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Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review: Hayabusted

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Screenshot - Slashing bad guys

The modern Ninja Gaiden games have always been billed as punishing, controlling-throwing experiences, yet even after my tenth or twentieth attempt to defeat a boss went sour, I didn’t curse or kick a hole in my TV.

I laughed.

Yes, I was mad, but it wasn’t because the game was unfair, it was because I had made mistakes. I tried again, not out of pride, but because I was having a good time getting outplayed by Team Ninja and their crafty AI.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, it seemed, was aiming to throw most of that away, opting instead for a less demanding, more light-hearted and fun experience. In their own way those goals are commendable. After all, the Ninja Gaiden trilogy of games have consistently gotten worse in an attempt to capture what made the original so enticing, so why not try something entirely new?

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

The problem is that somewhere along the way those goals got lost, and what we’re left with is an unrefined combat system paired with painfully cheap enemies. The irony is that, despite the intent to make an easier and more enjoyable Ninja Gaiden game, Yaiba is infinitely more frustrating than Ryu Hayabusa’s adventures ever were.

It’s unfortunate because I was really excited for Yaiba’s grindhouse charm. The cartoon-y graphics and silly dialogue felt more like a Suda 51 joint, and I’d hoped that was more or less what I’d be getting. In the intro, Yaiba is cut in half by series hero Hayabusa, then brought back to life and turned into a cyber-ninja. He seeks revenge but must fight his way through an army of zombies to reach his goal. Sounds simplistic but fun, right?

When I first got my hands on the controls I immediately pulled off a 500-hit combo against an army of zombies. This was exactly what I wanted out of Yaiba -- a dumb-fun game that wouldn’t tax my reflexes -- yet, the game quickly got away from itself from there.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

The first problem is the overuse of special zombie enemies. These guys can be anything from a clown zombie to an angry zombie bride with lightning powers. They have their own sets of unique attacks, and can even nail Yaiba with elemental status ailments if you don’t dodge enough. What makes these guys interesting to fight is that if you use a special finishing move to defeat one type, you can use their own weapons to more easily defeat the other special zombie types. The problem is when, for one reason or another, you don’t have these special weapons.

Every enemy outside of the stock zombie comes equipped with poorly telegraphed, hard-hitting attacks that often can’t be blocked. They throw projectiles far too fast for you to react to them, and cover the floor in damaging fire or acid that’s easy to dodge into among all the chaos. An enemy that seemed well-designed, with several large attacks that were marked by giant red circles on the floor, inexplicably attacked with hard-to-read attacks that were just as damaging.

Unblockable attacks seem to be completely random, whereas even the older Ninja Gaiden games indicated an unblockable as a throw, a large charge-up attack, or an explosive. Boss characters interrupt you mid-combo without explanation and seem to punish you at random for the same attacks that work well against them. Expect to fight the same bosses dozens of times before defeating them, only to find out that the only surefire tactic is something the game never required you to use before.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

And whereas many complained that the camera was too close in the old games, in Yaiba it isn’t close enough. It doesn’t track you either, making it really easy to lose Yaiba in the crowd of zombies and take some unintended damage. What’s worse is that the camera is designed more around navigating the environment and showing you where to go than focusing on the fight. In one instance I was fighting in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen while the camera was focused on a wall. In a boss fight where every hit can mean death, the enemy constant dashed off-camera and back in again for a cheap hit.

Striking a final nail in the coffin, Yaiba connects its combat arenas with a series of awful platforming QTEs. These sequences are often hard to judge, as they trade in button prompts for color-coded objects in the environment that are hard to see. Later sequences require precise but unclear timing, leading to the same death animations and loading screens over and over.

For those that had hoped for a true Ninja Gaiden experience with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, you definitely got something with the challenge to match the old games. The problem is that this isn’t the right kind of challenge. It isn’t rewarding or fun, it’s just annoying. For those that thought this would be a chance to play a Ninja Gaiden that wasn’t too hard, stay a far away as possible. Yaiba isn’t worth losing a controller or your sanity over.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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