|Developer||Spark Unlimited, Team Ninja, Comcept|
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Two years ago, Team Ninja head Yosuke Hayashi told me that only his Japanese development team could create an authentic Japanese ninja. So, why, two years later, has he outsourced development of the latest Ninja Gaiden title to a company just down the road from EGM in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Sherman Oaks? Well, it’s because Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z—and its rowdy shinobi protagonist—isn’t exactly a proper Ninja Gaiden title. The typical Ninja Gaiden game—and main character Ryu Hayabusa—are deadly serious and by the book, despite the fantastical powers on display and jet-setting world travel. Yaiba, on the other hand…has a bit of an attitude. And it’s that devil-may-care style and panache that, in Hayashi’s mind, is perfect for an American developer to inject into the franchise.
Though Hayashi and co-executive producer Keiji Inafune (of Mega Man fame) deny any influence from Suda51’s Lollipop Chainsaw or Shinji Mikami’s God Hand—Inafune likens Yaiba more to his own Dead Rising—I felt a strong resemblance to those two over-the-top action epics during my hands-on time at E3. Sure, part of it was defeating shambling zombie hordes via colorful combos, but I also felt a connection via the game’s silly, sometimes-vulgar humor. At one point, Yaiba needed to destroy a panties factory, complete with fishnet-clad legs on the roof. His solution? Have a zombie drive a truck…right in between those legs. According to Hayashi, the American developers at Spark Unlimited are behind a lot of the humor in the game, and right now, it seems rather hit-or-miss.
I must say, though, that Yaiba is one instance where I wish we had a category in between “Solid” and “Boring”—I enjoyed a lot of this game in concept, but not so much in execution.