The Ninja Gaiden series dates back to the arcade, but it is more well known for its trilogy of games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. After a remake of those three for the Super Nintendo, there was a lull of nearly a decade before the franchise triumphantly returned with Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox. This sparked a brand new trilogy of games, but the last entry Ninja Gaiden 3 was met with mostly negative reviews due to being too easy, amongst other issues. The re-release Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge improved on the game a bit, but still received mixed reviews at best, so fans of the series have been waiting for something to get them excited about the series again. However, rather than a new mainline game in the series, we have now gotten the spinoff Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.
In this spinoff title, we take control of Yaiba Kamikaze, a ninja who had slaughtered his own clan and went out to find a true challenge. This challenge came in the form of original series protagonist Ryu Hayabusa, which did not go so well. Yaiba was left for dead, but saved by the magic of science through cyber-technology. This brings us to the start of the game where Yaiba is out for revenge on his now nemesis. However, that is far from all as he also has to take on zombies, because what doesn’t have zombies in it these days?
When you think of the Ninja Gaiden series, at least outside of Ninja Gaiden 3, probably the first thing that will come to mind is the difficulty level. Thankfully, the difficulty level returns to form in Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. Even on the lowest level of difficulty, the game is far from a cakewalk and it only gets tougher from there with unlockable difficulty levels like Nightmare and Hell. While it can get frustrating, this is exactly what fans of the Ninja Gaiden series really want in a new game, and I loved it, even when I was yelling at the TV after dying way too many times.
While Yaiba retains the hack and slash gameplay style of the most recent Ninja Gaiden trilogy, it still feels almost like something else at times. The game I kept comparing it to the most while playing was actually last year’s Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. There is of course have the whole human turned cyborg element, but that is not the major comparison I found.
The stages are very linear as you move forward while you move from one fighting arena area to the next. Unlike past Ninja Gaiden games where you played a full stage and got scored at the end, this one utilizes a system similar to the aforementioned Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, where you have separate segments throughout the stage against set enemies that are each individually scored. You cannot move forward at all until these are beaten, so you will have to defeat pretty much every enemy in your path during this game. Some of these segments are quite long, which adds to the difficulty level, as you do not get save points during each one of these, but rather have to start that part over again.
While Ryu Hayabusa typically acquired new weapons in past games on a permanent basis after the defeat of bosses, Yaiba does so a little differently. At first, you start with his ninja sword and cyber weapons, but after fighting mini-bosses like Sidesplitters and Buster Sister, you will gain access to their special weapons for a limited time, Nun-Chuckles and Hagpipes respectively. This limited use can be kept up with by a meter on the bottom right of the screen, so it is important to use them wisely. After you initially acquire the weapon, you will begin to see that mini-boss in regular battles, which allows you to reacquire the special weapons by executing them.
Executing is easy as all you have to do is hit L2 when an exclamation point appears above their head when they are near death. Not only will you receive the weapon, but also health packs upon doing executions, so you will very quickly learn how vital they are to staying alive in longer battle segments of the game. Executions can also be chained together when fighting multiple enemies by correctly timing a press of L2 on each execution. This is pretty neat to see and can lead to health packs all over if done well.