I feel like I should start this review off with a disclaimer: I REALLY wanted to like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.
We received our review copy a few days late, so a small subset of reviews had already started to pop up, and, in all honesty, I was a bit shocked to see just how vile some of the scores were. You see, the dirty secret behind video game reviews is that there’s a reason most games end up on the upper end of the bell curve, and that’s because very few really bad games make their way to our desks. They’re either killed off somewhere in development, not given out for reviews, or deemed a poor use of our resources. Most of what we see is “good.” Not great, not bad, just good. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, however, does not fit into that classification.
Those who do decide to give the game a chance will play as cyborg/ninja Yaiba Kamakaze (I’m not joking), as he goes on a revenge mission to kill traditional Ninja Gaiden hero, Ryu Hayabusa. Like most of the Ninja Gaiden series, the story is pretty thin and doesn’t make all that much sense. Yaiba is defeated in a duel by Ryu in the opening cutscene where Ryu simply cuts him in half. Yaiba is then rebuilt by some rich dude and decides that getting his ass kicked once isn’t enough and sets out to hunt down Ryu.
Where Ryu was a silent badass, Yaiba simply won’t shut up. Worse than that, he never says anything of any real substance. Yaiba is like that one friend we all have who mistakes vulgarity for being funny. Sure, you can be absolutely hilarious with some blue collar comedy, but you need to have something backing that. Yaiba’s “addition” to the formula is little more than making blatant sexual passes at his insanely chesty assistant Miss Monday and screaming out of rage. I understand that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is trying to be a bit more tongue-in-cheek, but the comedy simply misfires at almost every step. Instead of taking jabs at series staples or other action game tropes, they simply decided to write a script that seems like something I would’ve thought was funny in middle school.
Fortunately, there are a few shining moments in the comedy, but it’s a downright crime that they’re covered up. The subtle humor of the zombies (who are used as set pieces) works really well. Finding a zombie doing the thriller dance on his own behind a fence was a great little moment, as was any time they acted more like bumbling stooges than actual threats. An early highlight was when I had thrown a zombie behind the wheel of a steamroller to knock down a wall, as another stood in front of it frantically waving its arms. Sure, it’s an old Austin Powers gag (and is most-likely even older than that), but it worked.
Gameplay-wise, Yaiba really doesn’t do much better. Gone is the fast-paced action that forced split second decisions upon the player. In return, we’re gifted with seemingly endless hordes of zombies. You’re going to be absolutely surrounded to the point of not being able to really tell where your character is in many situations (which isn’t helped by the abysmal camera) with a few special enemy types peppered in. It ranges from mildly annoying to controller breaking frustrating in difficulty, and it’s all made worse by some horrible hitboxes. There were many occasions where I was nailed by an enemy attack that clearly missed, causing me to take needless damage and ruin any combo chain I had built up. The only redeeming factor from the special enemies is that you reclaim parts of them after an execution to use against your foes, and they sometimes stack against each other in pretty cool ways. Hitting a fire enemy with a lightning enemy’s attacks creates an impressive fire tornado that whips across the screen.
It all ends up breaking down into tedious button mashing for the most part, and unfortunately, that’s all the game really offers. There are some wall-running ninja moments, but these are largely just hitting the right button at a given time. Environmental puzzles are also present, but since almost all of them boil down to “throw a zombie into this thing that will then open a door,” they may as well not be.
From a visual perspective, things honestly look pretty great, and it’s a real shame that this art was wasted on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. The cel-shaded aesthetics allow Yaiba to really pop, and the special zombies add some much needed color to the mix. Of course, since most of the game will have you mashing buttons against hordes of foes, it all blurs together.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a game that simply shouldn’t be. It’s uninspired (unless you consider dick jokes inspirational), tedious and outright boring. The humor, which I have to imagine was going to be the selling point for this tongue-in-cheek take on Ninja Gaiden, falls flat at almost every turn, mistaking being perverted for using perversion as a set-up for actual jokes. It’s simply a mash of poorly thought out and poorly implemented ideas, which combine to create a game that’s simply poor. Here’s hoping that we can all put this behind us and get a title more worthy of the Ninja Gaiden name soon.
This review is based on a 360 version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z sullies the name of the franchise. It fails both on a gameplay level and on a comedic level, and really doesn't offer anything worthy of its price tag.