On the 27th and the 28th of September 2013, Callum Petch attended the Eurogamer Expo with the intention of playing as many games and attending as many panels as he could stand standing in lines for. The following posts chronicle his adventures…
Let us now pay a visit to the grave-site where the ghost of the Ninja Gaiden series, despite having been dead in terms of quality for quite some time, is still kicking around, refusing to just stop desecrating its legacy and let us all move on with our lives. The latest entry is entitled Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and… you know what, without cheating, I’m going to give you five seconds to guess what this game is about. Hint: there’s a reason that there’s a Z attached to the end of that title. Time’s up. It’s a hack-and-slasher… where your primary enemies are zombies. Yeah, the Ninja Gaiden series is that out of ideas.
In any case, you don’t play as Ryu Hayabusa, either. You instead play as Yaiba, a man whom Hayabusa killed. Violently. However, he is rebuilt with a cybernetic body by a shadowy corporation and promised a rematch with his arch-enemy if he can take care of a little zombie infestation problem first. As you can probably guess, the story is just window dressing for the act of murdering a tonne of zombies and, to its credit at least in the demo I played, it never forces itself into the game. There are no moments where the action pauses for about five minutes to spew exposition at you; it’s pretty much “here’s you, here are zombies, kill them”.
This sentiment would have been lovely if the game’s combat were anything other than dire, though. Due to your only enemies being zombies, and various slightly bigger and harder hitting types of said, there’s no challenge to fighting. Mash the various face buttons hard and fast enough and everything on screen will wind up dead with your health barely scratched. There’s no skill to the combat, either; though they’re weak in terms of attacks, zombies move really fast and there are loads of them – which is where the only real challenge comes in, and which some could validly claim is actually just false challenge – so there’s no need to try big combos. After all, why learn some elaborate, graceful combo when you can just mash Square over and over again and get the same result but far quicker? Executing vulnerable zombies earns you bloodlust and once said bloodlust is filled, you can activate it to make Yaiba invincible and faster in both movement and attacks for a short period of time, further reducing combat to a cakewalk. It’s just unremittingly dull; there’s no challenge involved, no skill required and attacks are repetitive and unoriginal, so what’s the point in trying?
Platforming is similarly streamlined and, thusly, insultingly easy. You have one pre-determined direction to go, with the rest of the level surrounded in invisible walls and you can’t die or get injured for screwing up. And that only occurs if you somehow managed to miss the input in the first place, the reaction window for activating the next stage of the jump – you don’t even need to key in the direction, the game does that for you, too – is so long and forgiving that a senile grandparent could get past each platforming section on the first try. Again; no challenge, no skill, no variety, no fun. “Go here. Jump at the wall. Press X again at some point within the next few seconds. It’s alright, we’ll wait. No biggie, honest.” Though the game looks alright graphically, the frame-rate is atrocious. I don’t think I made it through a single battle without it slowly collapsing like a fat boy on a treadmill at some point; inexcusable for a game in this genre.
But the worst part about Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, from the demo I played, actually had nothing to do with the game-playing part of it. No, instead my biggest issue with Z is the game’s obnoxious emphasis on fratboy humour. To put it simply, this game’s sense of humour sucks; focussed around characters shouting obscenities, not even creative ones like in The Thick Of It, and your tech support back at home looking like what Westerners think Anime portrays female tech support as: boobs, anime pigtails, librarian glasses, cleavage, the whole shebang. The absolute nadir, though, came in the solution to a “puzzle”. Occasionally, the game stops and tasks you with destroying something to clear the way; both instances in the demo involved throwing a zombie into a nearby vehicle and watching them operate it. The first of these ripped off the steamroller gag from Austin Powers, but I’ll admit to chuckling at it. The second involved a zombie driving a cement truck into the roof of a sex shop, between the thighs of the standee on top, causing the shop to explode and bathe our hero in a shower of women’s underwear.
