Review: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (Sony PlayStation 3)

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Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Genre: Action
Release Date: 03/18/2014

It seems there is no franchise out there that can avoid the winds of change. Eventually, someone will decide that the status quo just isn’t getting it done anymore. While some changes turn out to be great (Mortal Kombat 9), others can be disastrous (Lords of Shadow). Sadly, this latest Ninja Gaiden game falls into the latter category.

Unlike previous games in the franchise, this one doesn’t star Ryu Hayabusa. He’s in here, but actually as the primary antagonist. Instead, you’ll play as Yaiba. Yaiba is a foul mouthed ninja slayer who starts the game off by trying to take out Hayabusa. It doesn’t end well, and Yaiba is quickly killed off. Of course, this is video game land, so Yaiba is resurrected by a seedy Latin businessman who wants to use Yaiba to stop Ryu from stopping a zombie outbreak in Russia. Yep. So it’s cyborg ninjas versus zombies, because apparently there was no other place for this series to go.

yaiba1Instead of being an interesting anti-hero, Yaiba is a cheap clone of Deadpool who was clearly written by people who don’t understand what makes Deadpool interesting. Yaiba swears, makes ridiculously bad sex jokes, and ignores any sort of plot in favor of statements about how he’s going to murder everyone. It tries to be funny, but there’s nothing to like here at all. Chasing down Ryu could have been interesting, but story progression and character development are completely ignored. Yaiba is nothing more than a child with ADD. The jokes are things that might be considered too risque for Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust. It’s a complete mess.

Speaking of complete messes, let’s talk about the visuals. While the game attempts to use a cell-shading style to emulate high-end animation, it botches things on the technical side. Colors bleed into each other, to the point where you can’t tell where one enemy ends and another begins. The framerate can’t keep up with the action when dozens of zombies show up either, which is pretty damn terrible in a game where you’re supposed to react quickly. The textures are bland, the sets get repetitive, they didn’t even bother with palette swaps for the enemies, etc. Then there’s the camera, which can’t be controlled. It pans in and out of its own accord, jumps erratically, and sometimes just stubbornly stays put even when everything else is moving. This makes it damn near impossible to keep track of your character, which turns the proceedings into a twisted version of Where’s Waldo. I’ve seen better systems in early PSX games.

yaiba2Even Troy Baker can’t save this game. While the veteran voice actor does his best, he has a crappy script to work with, and his Ryu sounds out of place in a world with Yaiba. The voices really aren’t that terrible, though they are given absolutely nothing to work with. There is no range, so everything you here is either sleazy businessman with a bad accent or angry gravelly jackass. It gets old. The music is the most generic techno-rock I’ve heard in ages, which is an accomplishment in its own right. Then there’s the sound effects, which drop in and out at random, sound tinny at best, and get old almost immediately. Most annoying, the conversations during battle are running like they’re being played rather than happening in real time. The conversations even continue after you’ve died, which is odd to say the least. The whole thing just feels slapped together without thought for consistency and quality.

So. How do you turn a legendary action game into a generic piece of crap? It turns out it isn’t that hard. Instead of timing and quick reflexes, all you need to do is mash a couple of combos. Instead of tight platforming, you play a series of quick time events. Instead of a carefully thought out difficulty curve, you just throw a bunch of bad guys at the player and see what happens. What results is, without hyperbole, one of the worst games I’ve played in years.

Yaiba has three different attacks that differ in both speed, range, and damage. The swords are fast melee weapons that deal a medium amount of damage. They’re great for when you’ve only got a few opponents on screen. Yaiba’s cybernetic punch is slow, but has some tracking ability and does a heck of a lot of damage. Then there’s the flail. While it attacks a long distance and in a big arc, it does almost no damage and many enemies can ignore it. Beyond that, Yaiba can dash short distances, block, grab weak enemies, and use the now obligatory super vision that allows him to detect structural weaknesses.

yaiba3Combat is entirely simple. Zombies come at you. You kill them. Grappling them can be amusing at first, but you’re left open to attack and your other weapons are more useful for dealing damage. When enemies take enough damage, you can perform an execution. You can chain these together until you’re out of enemies to finish off. Performing executions are extremely helpful, as enemies drop health and/or extra weapons when they’re finished off. However, stronger enemies require you to mash buttons like a moron to finish them off, and the animations get extremely old. It’s also odd that when the game switches to the execution animation, the rest of the enemies disappear until you’re finished.

Where the game attempts to make things interesting is with elements. There are three elements in the game: fire, lighting, and acid. Each element has a basic zombie that uses them, and also a mid-boss character than uses them more effectively. Using an element against another can have interesting effects. For example, if you use the acid weapon you’ve picked up to hit the lighting zombie, said zombie will turn into a crystal you can smash with ease. This mechanic also comes into play with the puzzles. It may sound cool, but it doesn’t live up to the promise in practice. The puzzles are mindless, such that you simply grab a zombie and chuck it at a wall in order to move on. The battles are no better. You’re usually utterly surrounded, and it’s damn near impossible to focus on the enemy you’re trying to take down. At the end of the game, they stop trying and simply start handing you elemental weapons so you don’t have to do anything but shoot.

I’ve mentioned the camera already, but I should mention it again. I’m talking about gameplay now, and the camera is an essential part of that. Because the camera is such a mess, it makes playing the game damn near impossible. How can you figure which direction to dodge when you can’t even see your character? It simply isn’t possible. In order to block and/or parry attacks, you’re supposed to look for white flashes of light over an enemy’s head. Well, when the camera zooms way out and you’re surrounded by twenty zombies, it’s hard to pick out the one that’s trying to attack you. Those graphical problems also spring up here, as everything kind of blends together in a teeming mass. Again, this makes it impossible to tell what’s going on.

yaiba4The difficulty curve is another issue. The game simply stops trying to challenge the player and instead focuses on making each encounter as frustrating as possible. You’ll start fighting several mid-bosses at once, and they’re usually spaced apart just so that if you try to engage one, the others will bombard with with ranged attacks that deal tons of damage and cause negative status effects. The bigger enemies have enough health to withstand your best combos, get frames of invincibility mid-combo, and have unblockable attacks in spades. One on one, you can take them out without trouble. Two or three isn’t too much to ask for either. But ten? Ten of these bastards at once? That’s just lazy and cruel.

There is some value to be found in this game, provided you don’t hate yourself too much for playing it. You can replay any mission on any difficulty in order to boost your score, and there’s a second game mode that unlocks once you’ve beaten every level on the same difficulty. That mode is even more of a pain in the ass, but I’m sure some people out there will like it. It still feels more like a twenty dollar downloadable title rather than a slightly discounted retail game, but at least it doesn’t just slap together a five hour story and call it a day. There. I said something positive about it.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150Yaiba is a terrible character that somehow stars in an even more terrible game. I almost wonder if this game wasn’t meant to troll fans of the franchise. It’ll certainly put things in perspective. I’m sure we’ll hear “Well at least it isn’t as bad as Ninja Gaiden Z” plenty in the future. The game is a complete mess. The story is bland and offensive, the graphics negatively affect the gameplay, the audio is generic at best, and the gameplay is a hodgepodge of the very worst the genre can offer. I highly recommend you avoid this like the plague.

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