Out of the many, many games I had the chance to get my grubby paws on at E3 2013, none were more surprising than Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. I have more than a passing familiarity with the series, having played the first two in the current 3D line of the franchise, and I’m also more than aware of their reputation – tough as leathery balls. It was a surprise to play through the demo of Yaiba and find myself… actually winning very easily.
Yaiba is a spin-off of the main Ninja Gaiden series, and I’m going to guess a non-canon one too. It stars Yaiba Kamikaze, who actually turns out to be an enemy of Ryu Hayabusu who has been violently disposed of… until he comes back as cyborg, to face a world filled with zombies. Makes sense to me!
Past Ninja Gaiden games have had their over-the-top moments, but Yaiba takes everything to a whole new level. With stylized cel-shaded graphics that pull-off a rough graphic novel/manga look, it feels more like MadWorld than Ninja Gaiden. Rather than taking enemies on one-by-one, you’re able to fight groups of the undead at a time, and you’re not just limited to your sword. Various objects in the environment can be picked up and used as weapons, including the limbs and body parts of your decomposing enemies.
And it’s not just about beating your enemies over the head with a leg you found lying around – these weapons do untold damage upon your foes, unleashing swathes of blood and zombie goo. The controls through all this are easy to pick up, and none of the zombies really pose much of a threat. There are some minor ‘puzzles’ if you could call them that, where Yaiba’s path will be blocked. The solutions don’t require much thought – just add zombies! Throwing a zombie into a nearby steamroller will coach him into operating it to clear the way – even including an Austin Powers-inspired sequence where he runs over a fellow revenant.
Yaiba definitely has a weirder sense of humour than other Ninja Gaiden games, and this was made no clearer than in part of the level where Yaiba destroyed a panty shop – the explosion sending the lacey undergarments strangely un-singed into the sky to float down upon our hero. This triggered the boss encounter – a hideous twin-foetus abomination racing around on a car, infuriating Yaiba for interrupting his ‘panty party’.
Yaiba is a lot more accessible than I was expecting, and a lot of fun to play through. It’s a really bizarre take on the series, but perhaps something this off-the-wall was needed after Ninja Gaiden 3. It’s kind of the Blood Dragon of the Ninja Gaiden series – just one big excuse for a whole lot of references, humour and fun. Look for it early in 2014.