Nioh May Lead to More Ninja Gaiden

Nioh May Lead to More Ninja Gaiden

Team Ninja’s upcoming action RPG Nioh has already drawn numerous comparisons to the Souls franchise (Both Dark and Demon), and this demon slaying adventure hasn’t even release yet. You’d be forgiven if you had forgotten that Team Ninja dominated the insanely difficult niche market before anyone had kindled a bonfire when it revived the classic Ninja Gaiden franchise. Now, as Nioh goes gold and approaches its February release, it seems that Ryu Hayabusa is not quite as dead as we thought he was.

Team Ninja revived the classic Nintendo game back in 2004 with the stellar Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, following it up with two enjoyable enhanced editions. Following releases showed a substantial drop in quality until finally reaching a series low point in 2014 with Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z. It was believed that a string of sub par sequels finally did what what ninjas, demons, and frustratingly placed birds could not, finally kill this decades old franchise, but Team Ninja’s Creative Director Tom Lee seems to be hopeful.

“Maybe I can say can say that Nioh is a gateway into the next chapter for Ninja Gaiden,” said Lee in an interview with US Gamer. ” is a very important, if not the most important franchise, for us, but at this point I think this franchise needs to be in the shadows for a while until we bring it back. There will be a time, and when the time is right, we will bring it back.”

While the uncertain time frame can be disheartening, the passion Lee showed for the franchise should be a relief for fans of the series. While Nioh takes its cues from the Souls series and Dynasty Warriors, its setting of a demon infested Japan at the beginning of the Edo period certainly brings to mind Ryu’s sword swinging, shuriken tossing antics.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z Review

Ninja Gaiden has long been on the road to decline, so it’s no surprise that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z should stray so far from the pack, grasping for anything it can latch on to to stay relevant and lucrative. In this day and age, staying relevant means inviting zombies into a franchise. Much like Yakuza: Dead Souls before it, Yaiba introduces a league of the flesh-starved undead for players to hack, slash, and otherwise maim in unspeakable ways. It’s a far cry from the typical Ninja Gaiden series you may be used to, with a completely different kind of hero and a wholly different kind of game. This Dynasty Warriors-esque zombie-slaying marathon, however, is all bark and no bite. 

The instant you fill Yaiba‘s profanity-laden shoes, you’ll note a marked difference in tone and gameplay. This Ninja Gaiden outing revels in the quick-time event, so memorize the zombie takedown demonstrated early on if you want to get ahead. As you carve through the advancing hordes of the shambling undead, it becomes abundantly clear that you serve a singular purpose: clearing a path through organic matter. You accomplish this with several well-timed button presses, squeezing the L2 trigger when the exclamation point pops up above an enemy’s head. 

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Yaiba receives a brief health boost and soldiers on, giving you abundant opportunities for an endless loop of carnage, so long as your timing is good. Plain Jane zombies afford little bonuses, but as the game attempts to bolster its defenses with more challenging swarms of the undead, you’ll receive larger rewards and pull off flashier QTEs. If you’re lucky, Yaiba might even use a pair of arms freshly ripped from their sockets to beat their owner to (second) death. 

It sounds fabulously gruesome and endlessly fascinating, but even though I could appreciate the machinations as a gore hound, ripping the limbs or armaments from my enemies simply wasn’t engaging or logical. It’s not even immediately obvious that you must do this in order to procure additional weapons. It’s a bizarre decision given other Ninja Gaiden games’ methods of simply presenting weapons to players at the right time or allowing you to stumble upon them. With hordes of enemies rather than the smaller, focused assaults of Ninja Gaiden, the additional firepower should be meted out accordingly, and not doled out to players left to their own devices. 

It doesn’t help that the game is its own worst enemy, with camera woes and self-defeating mechanics that work against you rather than with you. Instead of a third-person view, you’re stuck with fixed camera angles that make the hundreds of inevitable cheap deaths Yaiba will succumb to feel as though they’re supposed to happen. Enemies become invisible by proxy, and most of your time will be spent either searching for where your enemies have gone to or anticipating where they’ll come from next so you can frantically mash your attack button to fend them off. When you are locked in combat, it becomes so endlessly repetitive that not even ripping zombies limb from limb remains entertaining, and for a game that touts over-the-top gore and violence, this is a massive issue. 

