Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z review (PS3)
We aren’t the types to get angry at games here on Play. We love a challenge, and we’ve played so many difficult games that nothing seems to phase us anymore… or so we thought. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z made us so angry we almost threw our television out the window. Good-hard games, like Dark Souls, understand how to be challenging without ever being unfair. The difficulty may increase, but with skill and understanding, the player always has a fighting chance, and learning and gradually getting better at the game will see you through.
Yaiba is the antithesis to this concept, a game devoid of understanding in how to make something both difficult and fun. Instead, developer Spark Unlimited simply throws more and more bad guys at the player, assuming that this is enough and that purely adding more is the best solution. It isn’t. Get a few hours into Yaiba and you’ll repeatedly come up against huge walls of bad guys that can overwhelm you incredibly easily. Often, the only way to get past these encounters is to save up and use Yaiba’s Bloodlust mode, providing an easy out to an extremely unfair scenario. After repeat attempts and failures at these poorly designed face-offs, even we felt like putting a fist through our screen.
Yaiba is a spin-off of Tecmo’s popular Ninja Gaiden series, usually starring shinobi supreme Ryu Hayabusa. This time, players join the evil side of the equation, controlling nasty ninja Yaiba, a man far less virtuous than Mr Hayabusa. The game opens with Yaiba and Ryu squaring off, which doesn’t last long: Hayabusa whips Yaiba like a bad dog, slicing off his arm and eye, leaving him for dead. Finding himself resurrected with new robot parts by a mysterious organisation and dumped into the middle of a zombie outbreak in Russia, Yaiba agrees to help find the cause while tracking down Hayabusa for revenge.
If you were expecting a technical, hardcore combat system similar to past Ninja Gaiden titles, prepare to be disappointed. Yaiba is a far simpler, more mashy affair, although still one with a fair amount of combos. Yaiba has three weapons: the balanced sword, the strong but slow robot arm and the quick but weak flail.
Attacking an enemy to the end of a combo will open them up for an execution, instantly killing them and giving Yaiba a bit of health back. You can quickly unlock the ability to execute ten enemies in succession, and it doesn’t take long to find one particular combo that hits the most foes, leaving them all open. For the majority of the game, this one combo would be all you ever need – against standard enemies, at least. Sure, using one move over and over might be missing the point, but it proves that this isn’t a deep experience.
But it’s when you start fighting tougher foes that things really start to fall apart. Even on default difficulty, these various mini-boss bastards are infuriating, showing a complete lack of competence on the developer’s part. These bigger enemies rarely flinch when getting hit, and almost never have a tell for any attacks they are about to make. This results in Yaiba smacking an enemy with no reaction for ages before eating a massive attack you had no way of knowing was coming.
Dashing away after a couple of hits comes to be the only real solution, a boring and slow strategy that still relies entirely on luck. And once you start fighting a few of these utter shits at once, even that becomes completely impossible, Yaiba getting obliterated in waves of attacks that Spark clearly never thought about balancing.
We’ve played a lot of games in our time, and we’re pretty damn good at them. But it’s impossible to be good at Yaiba. The difference between a good-hard and bad-hard game is enormous, and no amount of player skill will make this kind of bad-hard game enjoyable. Too much of the time you just endure it.
Early shots of Yaiba showed a comic book, cel-shaded style that had a ton of potential, but unfortunately the finished product is a smeary, ugly mess that isn’t helped by an atrocious fixed camera. It’s often far too hard to tell what’s going on on-screen, the action obscured by messy blood and smoke effects or taking place virtually off-screen.
The whole game just feels a bit budget, from the way that linked executions aren’t linked at all, merely canned animations played one after the other, to the short length and ugly UI elements. It’s a spin-off, and it sure feels like one. Yaiba had all the potential in the world to be a fun, irreverent take on one of Tecmo’s biggest franchises, but instead is little more than a broken, poor pastiche of the genre from a developer that clearly has little understanding of how the genre works.