Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
(PS3, Xbox 360)
Tecmo’s “Ninja Gaiden” franchise is one of the rare names from the 8-bit heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System which still commands a measure of respect not attached to feelings of childhood nostalgia.
Four words that could describe Team Ninja’s latest game release, “Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z,” — Boring. Tedious. Repetitive. Slog. — Submitted image
It was an utterly fantastic series of action side-scrollers for the NES, re-invented back in 2004 as one the most celebrated action titles of the sixth console generation, and a must-own title for the original Xbox.
This was followed by a rock-solid, if derivative sequel that highly impressed both fans and critics. However, after the departure of the reinvented franchise’s driving force, director Tomonobu Itagaki, Ninja Gaiden has floundered.
“NG3” was an unmitigated disaster of a game, as well as the current record holder for my fastest trade-in at less than 12 hours.
Team Ninja’s latest attempt in the post-Itagaki era is a collaboration with Keiji Inafune’s Comcept Inc., “Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z,” a game that seeks to keep the series in the public eye while Tecmo-Koei decides what they want to do to restore one of their flagship brands to its former glory.
They would be advised to work fast and smart, as while “Yaiba” is not the gaming malignancy that “NG3” was, it is an inferior cut to just about everything else that came before it.
Boring. Tedious. Repetitive. Slog.
All of these words could appear within an accurate one-sentence description of “Yaiba.”
It’s a dull button-masher that trades in the intricate combat and sharp difficulty curve of its predecessors in favour of something more akin to a bag of doorknobs.
Players are bludgeoned with a blunt approach to every aspect of the game.
Combat requires none of the precision of earlier titles. Who needs reflexes and combos designed to target specific areas on specific enemies to exploit their weaknesses when, instead, we can just chainsaw through hordes of mindless zombies by slapping our thumb down on one button continuously, and mixing in an occasional dodge every now and again?
For the most part, enemies don’t put up any struggle, unless they show up in large numbers with varying types or are boss monsters, in which case the eponymous title character is suddenly rendered impotent in the damage dealing and taking departments.
There’s an alarming lack of impact to the strikes, making the game feel like we are spreading butter as opposed to slicing and dicing zombies.
Boss encounters absorb ludicrous amounts of ninja sword, only losing tiny slivers of their life bar with each slash, but can KO Yaiba with one or two hits.
Now, I am all for a challenge, but the disparity between regular enemies and these monstrous foes makes one a brainless slog, and the other an infuriating chore.
There exists a single cool idea amidst the throngs of undead shambling corpses that is this game’s action — elemental weapons which have to be forcefully removed from the possession of weakened foes.
Implemented correctly, this could have been loads of fun, but with area-effect attacks and psychedelic colours detonating in every direction — and the camera pulled back to an Ant-Farm perspective — by the time they become a prevalent part of the game, everything has degenerated into a Technicolor hot mess.
It’s far too taxing to try and make use of these powers, far too tempting to fall into a routine of just mashing attacks until the screen clears, and far too mediocre an experience to waste even an afternoon playing.
Even playing as Yaiba is a chore. He is an absolute mess of a character — the kind of Ninja we would have dreamed up in the mid 1990s.
He’s an obnoxious, leering troglodyte, meant to be the same sort of grindhouse douche that would star in a Suda 51 game, but even less likable.
The story is a dishevelled patchwork of genital humour, schoolyard-bully dialogue, and just enough cameo appearances by series regular Ryu Hayabusa to qualify having the name “Ninja Gaiden” on the box.
There were boasts online when this game was announced that Keiji Inafune would be directly involved with the development.
If this is truly the case, it would seem that one of the best and brightest of the old guard has lost a step.
The sort of product that a publisher would shovel out onto the online market to make a quick buck in between major releases, “Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z” is a creative misstep in the legacy of one of gaming’s finest action franchises.
Not so bad as to be offensive — which was the case with its immediate predecessor from Team Ninja (NG3 was completely busted) — “Yaiba’s” two biggest letdowns are its muddled, boring combat and inexplicable shift in tone towards foul-mouthed absurdity.
It is definitely not the sort of game that can justify its outrageous $70 price tag.
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (360 version played)
Developer: Team Ninja, Comcept, Spark Unlimited
Release Date: March 18
Rated: M for Mature.
Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué