Friday, April 18, 2014

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3) Review

After being killed by famed ninja Ryu Hayabusa, Yaiba is reborn as a cyborg and aims to take revenge.  To do so, he will have to follow Ryu through an infected Russian facility and battle zombies.  That's the crazy set-up to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.  It's definitely a side story to the long running Ninja Gaiden franchise, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.  The plot alone should have told you as much.

Instead of being super realistic, Yaiba opts to have a cel shaded look that resembles a comic book.  It looks great and fits the over-the-top nature of the game.  With the grisly execution animations, blood everywhere, swearing an several other things, the game is very unapologetically "M" rated.  The voices are well done, even if Yaiba himself has a gravely voice, as if he is trying out to be a Nolan Batman.

Many, many times throughout the game you will find yourself in combat.  There are three different attacks, sword, arm and flail, and each has different ranges, strengths and uses.  It's actually balanced pretty well, since you will be using them all at various points.  Each one is mapped to a different button, which makes the combos very free-flowing.  You can also get some temporary sub-weapons for executing some of the more powerful enemies.  These have durability, and thus are gone after a few hits, but are useful while you have them.  Several of them also have elements, which can be combined for devastating effect.  I really like this aspect.  If you light an electric guy on fire (or shock a fire zombie), the two elements combine in a massive electrical storm, damaging all enemies nearby.  Every element combines with the others for other combos.  There's even some for mixing three together.  Crazy, fun, powerful and useful.

While combat is fun, it is also very unforgiving.  Enemies attack quickly, and it can be hard to react (or I'm really old).  Enemies sometimes can dodge your attacks, which seems weird considering they are zombies.  The game reminds you to block (thanks loading screen tip) but it doesn't seem to actually work for me.  Most attacks I try to block just go right through it.  You are supposed to ninja dodge by blocking at the right time, but sadly I never pulled it off.  Nope, not even once.  Enemies also auto-correct their attacks, so dodging is also not as helpful as it should be.  If you have to fight a spread of enemies that have distance attacks, have fun trying to fight one while getting bombarded from the others.  Sadly, the best bet in those situations is to sit back and just reflect the projectile by guarding at the right time (which I did get to work).  To me, sitting back and constantly countering is not very action oriented, but re-action oriented.

If an enemy has taken enough damage, they can be executed in spectacular fashion.  Once you purchase an upgrade by leveling up, you can chain together up to ten executions.  The game didn't tell me how, so it was pretty frustrating until I figured it out (R2 again when the execution animation slows down).  I think my favorite execution is to the walking leg enemies, where he just kicks them in the crotch.  Quick and funny.  Doing enough executions will fill up your blood lust.  Activating Blood Lust mode will make Yaiba invincible and much stronger.  It is really useful on the tougher fights, but it doesn't let you execute enemies, which can be bad for the special zombies.  So while really nice, it can still hurt you if you use it.  Ugh.

Fighting large groups of zombies isn't too bad unless they have some ranged attacks.  Even then, it was doable with some patience.  The special zombies (the ones that give the sub-weapons) that can be really annoying to fight.  If the game throws two at you at the same time, be prepared to get smacked around.  A few times they throw three or more at you, which is incredibly frustrating.  The game is hard, and it's possible to die even on the easiest setting.  On the hardest, you are a one hit kill.  So if you like punishing difficulty, you will definitely get your fill in Yaiba.

When not in combat, Yaiba must traverse the environment to advance.  This is usually the best time to look for collectibles, although you can't really move the camera to make it easier to see.  When it comes time to platform, they are done more like QTE minigames than actual platforming.  You jump and run up certain walls, use your flail to swing and even your arm to crash through weak walls.  During these sections, there are small checkpoints along the way, so if you fall, you don't have to go back far.  It definitely looks nice, but occasionally I wasn't sure what I needed to do to advance.  The game doesn't remind you what buttons to press and won't offer any hints, so be sure to remember the buttons for the platforming sections.  These portions of the game are also very "video-gamey" in that they don't really make sense other than to be harder for the player to navigate.  For example, spinning pipes that do nothing but spit out fire.  You will only find those in videogames, and you'll find a fair amount in Yaiba.

There are 7 missions to clear in the game, and the playtime of each can range from 10 minutes to 2 hours.  Of course this depends on your skill and how many times you have to retry certain fights or areas.  If you manage to complete the game, there's several difficulties to master, and even an "arcade" mode that is somewhat reminiscent of the old original Ninja Gaiden arcade game.  Of course there's also some collectibles to get, most of which will actually increase your stats, making the game easier.  You can decent playtime if you do it on more than one difficulty, go for the collectibles, or try for the platinum.  Otherwise, it'll be about a 10 hour game or so.  Most of the trophies are obtained by going through the story, but to get the golds, you'll have to test your skills and patience to finish the game on the hardest settings.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z is pretty fun when it isn't being a jerk to you.  It can be punishing, even on the easiest setting, and doesn't hold you hand at all.  The game looks great and has some fun action.  It also wants you to move and fight super fast, and doesn't care if you can't keep up.  It's definitely a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it doesn't take it self seriously.  A good game for fans of the franchise to make up for Ninja Gaiden 3 and hold them off until the inevitable Ninja Gaiden 4.

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