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Then, right when you’ve become accustomed to the repetition of Yaiba’s repertoire and the mindless hacking through enemies, you’re forced to stop and do an about-face as a familiar character reappears and the game asks you to once again acclimate yourself to the same Ninja Gaiden you’ve always known. It’s as if you’ve been playing with a poor brainless sod up until this point and are finally given a competent avatar. It’s pointless, frustrating, and nonsensical – almost as if Team Ninja wanted this game to fail.

While the game is competent and can hold its own as the most by-the-book instance of a zombie hack-and-slash game, its myriad issues hold it back significantly, enough so that you should take one look, recoil in horror, and opt for an earlier Team Ninja release instead. If you’re just jonesing to kill zombies, perhaps you might opt for Oneechanbara. At least it makes no apologies about what it’s trying to be.

Ninja Gaiden deserves next-gen tune up

Ninja Gaiden deserves next-gen tune up

No matter how hard Team Ninja boss Yosuke Hayashi pushes Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 after revealing a next-gen title is in the works, a new, and true-to-the-series Ninja Gaiden game is something fans of the series deserve.

“Please look forward to this ridiculous ‘zombie x ninja’ game,” Hayashi said in an interview with Dengeki Online. Is it going to be that bad? Probably not. There’s an admirable chance the game is going to be decent at least. Gameplay footage has so far indicated the intense, fast-paced action the hack n’ slash series is known for is there. The added “please,” however from Hayashi is a clear sign that fans who played Ninja Gaiden games of the past are in for something quite different. This is old news however, and the promise of a next-gen title coming from Team Ninja is exciting.

Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox was arguably the best, certainly one of the best, games on that console. A long story mode, which offered some minimal exploration, was complemented with a steady frame rate and gorgeous, gore-tastic visuals. It pushed the system to new levels of technical superiority, and established an audience who reveled in the game’s hardcore difficulty.

The transition to the Xbox 360 and PS3 was admirable, but not exactly a meaningful leap forward. Ninja Gaiden Sigma, which came out on the PS3, was an excellent remake of the original Xbox counterpart. Ninja Gaiden 2, which initially released on the Xbox 360, was insanely fun, but once again, didn’t take that leap forward from the original Xbox, simply offering us shinier visuals, and more weapons to choose from. Without a doubt, it was a game worth purchasing, and it was a solid exclusive action game for the Xbox 360 at the time. (The PS3 got an expanded version of the game a few months later). There was also Ninja Gaiden 3, which received an emphatic ‘meh’ from most consumers.

A true, next-gen Ninja Gaiden experience on the PlayStation 4 is a must. Aside from a graphical upgrade – something the series really needs – a game with multiple objectives, a bigger world, and a vast array of weapons are aspects of Ninja Gaiden that could be greatly expanded on the PS4. Team Ninja should look at what made Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox great, like the intertwined game world, which cleverly weaved the Vigoor empire together, and combine that with the ridiculous action Ninja Gaiden 2 offered. Throw in a story that at least makes partial sense and allows Ryu, or some badass ninja who doesn’t talk too much, take on a bunch of tough-as-nails bosses.

Irritating antagonist not what Ninja Gaiden series needs

Irritating antagonist not what Ninja Gaiden series needs

I’m all for change.

It’s necessary when a game series is looking to move forward and trying to escape the shadows of its predecessors. At times this involves the introduction of a new character, a change in setting, or a combination of the two. However, when it comes to Ninja Gaiden, there are certain things you’d like to see intact, and others you would like to see expanded. New main character for the series? That makes sense, Ryu had a nice run, and it seems appropriate that a new ninja should take the lead. Cel-shading? Okay. Well not quite what I was expecting, but it does sets it apart visually from previous Ninja Gaiden games, which lately haven’t done much to enhance the visual style. Zombies and an annoying blabbermouth who spouts horrendous one-liners? No thank you. I have a copy of Deadpool already. His one-liners for the most part are actually funny though.

