Developed by Spark Unlimited. Published by Tecmo Koei. Released March 18, 2014. Available on PC, PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360.


01

I just switched my PlayStation 3 off while Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z was still playing. I have not played this game to the end – in fact, I doubt I’m far past the halfway mark, if I even got that far at all. If you feel such a confession invalidates what I have to say, that’s completely up to you.

However, nobody can make me play Yaiba anymore. I am never playing it again, and you can’t force me.

Spark Unlimited has an amazing talent, a talent that allows it to destroy every good idea it ever gets it grasping little talons on. Turning Point: Fall of Liberty was a great idea that Spark turned into an awful game. Legendary was another fantastic premise that amounted to nothing with this studio’s guidance. Spark Unlimited was responsible for Lost Planet 3, and now the company has done it again. A comedic and unapologetically trashy spin-off of Ninja Gaiden genuinely has a ton of potential, with the cartoon visuals and ridiculous gore factor promising to simultaneously mock and honor Tecmo’s beloved action series. Done right, it could be something special.

Naturally, Spark’s unlimited potential for ruination took all that promise and squirted out a thick dollop of pure, unfettered garbage.

With its reliance on quick-time-events and sub-brainless, imbalanced, physically sloppy combat, Ninja Gaiden Z is one hot mess of a game. The first thing one notices is just how ugly it looks. It takes a lot of effort to make a cel-shaded, comic-inspired game look bad, but the anti-aliasing is so utterly dreadful that everything looks simultaneously jagged and fuzzy. The color scheme is a clash of sickening greens and disorienting reds, with objects and characters visually bleeding into each other – a problem made worse by fixed camera angles that make it impossible to focus on any of the action. From both a technical and artistic standpoint, Yaiba is ugly as sin, to the point of proving detrimental in gameplay.

Not that gameplay ever had a chance. The insipid combat relies on lazily tossing as many enemies at once into restrictive little arenas, transforming the screen into a garbled and chaotic scrum of unhelpful color. It’s almost impossible to deal with the poorly telegraphed attacks thanks to how busy the imagery is, and this isn’t helped by the fact that Yaiba, our titular protagonist, is a frankly shitty fighter.

Yaiba’s attacks are slow and unwieldy. He can’t dodge effectively. He’s unresponsive and feels like a deadweight in battle. The game attempts Ninja Gaiden‘s emphasis on timing, blocking, and countering, but each fight is too anarchic and the protagonist has simply not been built to deal with it properly. While Ninja Gaiden is a fluid and often elegant game of precision, this bunch of interactive gibberish serves only to damn itself with each pitiful attempt to link itself to Team Ninja’s work.

Many games have “That One Enemy,” a single opponent that drives players crazy. From the Medusa Heads of Castlevania to the Cazadores in Fallout: New Vegas, there are many enemy types that make a player shudder every time they appear. Ninja Gaiden Z manages to create a bestiary consisting entirely of That One Enemy. Rather than put in any effort, Spark Unlimited designed a small roster of zombies with elemental powers, then recycled them over and over again – and they are ALL utterly ghastly to deal with, featuring a bevy of unblockable attacks, irritating projectiles, and area-of-effect blasts, usually designed to knock you down, then hit you again as you get back up. Yaiba tosses these foes at the player in various combinations, and none of the combos are good. Aside from the most basic zombie combatants, every single enemy in Z is a grueling, miserable chore, the kind that makes me hate my job.

I hate Ninja Gaiden Z for making me dislike what I do for a living, even for a moment.

02

Topping off the dreadful combat are consistently lame attempts at being funny. This game thinks it’s a comedy, and it displays its woefully lacking sense of humor at any given opportunity. For instance, the protagonist hates clowns. That is the joke. An unoriginal bit of observation that stopped being funny decades ago, referenced without any further gags to back it up. At one point, Yaiba explodes a lingerie shop and panties rain from the sky. That, also, is apparently a joke. No, there’s nothing funny that happens with the panties. The simple idea of panties existing is supposed to be funny.

This is a game that laughs at the concept of panties, laughs at the mere existence of underwear.

I hate this game.

Of course, with a videogame this unimaginative and puerile, there’s plenty of sexism as well, but there’s no point being offended by any of it. To take offense at the entry-level insults on display here would be to give it far too much credit. As Yaiba talks of women being “stacked six asses high” and makes lewd comments to his female advisor, one realizes this is far too dumb to be upset over. In a way, I can only feel sorry for the giggling chimp hybrid that I imagine wrote the dialogue for this thing – cackling at the very mention of boobies in between smearing feces on its own limp genitalia.

Then there are the little things that consistently piss the player off, crawling like bugs under one’s skin. The reduction of wall-running and acrobatics to horribly signposted QTEs that make very little visual sense. The pop-ups that halt combat when players are near death to remind players that they’re near death. The “puzzles” that consist entirely of picking up a zombie and throwing it at something. The frequent graphical glitches and total lack of collision detection. The fact they’re charging full price for something that looks, sounds, and plays like it was made by particularly dimwitted kindergartners. If I’ve not mentioned it already, I hate this game.

Like, I really hate it.

If you’re unfortunate enough to pick up this juvenile, incompetent drivel, I can only feel sad for the bad thing you’ve allowed to happen in your life. At its very best – at its VERY best – Ninja Gaiden Z is a sub-par button masher, easily outclassed by a multitude of better button mashers. At its worst, this farce is as close to unplayable gets without actually being unplayable. I wish it had been unplayable, because then I wouldn’t have had to play as much as I did before realizing the world wouldn’t care if I simply walked away.

The most tragic part is that I held out hope for this one, even as interest among other parties eroded away. I still believe in the concept – a colorful and comedic take on a dark, brooding action series can make for a most intriguing spin-off, and it’s not like I have a problem with dumb action games. I truly wanted Yaiba to be good, and I think it could have been, if only it were entrusted to a developer that knew how to make things that weren’t awful.

Bottom Line: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is a dismal waste of a good idea. Painfully unfunny, graphically abhorrent, and straight-up disheveled in the combat department, this manages to be one of the worst games of the last generation, right at the very end of it.

Recommendation: Get a job in telemarketing. You’ll experience the same amount of despair and frustration that the game would give you, but at least you’d be making money instead of spending it.

[rating=0.5]

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