[As Read on GIO.]
Even the Fun parts can’t bring this Dead Experience Back…
Allow me to start by stating that, as far as Ninja Gaiden games go, this is a better game than the colossal messup called Ninja Gaiden 3 (thankfully remedied by Razor’ Edge, which was much more fun), however it is still one of the weakest entries in the series. The content here serves mainly to frustrate players on higher difficulties and to provide a fun yet insanely stupid and nonsensical romp through zombie infested waters on the easier difficulties. As with most Ninja Gaiden concepts, the story doesn’t really make that much sense, nor do many of the characters themselves- so for the sake of your mind, you should probably just ignore everything except the action. The experience is very fun and worthwhile to a certain extent, however it always has a canned, cheesy B-movie vibe about it that is unshakeable, and results in seeming more and more like some crappy 80’s Power Rangers movie than an actual good game. Then again, a Power Rangers movie with zombies, blood, gore, scantily clad characters, and cyborg ninjas might be a reboot worth watching- I don’t know…
I wouldn’t particularly include this as a truly canonical entry in the series lore, however the concept of taking the guise of a ninja other than Ryu or other known characters is interesting. The premise of the story itself isn’t all that terrible, however it later digresses and becomes sloppy and pretty uneventful and forgetful as you go. As much as Ryu can seem to be an anti-hero, he is still honorable and mostly in the right. Well, this time around you play as a true anti-heroic ninja named Yaiba, who gets in with the wrong clan and pays the price for their dishonor. Not wanting to fail to uphold his own twisted code of honor, he accepts a challenge from Ryu to single combat and is unsurprisingly shredded and cut into bite sized pieces. However, the story doesn’t stop here as one would rightfully think. No, instead Yaiba is pieced back together- part human ninja and part cyborg machine, built up by a wealthy businessman and bent on exacting his revenge against the man who struck him down. Right from the getgo, it’s pretty clear the path this revenge filled adventure is going to take, and rather than ruin much more, I’ll just say that- aside from the small fact that there is a zombie apocalypse going on, Yaiba, nbeing the big butthead he is still decides to relentlessly hunt down Ryu Hayabusa.
I could never really get that much into the story simply because I found myself totally at odds with it. We’ve been taught to idolize Ryu essentially since Ninja Gaiden one, and even in this particular game he is portrayed as a hero- making it that much more difficult to try to take him down. Plus, Yaiba has such a stupid personality and so many flaws that he’s pretty much full renegade all the time and overly annoying, constantly spewing filth and irksome one-liners, and basically being a big douchebag. When you can’t even grow to like your main character, things aren’t going real well for your game at all. If you don’t even like who you’re playing as, how can you enjoy the experience that much? Also, as a first adventure goes, Ninja Gaiden Z doesn’t show very strongly for Yaiba or for his chances of any future installments over Ryu, especially when you consider the fact that he is receiving many more worse scores than the other ninja has over a much larger period of time throughout his games. Ryu is a classic and has class, Yaiba is a pain in the ass.
The game is actually laid out quite simply. Although it can be frustrating on more difficult levels, especially as you progress further into the story, it is quite enjoyable overall and the gameplay despite its many flaws is easily the highlight of the mediocre adventure. Essentially you battle across multiple arenas, facing several growing waves of zombies and other enemies, and occasionally perform a few special platforming and puzzle solving speedbumps between each arena. These puzzle segments are few and far between and often annoying, cumbersome, and taxing on the overall enjoyment of the game and gameplay. However, the platforming works alright and the arenas themselves are decently laid out. For whatever reason, outside of the platforming segments and the occasional QTE or similar motion, you cannot explicitly jump during combat or any other time. Whatever prompted this design choice in a game revolving around ninjas and sword combat, I do not know, but it strikes me as quite odd indeed.
Yaiba’s other combat techniques however come as equally standard and interesting, as ninja related skills and blade-work go. There is a light, fast sword attack, heavy handed melee damage from his newly enhanced cybernetic fist, and a chain slash whip attack as well with which you can string together varying combos. Although combat is fun and sometimes intuitive, it is difficult at first to learn how to properly string together attacks and counters- the latter of which will often fall through or fail against particularly fast or strong enemies, for some unknown reason or another. However, Yaiba’s three main moves give him a welcome versatility that allows him to take on single foes or large groups with relative ease and dispatch them with some fancy footwork and strategic thinking and playing. There are plenty of minibosses to contend with as well, so learn to blend together finishers and crowd-thinning techniques becomes essentially in the first few hours. Each enemy type drops a special sort of loot or bonus for you to enhance Yaiba with- ranging from health orbs and stamina from grunts to special usable weapons from minibosses and powerhouses. Learning which enemies to take out in order to damage surrounding foes is essential as well, and using environmental factors such as fire, ice, or lightning are key as well.
Although combat is usually fun and fast-paced, as you progress it can become very tedious and slow down immensely. Because you have a relatively small health bar in comparison to most enemies, they can take a lot of damage whereas they will kill you in several explosive flurries. This boosts the typical difficulty level, meaning starting easier is nothing to be ashamed of as you’ll most likely end up one or two difficulty levels higher by the end by default essentially. However, this also makes the experience a lot more frustrating on higher difficulties, as it is hard enough on the normal ones. Especially against higher level enemies, it becomes really annoying that the counter system barely functions properly at all, and that you’re constantly forced to dodge and chip away at their massive health bars instead of actively being able to counterattack for larger damage strikes. Each arena progressively becomes larger and the waves of foes more challenging, further enhancing and simultaneously frustrating an otherwise decent experience. Visibility becomes an issue in these large crowds, as the close camera is too close and the distanced one too far away to really take in the action. The most annoying thing is dying thanks to the camera, coupled with the crappy checkpoint system that automatically restarts the entire arena at wave one- even if you had reached the final wave.
Nothing sucks more than a complete loss of progress, and that’s pretty much how I felt about the majority of my experience with the game. I was really looking forward to a fun experience, and although some of my wishes were met, I felt like I always took two steps back to every one forward. You’ll have more fun, especially the first time through, on lower difficulties and get more out of the experience. But there’s also really nothing that prompts a second playthrough, unless you’re a really hardcore fan I guess. The combat related glitches are less noticeable on easier difficulties, but they don’t go away. If you do feel like playing through again, at least rest easy in the fact that any and all of your upgrades and collected items carry across between playthroughs on each difficulty, so you can easily level up completely before attempting it again on a harder setting. There is also a small, side arcade mode that unlocks after playing through, and is an interesting diversion when you’ve become too frustrated with the main content- short though it is.
Concept: Zombie-killing cyborg ninja master! Being a jerk! I hate Ryu, apparently! Yeah, zombies! Did I mention zombie ninja pirate things? Just kidding- no pirates!
Graphics: Adopts a cartoonish style instead of the series specific, slightly more realistic one. Isn’t a bad look, but can make things hard to distinguish during fast-paced combat at times.
Sound: I wouldn’t say the voice acting sucks per se, but the lines the actors were given pretty much made me cringe the entire way through. You could mute the game and still have about the same or a better experience basically.
Playability: The controls normally work well, but will occasionally glitch up and get you killed- especially if you thought the counter system was actually going to work this time around…
Entertainment: It has its moments, however it also has a lot of extra crappy baggage on board as well. You’ve been warned.
Replay Value: Low.
Overall Score: 6.0