After the disaster that was Ninja Gaiden 3, it was fairly safe to assume that Team Ninja’s revival of the NES franchise was finished. The main producer left the company after a dispute with the publisher, while the team seemingly couldn’t cope without him. Now palmed off to Spark Unlimited – the developers behind the amazingly average Lost Planet 3, it was decided that what the franchise needed was a spin-off focused on another Ninja and jam-packed full of zombies. Is Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z as phenomenally stupid as its concept sounds?
Yaiba is a foul-mouthed part cyborg ninja who has a bad grudge against Ninja Gaiden protagonist Ryu Hayabusa. His reason is that Hayabusa killed him, yet somehow he is being brought back to life by an employer who conveniently wants Hayabusa dead – all of this while the zombie apocalypse is happening. Frankly, it’s a ridiculous story with some awful clichéd dialogue, but at least it serves to move you from A to B.
If this were merely about slicing undead that had the same dull AI like most zombie games, then this would have been a write off. Thankfully it isn’t as simple as that because the undead come in a variety of flavours. Some are the shambling corpses we all know and love to slaughter, but then there are brutish thugs, electrified brides, fiery priests, noxious sirens, and, of course, clowns. Each one has their own dedicated introduction, as well as the bosses themselves, while the regular “stiffs” have their own moments to shine in comedic slapstick scenes. These serve as the highlight of the game, so it’s sad when the game has shown you every enemy available.
Out of Focus
One thing that certainly never helps is the dreadful fixed camera that seems to have a mind of its own, panning in and out at inopportune moments, that seems to constantly fight against you. Enemies can launch ranged attacks off screen meaning you get no warning, while the indication of an enemy attacking you is so discreet that you’ll have little chance to block/counter. On top of that, the collision detection is woeful at times, especially against larger foes.
Combat is fast-paced and relatively typical of the spectacle fighter genre that is populated by God of War and similar titles. Areas are usually broken up by context sensitive “platforming” sections that require little input. Hitting things with a combination of sword, flail and punching is enjoyable, though rarely requires much thought thanks to a few upgrades unlocked relatively early on that seem overpowered for the game.
That said, the game suffers badly from difficulty spikes as your only way of healing is by executing foes. This is a lot simpler when smaller zombies are on the battlefield, but if it is just the larger foes, things get tricky really quickly. Boss encounters, especially the inevitable fight against Ryu Hayabusa, are particularly taxing thanks to a lack of health pickups.
Enemies can harness the powers of fire, electricity and acid, which not only indicate what ailment Yaiba can potentially suffer, but also the sub-weapon he obtains upon QTE kills. Clowns and thugs wield high-damaging melee weapons, brides have the wonderfully named “Spinal Zap”, sirens hold “Hagpipes”, and priests the “Riga-Mortar”. What’s particularly interesting combat-wise is that elements of your weapon have a visual effect on opposing elements – for example mixing electricity with acid turns foes into crystals that can be shattered. This translates into the puzzle element as well, but it largely is a simple case of throwing zombies into points of interest.
Vibrant isn’t exactly how one describes the art style of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, but more like an assault on the eyes. However, its saving grace is that despite its polarising style choice it never chugs along, keeping a consistently fast frame rate as you plough through zombie after zombie. Zombies look distinct, making it easy to tell how you should be tackling the creatures in front of you. Despite this though, the music is horrible no matter how you splice it, bringing crunching beats that don’t fit well in any game genre.
Mercifully, it’s only a few levels long, with unlockables such as the “Ninja Gaiden Z” mode that puts the action into a 2D perspective while giving a retro vibe. Collectables which enhance the lore and your resistances to elements among others are hidden throughout, but the game is beatable without actively hunting them. You can of course fight each section for ranks, but this seems like a fruitless exercise as the game doesn’t reward you for expert fighting skills beyond bragging rights.
While Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z can never be described as the revival of the dwindling franchise, it is at least a palatable game. Difficulty spikes and the infernal camera truly hold it back from being an enjoyable game despite some great combat and interesting dynamic between enemies. Everything else is forgettable however in this relatively short romp that is far from Sensei status, but has its moments of gory bliss.