Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z – Demo Impressions (Xbox 360)

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Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the London MCM Comic Con to take a look at some upcoming games as well as anime and games merchandise. I have several game impression articles to go through, and the first is for Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, which was the first game I played there.

Yaiba is an interesting take on the traditional Ninja Gaiden games, in that it neither centers around Ryu Hayabusa as the hero nor involves fighting demons or monsters; instead, you hack-n-slash your way through zombies. Team Ninja, the developers of the Ninja Gaiden series, were gracious enough to provide a playable demo of Yaiba at the London MCM Comic Con, so I took a chance to play the Xbox 360 version of the game. Question is: was Yaiba any good?

Yaiba is a bit of a strange Ninja Gaiden game, but not because you fight zombies for the first time; a lot of what feels strange is the straying away from the Ninja Gaiden format. You need only watch the E3 trailer (see above) to understand how over-the-top and crude that Yaiba is. The actual game itself surprises even more. The game focuses on an entirely different ninja that is out to defeat Ryu Hayabusa, while fighting through waves of the undead to get enough ‘practice'; The protagonist change, coupled with the cell-shaded, comic-style graphics make Yaiba a completely different experience.

YaibaandRyu

The demo begins with Ryu Hayabusa confronting an unknown ninja in a forest, in a showdown that has a lot of flair and tense action. Inevitably, the ninja is defeated in a gruesome death, typical of Ninja Gaiden’s bloody execution animations. What happens next, however, is a far cry from the Ninja Gaiden that we know, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The scene cuts to a city area, where Yaiba, the main character and namesake of the game, emerges and the player is given control of him, while the sultry but sarcastic ‘Miss Monday’ gives him instructions. The controls are simple: X button to do normal attacks, Y to use his mechanical arm, B to grab and A to dodge.

You can also block with the Right Bumper to absorb most attacks, but some are unblockable. The demo gradually gives you hints as to what each button can do in context, so it’s your standard, action-game fare. When you come across the undead enemies, they’re easy to cut up and beat around, especially since you can grab them and use them as a weapon for a limited time. Pressing B, when prompted, allows Yaiba to do an execution which is simple but satisfying; depending on the enemy, it might grant you something special. For example, certain, bigger zombies might give you a secondary weapon, such as limbs, which Yaiba uses as nunchucks.

The attacks are simple and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of combos or delay timing to easily cut your way through the zombie enemies. There’s even a heightened attack mode known as ‘Bloodlust’, where, after a gauge is filled, Yaiba takes off his hood and goes ballistic, moving faster and attacking more fervently. This mode allows you to destroy enemies even faster and is probably meant to be an exciting way to beat down the undead more viscerally. It’s enjoyable enough, but for a while Yaiba‘s simplicity seemed to go a bit far; however, there is some depth to be found.

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Aside from the on foot gameplay, after defeating a section of enemies, Yaiba must traverse the town by climbing up buildings and running across walls, similar to the Prince of Persia (2008) and less like previous Ninja Gaiden games. You can use a waypoint system by simply pressing a button to highlight the direction you need to go, which means no getting lost for ages trying to get to the next action segment.

The platforming sections are very simple and don’t really involve  precision, just timed button presses. The demo continues to provide crude humor and over-the-top presentation as you come across a strip club with gigantic mechanical legs of a woman upside down on top. Hilariously enough, there are moments in the demo where you need to throw a zombie into a vehicle, where they’ll operate it to get you to the next area, with a comical cutscene to accompany this transition. There’s even a very crude ending sequence to the strip club section which you’ll have to see to believe; however, I will say that it does involve the mechanical legs. Yaiba does make it clear that this game is meant to be very tongue-in-cheek and non-serious, made more for quick, fun and easy laughs than intense gameplay.

During one of the fighting sections, you come across a larger zombie, which turns out to be a boss. The boss seems simple enough, with fire attacks that it keeps spitting out and frequent attempts to knock Yaiba down. The fight doesn’t take much strategy at first and you can continue to mash the X button on it for a while, but when the zombie sets on fire the fight changes drastically.

Now, it is impossible to attack the zombie directly and any attempts to do so will make you lose the battle faster. Luckily, the game checkpoints here, so if you die you’ll start at its new form. During this battle, zombie enemies are pouring into the area, which you can throw at the boss; this was done to allow the player to puzzle things together, as this is the trick to defeating the boss. In between fighting-off the boss and fighting the normal zombies, the fight really ramps up in difficulty.

The aftermath is even more surprising, when the zombies swarm you and suddenly the easy-to-cut-down undead become a formidable force, due to their massive numbers. You’ll find yourself blocking and dodging way more than before, in a way that makes you feel like you’re definitely playing Ninja Gaiden. While the difficulty never hikes to the levels of any of the Ninja Gaiden games yet, I imagine there might be some hard challenges in store and other difficulty modes to have a go at in the full version.

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Overall, Yaiba was a nice surprise. It wasn’t as hard or as skillfully demanding as Ninja Gaiden, but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed on the surface. The comic-style presentation, crude jokes and zombie enemies might not appeal to everyone; there’s already dedicated Ninja Gaiden fans that have expressed their distaste with the direction of this game. However, fans of hack-n-slash games will definitely get some kicks out of this and I’m interested to see more of this game as time goes on. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is scheduled for an early 2014 release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.