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The newly released trailer for Ninja Gaiden Z, a collaboration project between Team Ninja and former Capcom producer Keiji Inafune, would be much more impressive if you turned off the volume, or replaced the sound with trailer music. As soon as the game’s antagonist Yaiba opened his mouth, I completely forgot I was watching a game that has ties to the Ninja Gaiden series. The inclusion of Ninja Gaiden in the title just feels like a last-minute slap on the product in order to bring fans of the series in alongside a new target audience that consists of, I don’t know, people who enjoy hearing  lines like, “I’ve always known exactly where to stick my sword sugar tits.”

Okay.

Let’s take a moment here and recap some positives. The combat will likely be smooth and graceful, pleasing newcomers and hardcore fans alike. The trailer showed off Yaiba slicing and dicing his opponents with ease – a lot like how Ryu did before him. As mentioned previously, the cel-shading is a refreshing change in visual style, and complements the bloody gameplay. I thought facing off against Ryu at the beginning and getting your keister handed to you was an excellent way to mark the start of a rebooted series. It establishes Ryu’s status as a master ninja, motivating you to improve and build upon your character in order to reach that same level of mastery in skill and wisdom.

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Ninja Gaiden’s legacy stretches back to the days of the NES. Obvious changes have been made over the years to the gameplay and Ryu himself. However whenever a Ninja Gaiden game came out, it always felt familiar in many ways. Changes made within the game that either simplified mechanics or simply sucked in a fresh audience didn’t take away from the game’s overall legacy, and for the most part you always knew what you were getting into. A solid hack and slash adventure game with ninjas. With Ninja Gaiden Z, I really don’t know what awaits.

The problem is I already don’t care about Yaiba. At all. Especially if Yaiba is willing to cut someone off in mid-conversation to say, “Just give me something to kill.” I can see a brash, younger, less responsible character taking over the antagonist role in Ninja Gaiden Z, but these character traits don’t need to be shoved down our throats like it is here. They can be showcased in more subtler ways, like Yaiba jumping into a boss battle his guide Miss Monday strongly advices against, or an occasional smart quip here and there.

What I loved about Ryu is he always kept his cool, and when he spoke you listened. He often didn’t say anything substantial, but his calm demeanour always made me feel confident heading into battle. Yes that confidence was matched only by anger after dying a bunch of times, but it still pushed me to beat the level or boss because there was nothing more satisfying than completing stages in Ninja Gaiden.

Enemies were always threatening, and offered a great challenge on a consistent basis. Zombies have been done a lot in games recently, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t include them in a game ever again, but was Ninja Gaiden Z really the place for them? After fighting demons, werewolves, ghost fish, feline ninjas, dinosaurs, zombies feel like a bit of a step down. Demons and dinosaurs aren’t entirely original either, however that should have provided developers a greater incentive to create enemies that stray away from the generic sword magnets we’ve seen so far. Making zombies a little funny and calling them a “Special brand” of zombies isn ‘t very impressive.

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Ninja Gaiden is a hack-and-slash game, plain and simple. I recognize that. The first Ninja Gaiden game on the original Xbox (I sure would like to be able to just call it the Xbox One) was one of the best games of 2004. It’s intense, violent action was combined with a relatively intriguing story, which wasn’t a masterpiece by all means, but did set up some tension and made us care a little bit about why Ryu was so pissed throughout the game. Having your village burned down will do that. The next two entries in the series – Ninja Gaiden 2 and 3 – took some steps backwards when it came to the story, but it was there, and the cooperation between Ryu and the police in Ninja Gaiden 3 was strange but at times pretty intriguing. With Ninja Gaiden Z, it seems like a large focus was put on making the main character different from Ryu in order to attract a new audience. However, it’s hard to warm up to a character that calls his guide “Sugar tits,” and fans of the series will have a hard time adjusting to the new concepts that have strayed away so far from the original source material that it’s become almost unrecognizable.

 

Ninja Gaiden 3 (PS3) Review

Ninja Gaiden 3 (PS3) Review

Evolution or De-Evolution?

