I was never really a fan of the grindhouse style. For those that don’t know, grindhouse is a genre of storytelling that is full of sex, vulgarity and violence. I’m not opposed to those things but the way that they’re portrayed in typical exploitation movies always felt extremely forced and self aware to me. It’s always a turn off when something tries too hard to be funny or shocking.
For whatever reason, grindhouse made a bit of a resurgence a few years back with Quentin Tarantino’s own Grindhouse movie. For a while, this seemed to be the “it” thing despite the fact that the movie didn’t exactly do very well. Even video games got in on the grindhouse wave with titles like House of the Dead: Overkill and Shadows of the Damned. This was a fad in the purest sense of the word and quickly went away.
You can imagine my surprise then when I found out that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z was a grindhouse inspired game. Here I was thinking this trend was all but over but in comes Yaiba proudly wearing this influence on its sleeves. Even though I’m not a fan of the genre, I went into this game with an open mind. Unfortunately, the main reasons that I dislike grindhouse were shoved down my throat only a few minutes into my playthrough.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like cyborgs, ninjas, over the top action, gore, and girls with short skirts and big boobs. I’m a red-blooded male, how could I not? However, it’s all about presentation and balance and this game doesn’t handle those very well. I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m not the most mature guy out there, but when I’m playing a game and I’m saying to myself “Was this written by a 15 year old?” you KNOW things are bad. It also doesn’t help when the actual gameplay doesn’t hold up… but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The whole deal with this game is that you’re a ninja killer named Yaiba who is sliced in half by Ninja Gaiden’s own Ryu Hayabusa. You’re resurrected as a cyborg and sent to stop a zombie outbreak and kill Hayabusa in the process. From the get go this premise is doomed to failure because there is no way that you’re actually going to end up killing Hayabusa. He’s the star of Ninja Gaiden for crying out loud! Knowing that I would never get to fulfill the main character’s goal sucked a lot of the motivation I had to even play this game since everything I did would ultimately be pointless.
I wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with the moronic tone or story if the game was actually fun to play but unfortunately it wasn’t. The centerpiece of any of these type of games lies with the combat but it just doesn’t work so well here. Although I had access to a wide variety of combos which unlocked via experience points, I never used more than a handful throughout the game. Being able to be hit out combos became annoying and there was never a point of having so many of them since I rarely faced zombies in one-on-one battles. The game needed more area of effect attacks to handle the multitude of walking corpses.
There’s a block button but it’s rendered almost useless when there are literally ten or more zombies attacking you at once; some with unblockable moves. The sound effects didn’t help matters either and it always sounded like Yaiba was calling out for his cat (“psst psst psst”) when hitting enemies. The hits you deliver to enemies never have enough “umph” to them. It’s a sad thing when the combat in a hack-n-slash game feels so limp and boring.
As I’ve already mentioned, the main enemies that you face in this game are zombies. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve about reached my limit with the undead in video games. Having to kill off thousands of them in yet ANOTHER title didn’t exactly appeal to me. Seriously, if I never see another zombie in an action game again I wouldn’t complain. There were several zombie types but after a while, even the unique variations get tiring since you face them constantly.
While the game doesn’t have a proper Jump button, there is still some platforming to be done. Platforming is activated in specific parts of the game and while they did serve to break up the monotony of killing of hordes of zombies, it wasn’t very well implemented. For example, I’d go to a designated “jump point” and hit X but Yaiba would just stand there like an idiot. There were too many cases where I’d have to spin the analog stick and mash the X button like wild to get him to start platforming. The actual platforming itself is alright but it felt too much like I was on rails. It would have been nice to have more direct control during these parts.
The worst thing about this game comes from the camera angles. More than once I’d lose sight of Yaiba in the middle of battle. The camera would pull back too far and make it hard to see what was happening amidst the chaos on screen. It was worse during boss battles because the camera wanted to keep the boss in the center even if I was far away from him and dealing with minions. I’m normally not against fixed camera angles but in this game I desperately wanted to be able to manually control the view just so I had a sense of what was going on around me.
Things aren’t all bad with this game however. The art design for the characters and the world is fantastic. Even though the game mostly takes place in unimaginative places like laboratories, sewers and industrial areas, it looks gorgeous. This is one game that looks like a comic book come to life due to its use of blacks and outlines. The color palette is vibrant and makes things really pop. Even though it’s running off the Unreal 3 Engine, the game doesn’t look like it is. I even have to commend the fact that the instruction manual is in full color and the box art was hand drawn. This sort of stuff pleases me greatly.
The other thing that I thought was cool was the inclusion of a side scrolling beat-em-up style game called Ninja Gaiden Z. Even though it uses the same assets from the main game, this is a total nod to games of yesteryear. The cutscenes (cutscreens?) are super pixelated and the subtitles are full of “Engrish” hilarity. I enjoyed playing this over the actual game actually, and it makes me wonder if these type of games just work better in a 2D space. The biggest downside here is that you have to finish the main campaign before this mode is unlocked.
The best way I can describe my time with this game is “frustrating.” I hated the imprecise combat and platforming mechanics and found the story to be vapid and juvenile. I did love the art style and comic book-esque cutscenes though. I also felt that the arcade mode was vastly superior to the main game. This game isn’t a complete disaster though and it may appeal to people who just want to mindlessly kill things and hear crude jokes. As for myself, it’s just another reminder of why grindhouse style media never caught on; It’s vacuous and tedious… just like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.