Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review (PlayStation 3)
Zombie. Ninja. Cyborg. When coming up with the concept for Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, it seems like the development team over at Tecmo Koei were just reaching for whatever pop culture trends they could find and merged them together to create their new hack and slash. This spin-off of the unforgiving, but rewarding, Ninja Gaiden series features a new hero, new look, and drastically different gameplay, but it forgot to include the one thing the previous Ninja Gaiden games had— fun.
In Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, you play as Yaiba, a ninja with a heart that burns with hatred towards Ryu Hayabusa, Ninja Gaiden's traditional protagonist. Things begin promisingly enough with a cool cutscene featuring the two ninjas duking it out, and then Yaiba losing in a spray of blood and expletives. Once he comes back as the sort-of undead cyborg ninja, however, and you actually get to play, well, things take a turn for the worse. This hack-and-slash, stylish action game pits you against seemingly endless zombie hordes.
There are zombie clowns! Zombie brides! Regular old zombies! If you weren't worn out on walkers before this game, you certainly will be after playing. There are a decent number of enemy types to encounter throughout your adventure, but after a while they kind of blend together since they're mostly, at base, just zombie people. There are some boss fights here and there, but they're the worst kind of bosses you could face, with spastic attacks that do too much damage, boring patterns, and little reward. The first major boss battle, Wag the Dog, pits you against a canine-inspired machine that can kill you in two to four blows— a staggering difference from the countless enemy attacks you can survive outside of this fight.
Yaiba comes armed with a sword, a cyber-punch, and a flail, each of which seems like it might be suited to particular situations, but, ultimately, most enemies are so bland you can get away with mashing whichever button you want. You'll unlock perks by leveling up as you play, granting new abilities that don't really matter and combos that are virtually indistinguishable from your other combos. There's a counter system built in to allow players with precise timing to counter the blows of attacking enemies, but, since your attackers tend to pile on en masse, trying to watch for the indicators that you can counter is virtually impossible.
The camera somehow manages to be the worst of both worlds, as it's usually either too close or too far away from Yaiba. Sometimes you can only see a handful of the thirty enemies attacking you, and others you'll be zoomed out so far that you become indistinguishable from the hordes dogpiling you. There are the occasional puzzle-solving and platforming sections to break up the monotony of constant combat. The platforming, while inoffensive, is so automatic you're not really playing a game so much as hitting a precise sequence of buttons when the screen tells you to. The puzzle-solving sections don't involve puzzles so much as they involve puzzle. There's basically one puzzle- throw a nearby zombie into something- in the game, and yet you're asked to do this same thing over and over and over and over. It's infuriating.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z's cel-shaded look is certainly colorful, but it lends a lack of visual clarity to much of the game, meaning that you'll often have no idea what the hell is going on. The writing, too, manages to be sub-par with a story that's trite, jokes that are juvenile and generally unfunny, and a main character who so badly wishes he was Snake Plissken that he forgot to develop a personality of his own.
Everything Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden does, other games have come before it and done better. This title feels like it should be a twenty-dollar downloadable game, but Tecmo Koei asks what fans it has left to shell out a full sixty dollars for this heap. If you're looking for some stylish action, go play Devil May Cry 3 or 4 and send this undead cyborg back to the scrapyard.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z for the Playstation 3.