"I’m not trying to gloss over the game’s issues (and believe me, there are tons of them) but the unfavorable tongue-lashing seems unjustified."
Only four days since its release and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is getting critically panned across all major aggregate sites. Some critics even describe it as one of the worst games of the last generation. I’m not exactly sure I understand or agree with those claims. Sure, the franchise has veered from its roots and Ninja Gaiden Z isn’t nearly as exciting or polished as its predecessors, but it’s still enjoyable for anyone who’s in the mood for fast-paced and challenging ninja action. I’m not trying to gloss over the game’s issues (and believe me, there are tons of them) but the unfavorable tongue-lashing seems unjustified. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a spin-off. It’s not meant to deepen Ryu Hayabusa’s core narrative; instead it takes a more obscure, almost satirical, approach that plays out like a combination of Suda 51’s impish imagination and Mortal Kombat. Yaiba is not a great game, nor is it a disastrous one. It may not be the gem that many fans hoped for, but it’s certainly not the catastrophe everyone is making it out to be.
Ninja Gaiden Z begins with a spectacular dual between Yaiba Kamikaze and Ryu Hayabusa. Yaiba’s arrogance leads to a quick defeat as he loses his left arm and eye to Ryu’s blade. Yaiba’s wounded body is soon discovered by a mysterious organization that restores the injured parts with mechanical upgrades. Meanwhile, a zombie outbreak has spread across the city and Yaiba learns that Ryu is searching for the infection source. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to seek revenge, Yaiba decides to help the organization put a stop to the zombie outbreak.
"At times, the cheesy one-liners, over-saturated color palette and juvenile humor make Yaiba feel like the eighties Heavy Metal cartoon, other times it’s just plain annoying."
Yaiba is an unlikable, villainous jackass. It’s hard to root for a guy who’s responsible for the massacre of his own clan, especially after playing the sympathetic Ryu in past entries. But in a way, the vulgarity and turpitude combined with the over-the-top presentation works — sometimes. At times, the cheesy one-liners, over-saturated color palette and juvenile humor make Yaiba feel like the eighties Heavy Metal cartoon, other times it’s just plain annoying. The stylistically conflicted writing is odd, juggling between nostalgic coolness and contemporary douchery. The end result carries a disjointed tone, one that leans more towards discontent rather than joy.
Poor writing and dull narrative aside, it ultimately comes down to the action. While nowhere as finely crafted as earlier Ninja Gaiden offerings, Yaiba still provides an explosive spectacle of flashy choreography and twitchy combat. Flawless reflexes are key to overcoming zombie hordes, but the core hack n’ slash combat is slightly streamlined in line with Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series. As a result, the fighting is less technical and more reliant on button mashing, but it doesn’t mean it’s easier. Inability to dodge and counter attack drains your HP gauge in seconds, which can be particularly challenging during boss fights. Ninja Gaiden veterans may not be happy with this direction (as many have expressed with Razor’s Edge gameplay changes), but it’s still possible to have a lot of fun if expectations are lowered.
"Even with all these problems, there was something riveting about Yaiba and I can’t deny the sporadic moments of pure bliss and unadulterated chaos."
The combat simplification also brings several unwelcoming quirks. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z requires quick reflexes but the counter command isn’t as responsive as it should be. This leads to frustrating deaths when surrounded by enemies. Adding to the frustration is the spread out checkpoint system. It’s easy to go through several waves of enemies and get killed, just to be placed back at the very beginning of the last save. Furthermore, the challenge feels unbalanced with increased difficulty being disguised by absurdly large enemy HP bars instead of more complex AI behavior. Even with all these problems, there was something riveting about Yaiba and I can’t deny the sporadic moments of pure bliss and unadulterated chaos.
"It’s an unpolished title for sure, but it’s far more entertaining than it has any right to be."
Visually, Yaiba hurdles between stylish comic-book style aesthetics and laziness. In certain areas the cel shading resembles Killer is Dead and the fantastic Borderlands 2; in others it looks like the developers ran out of time. It’s distracting when a climactic moment is disrupted by ugly textures that failed to load or horrendous clipping and pop ups. It may be the graphically least impressive Ninja Gaiden entry to date, but it’s far from being the worst looking game on the system.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z’s problems rear their ugly head around every corner. It’s an unpolished title for sure, but it’s far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It can’t be compared to other Ninja Gaiden entries, nor should it be placed in the same category. It’s understandable if longtime franchise fans walk away pissed off and disappointed, but if played in small bursts just for its silly fast-paced action, Yaiba is definitely worth picking up once it hits the bargain bin.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 3