After previewing and now reviewing Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, I have come to the conclusion that this a game I would play in between games – it’s like watching an episode of the Simpsons in between Game of Thrones and a Scorsese marathon.
It’s not a game that requires me to think, nor does it require me be invested in its story or its characters; I can just jump in and zone out. The game’s great when you’ve had a long week at work and just want to kill shit for an hour or so, but from a longevity standpoint, it won’t be long before the audience is left wanting more and goes back to incest, tits and dragons.
Enter stage right, Yaiba Kamikaze, a drunken meathead with serious anger management issues. Yaiba wastes no time in showing us just how reckless he is by signing his own death wish by challenging series veteran Ryu Hayabusa.
Yaiba ultimately meets his end after losing his cut scene confrontation with Ryu and in the process, his arm is blown to smithereens. Now if at this point, the game were to exit stage left, I would have been happy – Yaiba deserved to die for punching above his weight. But alas, some mysterious organisation saves Yaiba from his fate, replaces his missing limbs with machines, tasks him to kill Ryu and sends him to Russia where there’s a massive zombie outbreak…why zombies? Beats me.
Yaiba’s journey is a very linear path split up into 7 tedious levels which all risk player engagement by eliminating the fear of failure. To explain, whilst navigating through a heap of God of War-like set pieces, there’s only ever one way to complete it, meaning Yaiba will never attach to the wrong hook with his chain flail or run along the wrong wall. The game tries to intensify the excitement of aerial traversal by increasing the speed and height Yaiba travels, however, as there isn’t many wrong moves you can make, it all becomes one big quick time event.
On the ground, the level design shares the same linear fate. I could easily travel across half a chapter simply by running straight (passing enemies who are too slow to hit me) and would only be halted because a boss battle prevented me from progressing.
Combat in Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is based around 3 main move sets – A chain flail attack which favours both range and speed, his fists which lend to close quarter combat and a sword which sits in the middle of the two. The issue here is not in the moves themselves, it’s that combat requires little to no skill throughout the course of the game. Gone were the classic Ninja Gaiden days where counters were plentiful and attacks were calculated, I just button mashed until the blisters appeared and unleashed a can of whoop ass every time.
The only time I really benefitted from these moves is when I used combinations (which can be plentiful at times) – however they are hidden too far in the menu that it’s a chore just to find them let alone learn them all. Most of the time, I would just fluke a massive combo by, you guessed it: button mashing.
The Ninja Gaiden series is known for its challenging gameplay, however at times Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is just unfair. Now I’m all for difficulty in games however unexpected and substantial difficulty spikes often caught me by surprise – out of nowhere, I would encounter a heavy that would wipe out all my health in 2 hits and before I knew it, I was changing the difficulty setting to easy just to save my controller from sharing the same fate as Yaiba’s arm.
Now it’s reasonable to assume that because I spent so much time button mashing, it’s quite possible that I found it more difficult to adapt to a change in gameplay difficulty. Let me go on the record and state that this was never the case simply because all these spikes in difficulty did was add another button to my mash-list – needless to say, I was quick darting around for minutes on end just so I could get a hit in every once in a while.
Finally, the games saving grace: Cell shaded visuals rich with colour and animation. This arcade-style feel sports some striking blood splatters all over the screen and an impressive HUD packed with power ups and combo counters. All these great additions worked in unison whilst never getting in the way of my main focal points; and a packed screen full of enemies never hindered this, it allowed the whole display come to life – It truly felt like an arcade game. This was also partnered with some humorous moments that will probably gain a chuckle here and there, but unfortunately suffer from getting old fairly quickly.
The most frustrating aspect about this game however, is the locked camera. How does it make any sense to unleash bucket loads of enemies left, right and centre and not allow me to have a good look around? Being a gamer that likes to have a 360 degree level of freedom, I found it so frustratingly annoying knowing that at least 50% of my deaths were a direct result of this locked camera scheme.
To explain, the camera has a mind of it’s own. It automatically adjusts to what it believed to be my best view but more often than not, it either panned out too far or zoomed in too close. Either way, it usually ended up with Yaiba getting his arse handed to him by an invisible heavy from the side of the screen.