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Review: Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z shows no self-respect

By David Houghton on Tuesday 18th Mar 2014 at 2:00 PM UTC

Yaiba, the highly dubious protagonist of this highly atrocious spin-off from the main Ninja Gaiden series, seems to think that he's really cool. He sees himself as an edgy, rough-hewn, badboy charmer; the kind of guy who's as gruff and no-nonsense as he is sharp-tongued and charismatic. He seems to think that he's a big hit with the ladies. He seems to think that he's cyborg-ninja Han Solo. In truth, he is none of those things.

Instead, he comes across more like that embarrassing guy in the pub, the one who's blind drunk by seven o' clock every Friday, and who, in lieu of any wit or personality, spends the whole night making lame, lewd comments to every woman who approaches the bar, before ultimately being thrown out and going home alone. Again. And probably being sick a lot.

Between his total lack of self-awareness and his utter distain for the regular series' smarter, more capable hero Ryu Hyabusa - Ryu killed him two weeks ago, and now the technologically resurrected Yaiba is out for revenge - he's a perfect analogue for the awfulness of the game that bears his name.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z thinks that it's a funny, edgy, punk-ass alternative take on the main Ninja Gaiden series. It sees itself as a ballsy, brash, subversive spin on the 3D brawler; a cel-shaded, Technicolor kick to reinvigorate one of the most hardcore fighting series around. But in truth, is none of those things.

Instead, it's a scrappy, thrown-together, flat-out broken collection of mistakes and misfires that doesn't even seem to understand, let alone respect, what makes Ninja Gaiden work.

It's a combat game without a combat system. Yaiba's three-tiered weapon set (fast, short-range sword, meaty, slow punches, and rangy-but-weak flail) initially seems to promise some depth, but once you apply the game's almost-instantly unlocked combo roster (all of which amount to variations on the same, broad, area-wide effect), any hope of finesse or meaningful fighting choices evaporates.

"You'll suspect something's up straight away when same cutscene plays twice after you hit start"

Fortunately, your enemies don't demand any. Fighting through a zombie apocalypse, most of Yaiba's opposition is there to simply fill out the numbers and get killed fast. Dash into a mob, mash some buttons, watch things die, dash back out. That's as far as it goes.

'Special' zombies mix things up, but barely, bringing different methods of attack but all going down by way of more of the same mashing and dashing.

Zoom

Instead of combat depth, Yaiba's challenge comes from the process of actually trying to play the damn thing. It's a common and fair critical defence that no-one ever actively tries to make a bad game, but so much of Yaiba is so wrong of concept and so perfectly broken of execution that it almost feels like a wilful attempt to add the wrong kind of difficulty to a mindlessly simple gameplay model. It's pure anti-game.

You'll suspect something's up straight away when same cutscene plays twice after you hit start. Then you'll notice that the camera seems dedicated to obscuring the 'action', either hanging over Yaiba's shoulder or pulling back to near-orbital distance, immediately losing him in the mob. Then comes the enemies standing in the foreground and thus obscuring everything. Then, when you're in trouble, various filters smother the screen. Then, when close to death, the display turns black and white.

Then you'll notice how often the simplistic, glorified QTE platforming sections manage to collapse, despite their thoroughly directed nature, as the camera fails to show the next grapple point. After that, you'll probably notice how characters, including Yaiba, tend to slide around and teleport when their scripting breaks.

And then, if you're lucky, you'll have the enemy AI and Yaiba's combat controls simultaneously disable during a fight, plunging you into a videogame limbo from which there is no escape. And then you'll find out that the checkpoint restart system actually restarts the whole level, knocking you back an hour. And then you'll probably give up, because making up the lost time just is not worth it.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z does not respect its franchise, its genre, or you. And it certainly doesn't seem to respect itself. At no point, in fact, does it even appear to care if anyone likes it. But that's just fine, because at no point will you.

The verdict

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is an unforgivably sloppy game. One that, even if it wasn't broken, would still be poor.

  • Cel-shaded visuals ocassionally impress
  • A frustrating, buggy mess
  • Meaningless, repetitive fighitng
  • Camera pathologically intent on obscuring your view
  • Horrifyingly misogynistic
3
Format
PlayStation 3
Developer
Tecmo
Publisher
Tecmo
Genre
Action