of the plot is that Yaiba wants to kill Ryu.  The writing is overall quite poor.  The game also misses with what are attempts at being charming and amusing and ends up coming across as simply crude and not funny.  Yaiba, however, is pun-tastic.  The first several sections are humorously titled, but the humor quickly fades and the overall feel of the game becomes grating.

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Audio/Visual

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z presents most of its cutscenes in still comic book panels much like Sucker Punch’s inFamous.  The gameplay itself resembles a comic book as well with its cell-shaded graphics.  Most of the time, Yaiba looks pretty good, but at times the graphics blur, overlap, and appear muddy.  The chaos of many of the combat scenarios will often obscure visibility (sometimes intentionally) and keeping track of Yaiba is too often a chore.  Fire and water look cool at least.  The game can look good, but it can also look equally as bad at times too.  The soundtrack largely consists of grungy, dirty synth music that complements the game surprisingly well.

Gameplay

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is fairly standard third-person character action game.  It has three-button combat that does not evolve over the course of the game.  There is a weak, quick attack, a strong, slow attack, and a sweeping crowd control attack.  Players may experiment in some fun ways with these three moves producing some impressive combos, but there are two upgrades that add combos to the list.  Speaking of upgrading, the upgrade system in Yaiba presents the players with numerous options at first.  One may choose to add nine new combos right away, or perhaps make enemy drop weapons last longer, or even make quick-time events easier.  The list of upgrades in Yaiba is surprisingly varied.  Dodge is “A” on 360, “X” on PS3, and there is no jump.  Despite not having a jump button, Yaiba is full of God of War II platforming sections where the player flies through the air pressing the correct prompt in order to progress.  These sections could prove intensely frustrating and whoever thought the steam platform sections were “fun” or worthwhile should have the stake removed from their head like Phineas Gage.

Enemy variety is a little low.

Enemy variety is a little low.

Along with the action and platforming sections, Yaiba includes some puzzles for good measure.  The puzzles are elementally based and typically only require the player to grab a zombie and throw it somewhere.  The three elements at play are acid, fire, and lightning or electric.  These three types also find their way into combat resulting in some interesting encounters.  Using one enemy to set another on fire is a great idea, but in practice the ranged enemies were scarily accurate and it proved exceptionally challenging to use enemies against one another.

Now is probably the time to say it: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is really hard.  For a reference, I died 38 times in chapter 5 alone playing on the normal difficulty setting.  Yaiba struggles to find balance.  Slicing through easy zombies is fun, but hardly testing, and when a stronger enemy appears (usually in groups) the result is an immediate sense of dread.  All of the mini-boss enemies can kill Yaiba extremely quickly and take an immense amount of damage before falling.  If the player is fortunate enough to perform an execution on a larger enemy he or she will be rewarded with a small amount of health and a weapon specific to that enemy.  These weapons gained from enemies are temporary and are Yaiba’s only defense when there are hoards of the demanding enemies.  There is no magic.  There are no health regenerative items.  This is a major departure from past Ninja Gaiden games.  There is also no save management, just really long levels in between checkpoints.  The lack of checkpoints proves particularly annoying during the final boss encounter.  Bosses are few in variety, but plentiful in numbers.  After a boss is defeated, expect to see it again and again.  Maybe two or three of it will show up, or maybe both bosses will show up at the same time, or two of one and one of the other.  It is no surprise that Yaiba gets intensely challenging when all it does is see how many combinations of enemies can be thrown at the player at any given time.

Platforming can be annoying, but at least it can look cool.

Platforming can be annoying, but at least it can look cool.

Then, there is the camera.  I am typically forgiving of poor cameras in games.  Super Mario 64 is near perfection and I did not notice a “poor” camera. Epic Mickey’s camera was not as bad as many would say.  Yaiba’s camera consistently impacted gameplay and resulted in my death far too often.  I would go as far to say that Yaiba has the worst camera I have ever experienced in a video game.

The Recommendation

I am going to take this opportunity to rapid fire the remaining complaints I had with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.  You cannot put an “earthquake” (area of effect) attacks in an action without a jump command. Most cutscenes in the game are skippable, but some are not, making those sections frustrating after dying over and over while being taunted with the same lame scene repeatedly.  There is no “lock-in” feature, so throwing enemy zombies at one another is nearly pointless. There is nothing new after chapter 5 (7 in the game in total) aside from the final boss.  No new enemies, no new items, no new weapons.  Just the same enemies over and over again, and chapter 6 is the longest by the way.  The biggest problem with Ninja Gaiden Z is its runtime.  I completed the game in barely over five hours.  This, of course, is a little ridiculous for a $60 game.  As far as replayability goes, there are additional difficulty settings, but I was already gritting my teeth on normal.  There are some good things going on in Yaiba, but the more challenging the game becomes the more weaknesses, limitations, and seams of the combat begin to surface.  If you like action games similar to Ninja Gaiden then maybe give this one a shot when it comes down in price.  The first half of the game is good, but Yaiba runs out of ideas too quickly and falls apart by the end.

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Score:

5.5 out of 10   

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