The weird Ninja Gaiden spin-off that is Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z surprised us during a recent hands-on. For a series that's always been known for its gory disposition, it feels like proceedings may have gone a little bit overboard, with so much blood and mutilation that we found it difficult to discern what was even happening on screen. Think Dynasty Warriors, only if every Chinese soldier that you smacked around the face exploded into a mess of entrails when defeated.
What's immediately noticeable about the chaotic brawler is its visual style. Adopting a cel-shaded look, the game certainly stands out, even if it seems a little rough around the edges. Jaggy models were just about everywhere that we looked in our demo, while clipping issues constantly caught our eye – even during cutscenes – with playable character Yaiba Kamikaze's face prodding through his hood at times. However, we're hopeful that what we played was an older build, meaning that these problems should be smoothed over before launch.
Thankfully, the gameplay fared a little better. The basis of combat is simple: mashing square pulls off a standard sword combo, and hitting circle when a prompt appears above an enemy's head triggers a cinematic kill – the animations of which are decidedly brutal. On the defensive meanwhile, Yaiba can block incoming attacks with R1, and timing it just right allows you to counter attack as the clocks momentarily stop. Adding to the already hectic pace of battles, you can also hit X to dash in any direction, allowing you to cancel out of attacks when you're about to be overwhelmed by slobbering adversaries.
All of the basics in regards to combat appear to be solid, and carving up the undead at lightning speeds is nothing if not mindlessly enjoyable. Of course, a hack and slash title based primarily on fighting hordes of shuffling, almost defenceless zombies could become tedious quite quickly, but we were relieved to come across some variety, as faster, bulkier creatures shuffled into play. While they still didn't provide much of a challenge, we were forced to start blocking and be more aware of enemy positioning in case we got flanked. Overall, the release seems to succeed when it comes to making you feel like an unstoppable cyborg ninja.
However, when the demo's boss was introduced – a raging, bearded monster that carried a lantern and loved to spit fire at us – things started to take a turn for the worse. The abomination itself sported a relatively predictable attack pattern, but we found ourselves getting hit time and time again thanks to a completely broken camera. Attempting to run away from the fixed angle and behind the boss caused it to spin out of control numerous times, and although we didn't encounter this issue elsewhere, the rigid viewpoint caused unnecessary awkwardness throughout, especially during some scripted platforming sections.
Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z certainly looks unique, and its core gameplay holds up reasonably well, but we're concerned about the overall polish of the product. Hopefully, just like its main character, the game's glaring issues can be fixed up using cybernetics before launch. Until the title's unspecified 2014 release date, though, we recommend sheathing your bloodthirsty blade and waiting for further impressions.
Is Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z on the sharp end of your wishlist? Are you attracted to the title's comic book gore, or is it putting you off the game? Spew your thoughts in the comments section below.