That wasn’t funny. In fact, I was actually rather disgusted by it and made special mention of it down in my notes. It’s just crude, unfunny humour to begin with, but the sex shop sequence seems like something purely designed for frat boys to laugh at. “Heh, heh, heh! That truck entered the middle of that woman’s legs so hard, like a good penis, that it caused her shop to explode! Heh, heh, heh!” It’s the kind of extremely unsubtle and needlessly crude humour that I cannot abide. If you are going to go to that kind of well, your joke needs to be hilarious, like Lollipop Chainsaw often was – likely because that game’s writers, James Gunn and Suda51, are better at this kind of humour than everyone at Team Ninja are – otherwise it’s just going to repulse me.
In fact, there are my thoughts on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z: I liked it better when it was called Lollipop Chainsaw. That game is the game that Yaiba wishes it could be because that game is fun to play and its writing and atmosphere doesn’t try so hard to be goofy and wacky, which makes it a more tolerable presence to be around. By contrast, Yaiba’s tries-too-hard attitude can be summed up by the tagline it proudly displayed on the side of its booth “Full Ninja, All The Time, Bitches”. The “Bitches” part doesn’t need to exist, yet it does, because this is the edgy Ninja Gaiden for the audience that doesn’t play Ninja Gaiden. We’re not wanted because, if we were, the game would have some semblance of challenge, required skill and a centrepiece moment that does not involve a shower of knickers. No, this is for the dude-bro in your life who, when drunk and whilst having sex with big-breasted women (incidentally the only reason he’s having sex with them in the first place), wonders aloud what would happen if a ninja fought a zombie. The dude-bro doesn’t like games that involve pressing more than three buttons in any 10 second window. This is the game for that guy, but not you or me. No, we can go back to DmC or Lollipop Chainsaw or God Of War any other of the 100s of hack-and-slashers that are currently leaving the pathetic husk of the Ninja Gaiden series in the dust.
I close today’s Eurogamer Expo journal entry with a mention of Achtung Arcade, the [adult swim] of videogames. See, the game of that I ended up playing, because it was just sat there waiting for someone to press start, ended up being Stalin & Josef’s Xmas Defence where Joseph Stalin and Karl Marx have somehow had a baby and then have to defend said baby from an army of various incoming things. It’s random, and not the good kind of random. This is the kind of random where every other word out of somebody’s mouth is “motherf*ckers” in an emotionless robotic voice and you’re expected to laugh. This is the kind of random where you go from shooting animals to the three wise men to the army and you’re supposed to laugh because “THIS MAKES NO SENSE! HA! HA! HA!” This is the kind of random where there’s a long drawn-out pause in dialogue and you’re meant to laugh because you assume that the cabinet has died.
I laughed once, at the reveal that the entire game has been taking place at the side of a road, which explains why you keep murdering just about anything that comes along, but that’s it. In fact, I take back my [adult swim] dig, because even [adult swim] would reject this kind of humour for being too random and stupid. Randomness for randomness’ sake does not automatically equal comedy, it just means that a lot of stupid sh*t happened. There was a kid of roughly 11 years of age stood next to me as I played who thought it was the funniest thing ever, and the kind of stoners who made the execrable Tim & Eric comedy superstars should get a kick out of it, but I remained unamused.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the gameplay of Stalin & Joseph… yet. That’s because there isn’t any. In theory, you’re supposed to kill everything coming towards you with various weapons – which you can stock up on, along with ammo, between rounds – but there is no penalty for letting people get by and there’s no strategy or skill. Just keep mashing the shoot button until everything is dead or past you. That’s it. I’ve played WarioWare DS games that had more depth than this. At least their concepts worked!
I was hoping to at least spot another game in the Achtung Arcade after my turn was up, so that I could see if the kind of stupid anti-humour that Stalin & Joseph… pedalled extended to the entire cabinet, therefore giving me a chance to be more concrete in my appraisal of the Arcade itself. Unfortunately, the 11-year-old kid that I mentioned prior was up next – oh, did I mention that the machine was not sequestered away in the over-18s area despite the content that’s clearly not for… wait, I just thought of who’d appreciate the humour and retract my prior statement – and he went straight back for Stalin & Joseph… My day, meanwhile, was coming to a close and I wanted to get my Hotline Miami 2 on, so I headed off to play games that I may have actually enjoyed, instead.
The Expo adventures will continue in further blog posts every weekday between Monday and Thursday until Callum Petch has ran out of articles here on GameSparked!