Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a third-person action game in which you have to hack & slash your way through hordes of zombies. But while the game — which was made by Spark Unlimited for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC (via Steam) under the supervision of Team Ninja — has nothing to do with the Ninja Gaiden games, a myriad of serious problems will prevent even the most forgiving of action fans from enjoying this mess as well.
After being cut in half by Ninja Gaiden hero Ryu Hayabusa, Yaiba wakes up to find he’s alive (!?!), but is now a cyborg with a metal arm (double !?!), and in Russia during a zombie outbreak (wait, seriously!?!). What to do, what to do? I know, slice and dice everything in sight until you figure out what’s going on.
From the beginning, it’s obvious that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z isn’t a Ninja Gaiden game. And not just because its employs a cel-shaded look that’s somewhere between the subtle one employed by Borderlands and the super-stylized one used by Killer Is Dead.
For starters, while the bad guys in other Ninja Gaiden games put up a fight, Yaiba has you battling swarms of zombies who are obviously so decomposed that you cut through them like they’re butter and your katana has been heated above room temperature. But what they lack in strength, they make up for in sheer numbers. Which is why you’ll often find yourself surrounded, and even overwhelmed.
Mixing things up, there are also numerous kinds of enemies, aside from the usual shambling dead guys. There’s some that breath fire or puke acid, others who don’t know you’re suppose to count to three and then throw a grenade, and a couple who can operate heavy machinery.
In addition, some zombies keep on coming even after you slice them in twain, with their upper halves jumping on you to give you a big hug. Thankfully, the lower halves, which will also keep attacking, aren’t so grabby.
Good thing you have more than just your katana and your metal arm to help you. You also have a chain you can swing like you’re Ghost Rider or Kratos from God Of War if he took the blades off the ends. You also sometimes use a zombie as a weapon. Or, as the case may be, parts of a zombie. Like when you tie two severed arms together to make nunchucks.
But while you have all these weapons at your disposal, as well as a myriad of button combos that result in increasingly devastating attacks, you can pretty much take out every enemy in the game by just button mashing. At most, you may have to run up to them, smack them a couple times, and then run away again. But even then, when it comes to the smacking, it’s just as effective to hit a bunch of buttons randomly as it is to hit them in a specific order. Even the finishing moves you sometimes do on the bigger guys are pretty simplistic.
Which is why Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z actually feels more like a Dynasty Warriors game than a Ninja Gaiden one.
That said, if you like Dynasty Warrior games, or any other mindless button-mashing hack & slash action games, you’ll have fun with the combat in Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Especially since the responsive controls make the combat feel so fluid that you feel like a real sword master when you’re cubing, filleting, and julienning a seemingly endless parade of the living impaired.
Unfortunately, there are other aspects to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, and they don’t work so well. For starters, there are times when you have to use acrobatics and wall-running to get around, like you’re in a Prince Of Persia game. Except here it’s more like a Prince Of Persia game that’s clearly not finished. You not only have to be right on point for the buttons to make Yaiba do what you want him to do, but even then he won’t always do it. At one point, when I was trying to run up a wall, Yaiba wouldn’t do it no matter how many times I politely asked by pressing the right button. It was only after a walked away and then came back that he would do as I asked.
Granted, this stuff did work better as the game progressed. But even when it worked just right, it still didn’t have the smooth acrobatic flow that make these moments in Prince Of Persia games so much fun.
There’s also times when Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z doesn’t make any logical sense. When doing the aforementioned acrobatics, if you miss, you’ll fall down and die. But not just when you fall into a vat of acid or two hundred feet onto a concrete floor, but also when you fall just five feet. Which is often far less than you jumped down a few minutes earlier.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z also has camera issues, most of which come from it being fixed in place as opposed to player controlled. This not only make it difficult to figure out when you’re being approached from behind, but there are times when, because the battlefield is so large, that you end up being rather small on the screen. Which, if you’re surrounded by numerous zombies, makes it hard to tell which one of the little guys is you.
In fact, there’s so much wrong with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z that it’s just easier to list them: the story is inane and badly told; the voice acting is so terrible that the zombies’ sounds like placeholder audio; the music is equal parts generic and terrible (which makes it rather ironic that the PS3 and 360 versions come with a soundtrack CD); the situational puzzles aren’t the least bit puzzling; and the woman who tells you what’s going on and what you should do about it is dressed in a rather unprofessional manner.
Even the moments of levity aren’t that creative. A zombie dancing like a zombie from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video? Yeah, we haven’t seen that like a zillion times before. The darkly comic names it has for weapons made out of zombie body parts? Yeah, those aren’t groan-inducingly obvious. A truck flying between two giant legs on top of a lingerie store? Yeah, that’s subtle. And crude. And forget being offensive to women, it’s also offensive to men. I mean, seriously? You really think we’re all that juvenile?
Though I did like the zombie clowns.
But the worst thing about Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is that it should’ve been a better game. A cyborg ninja fighting zombies in Russia? That’s a premise with promise, but it’s one that’s squandered here. Especially since the problems with this game aren’t insurmountable, they’re actually easily avoidably.
In the end, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a Ninja Gaiden game in name only. But what’s sadder is that — aside from the times when you get to go full Ginsu — it’s really just a game in name only as well.