When a series has been around as long as Ninja Gaiden has, it can become quite a challenge to keep things fresh. A series needs to evolve and grow in order to keep discriminating gamers and fans interested. Yet, sometimes change is bad, especially when you begin to forget things that made a game great. Ninja Gaiden 3 is the third entry in the modern Ninja Gaiden series that debuted on the original Xbox back in 2004. Ninja Gaiden (2004) was a critical hit and was praised for it’s slick visuals and challenging difficulty. In 2008 Ninja Gaiden received a sequel that continued with the story of serial protagonist Ryu Hayabusa. Ninja Gaiden 2’s gameplay was centered around completely over the top violence and gore which drew the ire of some censors and with its awkward camera and nonsensical story yawns from some critics. Which brings us to 2012 and Ninja Gaiden 3 the latest entry in the series and the first to use the PlayStation 3’s Move motion controller. The biggest difference between then and now is that lead designer Tomonobu Itagaki is no longer with Team Ninja having left just after the release of Ninja Gaiden 2. Until now, I had no idea that he had taken all of the fiends, weapons, and challenge with him.

Suspension of Disbelief

Ninja Gaiden has always had a story that requires the player to have a certain suspension of disbelief, not just because you’re fighting ancient demons and fiends but because of some of the fantastical things that super ninja Ryu Hayabusa can accomplish. Now while I may have bought that Hayabusa can slice and dice thousands of enemies like julienne fries and reflect machine gun fire with nothing but his Dragon Sword  I have to draw the line somewhere. That point comes on Day 3 in Ninja Gaiden 3 when Hayabusa jumps out of a cargo plane without a parachute, skydives while dogging anti-aircraft fire, and lands right on top of one of the aforementioned flak cannons only slice it in half. He then makes his way through the jungle fighting literal “ninja dogs”, German Shepherds that do flips and everything and to top it all off, does battle with a genetically engineered metallic Tyrannosaurs Rex. Nobody would ever say that the Ninja Gaiden series is routed in reality but come on. The last two games at least had some form mysticism to them. Ninja Gaiden 3 tries to explain everything with junk science and futuristic technology. I can say that I enjoyed the game’s plot on a purely ironic level. I was having fun with all the ridiculous feats of fancy but I have a hard time describing the story as any kind of good. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why a ninja like Ryu Hayabusa would go and work for the government simply because they asked him to.

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Ninja Gaiden 3 is pretty different from the previous games in the series. First of all, Ninja Gaiden 3 introduces compatibility with the PlayStation 3’s Move motion controller. However, this functionality is only available by playing on “Heroic” (Easy) difficulty. Being a fan of the challenge normally found in the series I stayed far away from the Heroic setting. Playing on normal was okay but nowhere near as difficult or as satisfying as it has been in the previous games. Finishing Ninja Gaiden (2004) is one of my proudest achievements in gaming, Ninja Gaiden 3 provides me with no bragging rights what so ever. Sure, it was no cake walk but I never had to spend 3 months on a single boss with this game. Another thing that was sorely missed, in my opinion, were other weapons. There were three different swords at my disposal throughout the game but all of them pretty much felt the same. I was hoping for some claws like in Ninja Gaiden 2 or the return of nunchucku, but sadly anything other than a sword comes only in the form of DLC. One change I did appreciate is that the female characters actually wear practical clothes in this game. If you’re familiar with the way women are typically dressed in Ninja Gaiden games then you know what I’m talking about. Finally, at least one designer at Team Ninja realized that skimpy leather thongs are not ideal for battle.

While I doubt that quick time events are new to the series there is quite a lot of them in Ninja Gaiden 3.  I actually enjoyed them for the most part. In truth I found them to be a good replacement for some of the more difficult jumping puzzles that have plagued me in previous games. Again, to their credit, the QTEs are executed well both inside and outside of combat. While I never really found any of the enemies to be particularly difficult except for the Alchemist who is as skilled with a sword as Hayabusa, I did find it very annoying that almost every enemy has an unblock-able throw attack which can devastate your health as you watch helplessly. At first they didn’t use it much but as you get further into the game the enemy A.I. relies on this strategy far too often. There were also times where I found the controls themselves to be unresponsive. I’m not sure if this is an input problem or an animation problem but I found it difficult to switch techniques easily so had to stick with the basic attack combo of quick quick strong to be effective against most enemies.

