Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z’s unique selling point is simple: 1. Create a game that respects the Ninja Gaiden franchise and in turn retain the existing audience and 2. Create something fresh and innovative that newcomers can jump straight into and enjoy. At first glance, we can tell that a great deal of effort has been put into the latter with the introduction of cell shading design alongside a comedic flare, however as we journey deeper into Yaiba’s world (and increase the difficulty level) we are constantly reminded that this is, as far-fetched as it may seem, still a Ninja Gaiden game.
We start our preview off with a cut scene: Two ninjas are face to face, the familiar Ryu Hayabusa and our main protagonist Yaiba (who’s a bit of a drunken A-hole). After some banter, F-Bombs and a bit of good ol’ hack and slash, Yaiba loses in his confrontation with his nemesis and get’s his arm blown to shreds.
This is where our gameplay journey begins: Yaiba has been brought back to life by a mysterious organisation, which have reproduced his missing limbs with mechanical counterparts. Yaiba is out to extract revenge on Hayabusa, and with the PS3 controller now firmly in my hand, I’m ready to let him have it.
Yaiba’s control set is simplistically solid, nothing too complicated but diverse enough to attract all audiences. During combat, Yaiba has an arsenal of weapons and melee attacks to choose from including his sword for close/medium range combat, his fists for getting up close and personal and his chain for long range attacks to multiple targets. Yaiba’ss combat feels smooth and responsive and using a combination of these attacks is when the player will benefit most from high combo counts and an overall feeling of ‘bad-assery’.
Yaiba is also able to quick dash around during combat which helps immensely when dodging attacks however when on the edge of a ledge or next to a wall, the same button can be used to also traverse the world by initiating jumps or a wall run. In all honesty, after about 5 minutes of gameplay, the game was beginning to feel a lot like Prince of Persia and God of War rather than a new, innovative title. The control set is not broken by any means however it’s simply feels like it’s all been done before and quite frankly, executed better in years past.
The unique cell shading design took a while for me to get used to – the blood was plenty and the aura very comic-esque. After a little while though, the graphics did grow on me yet I longed for the detail and ‘wow’ factor seen in games like The Last of Us – that’s more my style, but most people I believe, will welcome this design feature. The HUD is packed with arcade-style point/combo systems and health bars however never getting in the way of our main focal points.
At times, I felt like I should have had an arcade style D-Pad sitting in front of me and any time during my preview I would be asked to insert more coins – this was a welcome feature. The screen shakes uncontrollably when an explosion is near (which did get quite annoying) and the frame rate suffered dramatically when my screen was full of enemies (which was often) although I was assured though that the preview I played was a 6 week old build and that this problem was being addressed – fingers crossed that’s the case.
Yaiba’s camera scheme is both unique and irritating. Bearing in mind that I am the type of gamer that likes to look around my surroundings 360 degrees, I was very disappointed when I realised that the player has little to no camera control whatsoever. If the game could talk it would essentially be saying, “Trust me, go where I tell you, focus on your enemies and I’ll take care of the rest” – some players might love this feature but it’s not something I value. The camera automatically moves to where you need to be and shows you only what you need to see, it allows a slight look further to the left and right of Yaiba but that’s about it.
For experimental purposes, I sprinted in a straight line and slightly turned to the left or right when the camera prompted me to – my result was not only traversing half the chapter, I also ran past a host of zombie enemies who were to slow to swipe at me as I screamed past them. The only reason I stopped was because the game needed me to, as I couldn’t continue my journey without completing a boss battle. For crying out loud, this is a Ninja Gaiden game, the last thing fans want is to have their hand held throughout their entire journey.
During our journey, the enemies progressively get harder as you progress through the game and in turn, heavies get introduced which will block one attack but are vulnerable to another. Heavies also drop weapons that can be picked up and used by Yaiba (some of these weapons are very familiar to God of War’s Chains of Olympus and Head of Medusa). The enemies themselves are quite predictable and can usually be dispatched fairly quickly once you are familiar with the different types (after an hour of playing, I was told that I had encountered most types of enemies, which is concerning considering standard campaign length).
In one specific instance, a helicopter shooting projectiles and 50 low level enemies were quickly depleting my health at ground level, so I quickly climbed up to a platform to avoid them and focus on the helicopter. Whether the preview build hadn’t addressed this issue yet or this area of the chapter didn’t trigger any enemy AI movement, all 50 enemies stood still and didn’t move an inch whilst I worked on dispatching the helicopter from the elevated position. After the helicopter was dispatched, I returned to the battlefield where my enemies all of a sudden sprang back to life as soon as I hit the floor.
Blood lust is Yaiba’s version of the ‘Ultimate Technique’ mode often seen in previous Ninja Gaiden titles and it activates when you have filled your meter by executing combos and finishing enemies. Blood lust is a cool feature however does not introduce any new moves, it just makes Yaiba quicker, more powerful and allows him to obliterate a number of enemies in a very short space of time…which still makes you feel like a boss but often leaves you wondering why special moves weren’t introduced for a feature that is (form what I’m told) one of the games main appeals. Combos are plentiful, as you would normally expect to see in any hack and slash game, but can be at times, easy to accomplish.
For example, I managed to achieve a combo of 160 hits simply by mashing the circle button (chain attack) – in fairness to the game, the difficulty was on easy however there were times where I thought they were on hard. In one specific part in my preview, the PR rep had to come in and take the controller off me because he knew that I was stuck on a certain level. As he quickly dispatched my enemies and helped me move on to the next chapter, I learned that many previewers before me were stuck on that same part in the game and also needed assistance. This concerned me because I uncovered that this certain set piece was a common denominator between all previewers (regardless of the chosen difficulty). I then proceeded to ask that if most players were having trouble on this specific part, would this information be fed back to the big guns at the top? My response was: Probably not, considering the game needs to have its more challenging parts and this is one of them. My response: Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a difficulty setting?
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a good, solid experience displaying unique presentation features and an arcade-style feel. The innovation however stops there, as we begin to realise that the game draws heavy inspiration from games such as Prince Of Persia and God Of War. In this industry, re-inventing the wheel isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you decide to release a new wheel that’s actually been used before, it really doesn’t matter how big or flashy your chromies are.