One embarrassing ninja.
I wanted to love Yaiba, I really did, but every time it does something interesting, its flaws come screaming to the surface. This game is a mess and not in a good way. The concept of a more animated Ninja Gaiden game with goofy characters and the same precise combat sounds wonderful, but Yaiba focuses more on flare and forgoes the superb controls of the previous entries. Mixed with a fixed camera and some truly dreadful writing, this title disappoints from beginning to end. I couldn’t stomach playing more than 20 mins during any session, and that is a sign of a poorly designed experience.
Unlike other titles in the Ninja Gaiden universe, Yaiba stars a brand new protagonist, who is out to kill Ryu Hayabusa. The game takes place in Russia during a zombie outbreak, which again is just insane. Don’t expect timely explanations for all of this madness; the game never seems to care about its whimsical narrative, at least not until the end. Instead it focuses on trying to make crude, unfunny references to women’s undergarments and other sexual tropes. None of it is ever entertaining or even moderately funny.
There are seven missions to play through, with each one getting progressively longer. At the outset I was actually willing to forgive a lot of the issues. The enemy variety was good, the combat felt like it just needed time to bake, and the art style really popped. After a couple missions though, Yaiba’s problems started manifesting.
For starters the camera is fixed, meaning that the fast-paced combat is often obstructed by a bad angle. There are also tons of enemies onscreen at once, meaning I was often times just mashing buttons hoping to win. I couldn’t see where Yaiba was all the time, so I couldn’t plan my attacks. It is almost like playing blind for a large part of the experience.
The structure is also a bit boring. Every level consists mostly of walk into arena, clear out enemies, and then move onto the next. There are platforming sections that are just timed button presses seeing as Yaiba doesn’t have a dedicated jump button; yeah really, Yaiba cannot jump unless there is a context-sensitive area designed for it. It is a weird choice, and one that takes getting used to.
If these were the only issues, I might be able to look past them. Yaiba has style and character, but none of it is interesting. Sadly, the combat also becomes an issue as the game goes on. While button mashing can be satisfying, the balance is broken. Fodder enemies are fine, but once a boss shows up the design breaks. Yaiba can execute enemies to refill health, but during boss encounters there are no fodder enemies to siphon health from. Some bosses can also tap half of his health in one hit. Mix that with the camera and frustration ensues. It feels like the developers just threw ideas at a wall, and none of them stuck. Sadly they left them in and kept going.
The controls also take several levels to get used to. Mapping the dodge button to the A/X button was a mistake. I constantly found myself trying to dodge with a trigger, and having the block on the right bumper is just a mess. I rarely used it, and when I did, it was ill-timed. Whoever mapped these controls has never played an action game, or they were just trying to be different.
There is a limited upgrade system and some makeshift weapons that can be obtained by executing some enemies. These weapons are highly overpowered, but don’t last very long. The upgrades are also minimal, with one tree dedicated to making the button-press mini-game easier – not exactly helpful. It feels like the designers are working against the player on so many levels, it’s frustrating.
Visually the game has a unique look and the enemy variety is plentiful. I did enjoy the slick presentation outside of the horrendous camera system. As I mentioned earlier the voice work and dialogue is atrocious. None of the writing is funny, and the story is all over the place. This is the kind of game that begged me to love it, but in the end I simply couldn’t get past its many flaws.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z does a disservice to the franchise by having its name attached. I wanted to love it, but it just kept making me despise its design. Anyone interested in this title should steer clear. There is little here to redeem its many problems, and what it flaunts as its bullet points are hardly worth sticking around for.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.