Monday 20 November 2017

Cashing in at the low end of the market

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

Ninja Gaiden games have forever been demanding of their players, but never on a scale that was consistently and relentlessly rage-inducing.

Mastering the fast-paced action and overcoming almost insurmountable odds has always been an endearing factor in the Ninja Gaiden series, and rarely - as is the case with the latest Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z - has it ever been too over the top to not actually be fun.

While more of a spin-off than a real sequel, the still cool but undoubtably dated cel-shaded animation and slapstick humour gets old quickly and doesn't do much in the way of rescuing the actual game.

Yaiba turns the tables by challenging you to find and kill Ryu Hayabusa, traditionally the series' star, during a full-on zombie outbreak in modern day Russia. Franchise fans might be wondering why our hastily introduced protagonist hates Ryu so much... or why we're suddenly fighting zombies... or why we're in Russia, of all places, but the plot basically just glosses over all this.

To be fair, many of these questions are eventually addressed in some way before the seven-mission campaign ends, but the absurdly abrupt opening feels more like a failure to adequately set the stage than a deliberate attempt to create an air of mystery.

There are serious issues underlying the light-hearted exterior of Yaiba. All too quickly, the lack of depth actually creates some serious gameplay problems. I could routinely rip through 30 to 40 smaller enemies at once without breaking a sweat, but as soon as I reached a higher-level opponent, Yaiba's puny little sword suddenly chipped away only tiny slivers of health. Meanwhile, some of the more obnoxious mini-bosses could wipe me out in as few as two hits.

The essence of the problem is that no matter your skill level, you're at the mercy of Yaiba's design. For example, most lower-level enemies can be "executed" at the end of a combo, causing them to spit out some health. So if during a boss fight there are no grunts around to harvest for health or you lack the energy to initiate Yaiba's rage mode, your only option is to restart over and over until you can eventually grind through the encounter. Of course, that's assuming you can even tell what's going on with the pulled-back camera and constant enemy area attacks obscuring the view.

Yaiba seems to me like a cheeky attempt at cashing in on the lower-price arcade/playstation store title market. While there are some good moments, it really isn't worth picking up, especially when taking into account the fact that the pretty much every other title in the Ninja Gaiden series are vastly better.

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