Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z has generated a lot of controversy for fans of the series since its unveiling, with Ninja Gaiden purists complaining due to the fact the game deviates considerably from the series template. Despite these changes to the formula however, this spin-off title is well worth your cash.
Ninja Gaiden Z gets off to an unusual start. You play a ninja named Yaiba Kamikaze, who literally dies at the start of the game in the first cutscene, having been killed by Ryu Hayabusa (the hero from the mainline series). Next, you find out a mysterious company has brought you back to life in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Throughout the game you will be contacted by Miss Monday, a saucy little number who will help you out throughout your adventure, as well as making snarky comments about Kamikaze. The anime-style cutscenes are amazing, and easily some of the best that I have seen in a long time. Not all of them are fully animated however; a few of these sequences use a comic book style panel look, which also fits with the theme that it is trying to push. This might annoy a lot of fans, but personally I really loved visuals as well as its over-the-top enemies and humorous names — referring to the zombies as ‘stiffs’ definitely received a few chuckles from my end.
Yabai’s story mode is seven chapters long, and no matter how frustrated you may get at the game’s difficulty, you’ll keep playing as it’s fundamentally an addictive game — a staple quality of the Ninja Gaiden series. The locations are pretty varied, starting in the city and heading towards a sewer. They are rather generic locations for the most part, but due to the vibrant art style , you won’t get too bored of them as they look pretty damn spectacular. Yaiba also looks very detailed and stylish, with fluid animations that look stunning in motion, though the amount of combos in the game are quite limited. However, as you unlock more from leveling up in the game you will find enough variety for taking out the zombie menace. You gain experience points by killing zombies and also at the end of chapter you will also gain bonus experience points based on how well you did in the chapter. These points are used to upgrade skills and unlock new combos throughout the campaign.
Later on in the game, some of the zombies require certain strategies to take out, such as the bride zombies, which requires you to use your nunchucks at a range to take down her shield. As you play through the game you will unlock new weapons by doing execution moves on the zombies, from the electric whip to a rocket launcher. This isn’t overkill though, as you’ll need these weapons for certain enemy types, though they do become more useful if you plan ahead with them.
Even though the game is only about 7-8 hours long you will want to go back to old missions to get all the collectables, ranging from data logs to health/resistance upgrades. The data logs are written by Miss Monday, which make them quite amusing to read, which is a rare thing for a collectable. The game is also pretty hard like previous Ninja Gaiden titles; at the time of this review, only a handful of people — including myself — have even beaten the main game, let alone the hardest difficulty setting. Of course, this will change when the game title is released. Yaiba has the standard menacing bosses that the series is known for, including a rematch against Ryu Hayabusa, which I thought was one of the best fights in the game. Sadly, the final boss was a bit of a letdown, though I won’t divulge any spoilers. Ninja Gaiden Z also has a New Game+ experience, whereby if you complete the game and start again you will have all your upgrades and collectables from your previous play through, which was a nice surprise. This makes Hard, Extreme and Hell modes a little easier then if you started without them.
Now for one of the biggest killing or saving points for this spin off — the frame rate. After playing the game through, and replaying a lot of the game again afterwards, I want to say I am very impressed at what Team Ninja has pulled off here. Yaiba feels very smooth and stable for the most part. While there are occasional dips in the game’s performance, this is a very rare occurrence — I think I had about two frame rate drops the entire play through. Needless to say, this is a very impressive achievement considering the amount of zombies and action going on at any one time. Yaiba’s also complemented by a superb soundtrack, which will help keep you pumped while you fight giant mechs and zombies in the story and arcade mode. It also has some really good voice acting, and by the end of the game I was actually feeling pretty bad for Yaiba.
Once you have beaten the main game you will unlock another mode named Ninja Gaiden Z. This is an attempt to replicate the original NES titles, making the game a 2.5D action-adventure romp, with Yaiba wanting to get his Sake bottle back. I loved this mode, though it is incredibly hard and will push players quite a bit — either that, or I seriously need to re-examine my zombie-slaying skills. The cutscenes in this mode are also done in an 8-bit style, which is pretty stylish, though somewhat annoyingly you can’t skip them, meaning if you die a lot, you’ll have to sit through them again and again. Rounding things off here is an 8-bit soundtrack, which sounds suitably authentic.
Overall, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z an exceedingly enjoyable and bloody hack-‘n-slash romp, and one you should not skip if you are a Ninja Gaiden fan, even if the aesthetics aren’t to your liking. And, while things will surely go back to normal with Ninja Gaiden IV, I would love to see a sequel to Yaiba as I think the series has great potential.