Review: Yaiba – Ninja Gaiden Z – crappy slashy

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Yaiba-Ninja-Gaiden-Z-Miss-mondayExcited to get my hacky-slashy on again, I jumped into the first few hours of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z when a familiar feeling arose. Rage. Intense, cheap gameplay, unbalanced enemy fuelled rage. I’d experienced it before and hoped it would subside. It didn’t. Screw you, Yaiba.

Take that!

Take that!

This was the third time I’d played through the opening hours with the hope that some cheap gameplay tactics had evolved, been modified or even gotten dialled down a touch. That hadn’t and it left a bad taste in my mouth that my love of the franchise just couldn’t rinse away. Now let me back up a second and explain.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z marks a new starting point for this tough as nails franchise. The previous demon-riddled, excruciatingly hard exploits of ultimate bad-arse ninja warrior Ryu Hayabusa have been tossed aside after the debacle known as Ninja Gaiden 3 nearly sunk the series forever.

Cue reboot.

Death comes all too swiftly to cannon-fodder zombies

Death comes all too swiftly to cannon-fodder zombies

Meet Yaiba Kamikaze, the new protagonist out for revenge against Hayabusa. Somehow this involves battling a zombie outbreak in Russia. It really doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it really doesn’t have to. All developers needed to supply was a reason to kill thousands of enemies in an outlandishly stylish manner, and Team Ninja did. The problem isn’t in the idea, but in the execution, and I’m not talking about what’s depicted in the screenshot above.

The development team tick all the right boxes for most of the gameplay. Yaiba has a butt-load of combinations to take zombies apart, and once he’s cleft them in twain he can even use the liberated body parts as nunchaku and other improvised temporary weapons. He sports a katana, a chain to keep the hordes at bay and a rocket-powered cybernetic arm to pound them into mincemeat. You can even add elemental damage to your attacks to mix up each skirmish. All looking good so far.

Flash, ahh haa, saviour of the universe!

Flash, ahh haa, saviour of the universe!

Looking even better are the cel-shaded graphics. There’s been a lot of bitching about the new art style, but I love it. The lighter tone, brimming with tongue in cheek humour, is a fantastic change of pace for the series as well. So if it’s all positives so far why the big screw you, you might be asking? Two major problems destroyed everything else around it and my entire enjoyment of Yaiba came crashing down like a house of cards.

The first is the imprecise block. Now I loves me some mindless action against hundreds of enemies, but when certain types require you to perfect block, such as rocket firing choppers who can only be taken out by their own ordinance, and the block don’t work, you’re gonna have a bad time. I remember it well from my two previous playtests and for those of you thinking “hey Dave, maybe you should be less shit at games”, my cohort Josh ‘I eat hard games for breakfast’ Philpott also got caught in the cheap block zone.

Not shown, hair-ripping frustration

Not shown, hair-ripping frustration

The second problem arose with the unbalanced enemy types. You’ll easily wade through hundreds of zombies at a time before the action-packed brakes screech to a halt when you hit one of the numerous mini-bosses. Where you’re carving a path through every and anything, these guys just shrug it off and laugh. The balance was sorely out of whack. An occasional difficultly spike is fine, but this level of constant inconsistency just shows shoddy, lazy development. It also makes you rage like nothing else.

I punctuated this recent (and final) session with a “fuck you and fuck this” and stepped away from the console ejecting the disc for the last time. I don’t have a problem with titles which are tough or even extremely challenging, just make it fair. Every time I failed a block, when I know I timed it perfectly, or one solitary enemy took me down with two hits under bullshit conditions it reminded me of the previous code I’d played of Yaiba months ago. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. This combination of a broken mechanic and unbalanced gameplay destroyed the entire experience.

I wanted to play the crap out of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. It was going to be my treat game to myself, but instead it brought up a whole lot of bad feelings and anger. Anger that I should of known better. Anger that I hoped against hope. Anger that I couldn’t play the game I wanted to. Anger soon turned to disappointment and vented itself through this therapeutic review. It’s a god-damned shame Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z turned out the way it did. I had high hopes and dreams for it, but that’s all they’ll remain, mere figments of my subconscious and I’ll take that over the reality any day.

4/10

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.