Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review (PC)

It's unfortunate but true, the Ninja Gaiden series has managed to decrease in quality over recent years. With 2012's Ninja Gaiden 3 gaining a somewhat lukewarm reception, the dark action series could certainly use some advancement to move forward and compete with all the shiny new action games gracing us now. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z aims to provide this advancement. With a completely new style, this could even be the game to put the crown back on the series and mark it once again the king of action titles. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z however does not do this. In fact it may even turn the series back in the other direction, and tarnish the good will it had up to now.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a desperate game. Changing things up and going in radical new directions is a great idea for any franchise, making it very nice to see that Yaiba at least does try to do that. This spin-off has effectively abandoned the brooding story of the previous games, and replaced it with a wacky comedic edge that is bound to infuriate any new players. This is because Yaiba does such a poor job at anything resembling comedy. The mess of a story that it contains is mostly an avenue for jokes, and boy do they not work. Everything is so forced and 'zany'. If you name any overused internet cliche- it's in here. Zombies? Check. Robot-Ninjas? Check. 'Spooky' evil clowns? Check. Everything that could come off as cute or funny is instantly drowned out by these 'gags' as they just feel way too forced. There's no inherent joke with these elements either. The game just has them, and expects you to laugh at it because of that. It's clear Spark Unlimited wants you to like this games tone, but the only way in which is tries to make you do that, is to throw adolescent 'kooky' jokes at you which become tiring as soon as you play.

If you're not laughing hysterically at this screenshot then it's fair to say the full game will keep you stone faced

This adolescence continues into the full game where you'll find unfunny quips becoming the bane of your experience. This coupled with the gratuitous gore really cement Yaiba as an immature experience, which almost works for it until you realize that this is again painfully forced. The Ninja Gaiden games have always been known for horrific buckets of violence, and this is something I can always get behind in this type of action title. It almost reminds me of Madworld. That game too had ridiculous graphic violence- a trait that made it too hard to take seriously, and became legitimately comical as a result. Like a brutal Tom and Jerry cartoon, Madworld threw around violence stylishly and effectively. Yaiba tries amazingly hard to capture this over the top madness, with a comic book look of its own. However the color palette is a mess, which almost renders the style incomprehensible. It's hard to make out the violence when you're being assaulted with aggressive reds and inky outlines, making the over the top kills less effective as you can't actually see the graphic insanity apparently happening. In summery, Yaiba wants to be a comical ultraviolent adventure like Madworld or No More Heroes, but just doesn't use the right style to make it work.

In fact nothing really works that well in the game. Even the generic hack and slash gameplay that you've come to love just doesn't feel right. Enemies are irritating, and it seems that the only way the game uses them is to slow progression. You just walk from area, to area, beating up clumps of enemies with nearly no verity. You do occasionally get different combinations but they make almost no difference. The level design implemented seems to rely on creating vastly linear environments, and then just packing in groups of zombies for no rhyme or reason. There didn't seem to be a rhythm to the way Yaiba was was throwing obstacles at me, and as a result made an already monotonous fighting system even more dull.

Contrasting and inky, colour schemes like this make it very hard to focus

You can't blame Spark Unlimited for not trying to negate this though. Interspersed throughout levels are brief QTE segments, meant to emulate a swinging action and bring more to the gameplay. However as mentioned these are only QTE segments and contain nothing more involving than hitting the right button at the right time. So while swinging to different parts of a level may look fun, it doesn't really feel like you're actually doing anything. The idea of verity is in the game, but it's an illusion. A quick trick to make you think the game isn't as generic as it was designed. But even if you hadn't fallen for that basic level gag, Yaiba uses even more tricks to prevent you from feeling the games truly boring heart.

For example the game also features slight RPG elements that essentially do nothing. I didn't really feel that there was a need to use certain attributes over others, and there seemed to be no risk or reward in choosing any one thing. Even if they did I doubt it would matter anyway as all you're doing is slowly destroying waves of zombies in different locations. The RPG elements exist, but that's pretty much all they do. Just like the central gameplay- it means nothing.

The graphic ultraviolence is a great touch, but a ton of better games have gone far and beyond the gore this game offers

While the dull mechanics and boring level design don't make Yaiba a good game, it's truly the little things that really propel the experience into being one of great annoyance. For one, the loading screens are arduously long. I know loading screens are an essential and necessary evil for games, but it shouldn't take this game in particular as long as it does. I've played far more intense games on my system and they've loaded up fine. But for some reason Yaiba functions worse than anything else and features stupidly long times between dying and playing again. This looks even worse when you consider the games numerous bugs. Sometimes zombies would drop through the floor, and encountering slight graphical glitches becomes normal even when you first start. In essence, it's an awfully put together game that demands way too much time on your part to suffer through it.

And that's just the tip of the ice berg. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is practically a parade of irritating design choices and programming. From the horrible fixed camera, to the aggravatingly generic techno soundtrack, this is a game that does absolutely not deserve the full price tag it has been released with. This is disgusting, not only because the game is about 5 hours long, but because those 5 hours are also too long. Each stage drags on to an embarrassing degree and the pacing is so jagged and slow that it becomes hard not to turn the game off instinctively.

With the amount of great action games on the market there is simply no reason that you should give Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z a try. It is a shoddily made, awful mess.

Top Game Moment: While the game is awful, there's at least a token of appreciation for the fact that it's at least trying to do something new with the series.