Ninjas Need Not Apply

Just once I’d like to be a ninja in a videogame. Unfortunately, despite it’s title Ninja Gaiden 3 is not that game but they almost tricked me in to thinking it was. During the first level I was introduced to “surprise kills” which led me to believe that this game might actually let me be stealthy like a ninja but no dice. There is almost zero stealth required in Ninja Gaiden 3 most of the enemies not only see you coming but a few actually ambush you. How on earth do you surprise a ninja and get a knife to his throat, especially one as highly trained as Hayabusa. To be fair the  Ninja Gaiden series has never been about stealth or the art of ninjitsu but I was hoping that at some point during this series Team Ninja might change it up and actually let me be a ninja in Ninja Gaiden but unfortunately that is not the case nor do I feel it ever will be. Three games of kicking down doors  and explosions has now taught me that if I want to be anything close to a ninja I should just play Batman: Arkham City or Assassin’s Creed.

Ninja Vanish!

Ninja Gaiden (2004) was probably my favorite game on the original Xbox. Eight years later I think it’s time to give this series a rest. So little of what made the game great is left that I hardly recognized it as being in the same series. The weapons that made the game fun, the mysticism that allowed the world to make sense, the challenging encounters that were as satisfying as they were difficult, and the combo meter that made me feel like a bad ass are all gone. What remains is a series that has completely forgotten it’s roots and what made it successful all those years ago. I don’t know how much of that was Itagaki’s influence but if it was, I think Team Ninja should apologize and get him back if they ever want people to care about Ryu Hayabusa or Ninja Gaiden in the future.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (PS Vita) Review

Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (PS Vita) Review

Robert Hamburger on the Go

When the infamous internet joke website Real Ultimate Power gave the world the deranged child ninja fan known as Robert Hamburger, it was probably games like Ninja Gaiden that were part of the inspiration. It’s easy to see why; if the Hamburger definition of a ninja is some dude that flips out and kills people, the homicidal Ryu Hayabusa is a text book example of a guy with a sword and no limiters whatsoever on his kill capacitor. Now the game that’s already seen three previous iterations comes back for a fourth time, but this time it’s portable.

A Handful of Slaughter

The TLDR version of this review is, it’s a faithful port, so if you want it in portable format, go out and buy it in confidence. For everyone else that missed out on earlier versions, here’s what’s going on. NGS+ is a Vita port of Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the PS3 port of Ninja Gaiden Black, which in turn was a compiled “best of” edition of Ninja Gaiden which was originally released on the Xbox in 2004. As to be expected from an eight year old game appearing on snazzy new portable hardware, the Vita eats the graphics engine of NGS+ for breakfast, giving some smooth performance and the same noticeable upgrade to visuals that players noted in NGS from the original NG. While the audio is identical to the previous version in terms of content, there’s the expected downgrade in quality. After all, we’re going from a retail, disc game meant to be heard with home theatre systems to a handheld best played with earphones. This just isn’t going to provide the same richness—or bass—as the console original.

As might also be expected, the shrinkage of the analog sticks to smaller nubs has some effect on player dexterity, but dedicated practice can eliminate this problem. What you get in return however is a viable way to play traditional console games on a portable. Even though NGS+ isn’t the greatest example because the Not So Great camera from the past versions still appears here, it’s a much better solution to the awful face button/D-Pad/Shoulder Button alternatives that have plagued hand held games over the years. Because the Vita has touch technology, there are also some mandatory new features built in to show off this functionality. Bows, for example, can now be fired by first touching the screen to go into first person, and then touching the enemy to aim the bow, which is actually fairly fast and efficient. Less efficient is the tying of the first person camera to the motion sensors of the Vita so that you can move the Vita around to see your view as you would in a 3DS augmented reality title. The Ninpo attack has also been shanghaied into the touch screen craze with some rear touch screen functionality that, as might be imagined, can take some practice when you can’t see exactly where your fingers are going.

The mandatory gimmick enhancements aside, what you get is a very functional, very playable version of a console game that is still considered one of the hardest on the market. It might not look as good as Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but it’s still an impressive looking and playing title that does a great job of showing off what the Vita can do. Without that second analog stick this wouldn’t be a viable title on portables, but Sony’s design concession coupled with the monstrous power of the Vita have yielded a great looking portable game. If you’re a fan of challenging action games but somehow missed the last few versions, or are a fan of the series that wants to be able to carry Ryu Hayabusa wherever you go, get this.