Ninjas have permanently imprinted themselves on popular culture in pretty much every way, shape and form. From assassins to pandas, anything with a sword and a six minute mile can become a ninja. While we can now add vegetables to that list, it might be for the best that we don’t, since Yasai Ninja doesn’t imprint itself on the world of ninjas in the slightest, but if you’ve ever wondered how agile and lithe an onion and a stalk of broccoli can be, this is the game for you.
Following the aforementioned onion’s quest for vengeance, Yasai Ninja pairs the stoic veggie, named Kaoru Tamanegui, with a sentient stalk of broccoli fittingly named Broccoli Joe. Kaoru is out to defeat his former leader because he turned evil, and Joe is hungry. Plot’s not exactly a huge factor here, as you can probably tell.
In the course of ten thankfully short missions, the pair fight their way through an admittedly stylish feudal Japan, trekking across boring environments that are animated in a style that doesn’t quite fit the rest of the game. The art style was most reminiscent of the Afro Samurai video game from a few years ago, only filtered through a PS2 rather than a next-gen console. Surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the traditional Asian music as well, although that only lasted until the short clip ended and paused before looping back to the beginning. Around the hundredth time, I started to realize that the music sounds oddly similar to what would be playing in every Chinese buffet in the midwest.
If you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about the actual gameplay yet, that’s just because there’s not really much to say. Yasai Ninja is a third-person hack-and-slasher, and it’s not a very good one. Both Kaoru and Joe are extremely sluggish brawlers, and control inputs for both light and heavy attacks feel like they take years to translate to actual action. The first time I took a swing at an enemy, my jaw literally dropped at the delay. Neither character is particularly agile, so switching from one to the other quickly becomes a futile task.
About 90% of the baddies you’ll face throughout your journeys are cucumbers, all of which turn into slices when you defeat them, even if it’s with Joe’s nunchucks. Adding to the frustration of sluggish combat is terrible hit detection and downright awful sound design, leading to enemies turning themselves into sliced snacks without a single noise or even direct hit. You never realize just how much you rely on sound cues to let you know you’re connecting with an enemy until the sound drops out entirely.
That being said, Yasai Ninja is hardly a difficult game. In fact, most of my deaths were caused by my horrendous AI partner. I watched the AI fall into lava, throw themselves into armies of baddies and constantly fall on spikes until they died, leaving me to either heal them or instantly sending us back to the last checkpoint. If the player loses all of their health, they have to wait for their partner to come heal them before they can get back into the action. However, rather than switching to your partner so you can come heal yourself or finish the fight on your own, you have to sit and stare at the screen until the AI deems you worthy of being saved. I understand this mechanic being utilized in multiplayer, but in single player it becomes a glaring and infuriating oversight.
Sometimes the action is broken up by running segments that are slightly reminiscent of the treasure chest levels from the past few Rayman titles, albeit not as fun or visually striking. While these levels tend to function normally, they’re hardly ever challenging, with much of the difficulty stemming from the art design getting in the way of the gameplay. For some reason, most of these levels aren’t lit very well, making jumping from a thin ledge onto another an obnoxious task. Other times, the back beam of a bridge will follow the exact line of the platforms, making it indistinguishable between the next ledge you’re aiming for. I died countless times trying to figure out what was a platform and what was in the background.
There are also tons of pedestals to push and machines to activate or dismantle, although there are never any puzzles or actual thought put into these diversions. One segment in particular matched certain buttons to segments of a spike trap, insinuating you would need to hit the right combination to get them all to go down. Instead, all you needed to do was push all three buttons once and you were done. It was just as exhilarating as it sounds.
As I mentioned before, there are only ten stages, making Yasai Ninja an easy title to breeze through if you have the patience. However, I only made it to stage seven before I gave up. Multiple times throughout that level (which was fittingly titled In Hell), the game simply crashed, throwing up an error screen and sending me back to the PS4 home screen. At one point, I had finally reached the boss of the level, and right before I could defeat it, the game once again crashed, sending me back to the very beginning of the level I had just spent an hour playing over and over again. Not only is the game poorly made, it’s just plain broken.
I would never be ignorant enough to assume that every single copy of the game will play just like mine did, but Yasai Ninja is simply impossible to recommend based on my experience with it. Even without it crashing to the point where progress was impossible, it was just a messy experience that didn’t even have a clever idea behind it. Veggie ninjas could be interesting, but not once does it enhance the plot or lead to some clever, cheesy puns. Everything is played incredibly straight-faced without even an ounce of levity, making it just another generic ninja-revenge story as performed by vegetables.
Here’s the rundown: the gameplay is bad, the sound design is bad, the controls are bad, the story is bad, the actual programming is bad, and the art is occasionally good. Aside from turning bland characters into bland vegetables, Yasai Ninja has nothing to offer. No original thought has been put into the design, the writing is bland exposition, and much of the game hardly works. I had hoped to find some quirky little gem hiding behind a neat idea that would balance humor with a short jaunt of arcadey action. Rather, I got a month old onion lazily thrown at my face.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.
Casting vegetables as heroes can't save Yasai Ninja from sluggish combat, terrible audio-visual design and outright broken programming.