There was an awful lot of beat-em-up action games present at this year's E3. You've got Dragon's Crown from Atlus, Capcom is releasing the Dungeons and Dragons arcade titles to XBLA and PSN, Konami's got Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 cooking in its infernal oven. The only person really missing out on this is Ryu Hayabusa from the Ninja Gaiden series. Well he's back, sort of, as the water to new anti-hero Yaiba's oil. For the newest Ninja Gaiden, players assume control of Yaiba, recently back from the dead after a battle with Hayabusa. He's sporting some cybernetic technology that keeps him alive, with a design that kind of reminds me of Cyber Akuma from Marvel vs. Street Fighter and a bad-ass attitude to match. He's mowing down hordes of the undead on his quest for revenge in this team-up between Tecmo Koei and Keiji Inafune, which might also explain the wild visuals of this game.
It looks like the guys at Tecmo Koei got a little Kill Bill in their Ninja Gaiden with Yaiba. Its comic book inspired visuals and over the top blood look like a loving homage to one of the bloodiest pieces of mainstream cinema. The urban setting with the cel-shading kind of gave off a vibe of 'don't take this game too seriously, because we certainly aren't.' I certainly got that impression as I was cutting down hordes of zombie enemies, either by hooking one on to a sickle and chain and swinging him around, or by using a pair of fists from a zombie to produce a set of nunchucks, it's clear that this game is rooted in a very different reality than the recent Ninja Gaiden releases. And maybe that's the shake-up that the franchise needed?
Dispatching enemies was simply a matter of using Yaiba's rocket-arm, yeah, a rocket-arm (that can actually backfire), or his trusty blade, or a myriad of off-hand weapons that can be gained by defeating certain zombies. He's also got the requisite rage meter that when unleashed makes him pretty much an unstoppable killing machine. It was an early Alpha build, but the groundwork has been laid for a pretty hectic adventure with a bit of comedy thrown in, like when Yaiba has to take down a seedy prostitution joint, which is accomplished by flinging a zombie into a big-rig that's got a giant gas container on it. The zombie is obviously ready to get his Gran Turismo on as he floors it straight for the building. This lead to a boss fight with the businesses proprietor and on defeating him I was greeted by a giant... zombie... baby? This is most definitely not the Ninja Gaiden I grew up with.
With it's distinctive attitude and visuals, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z
was looking like on of the better beat-em-ups to come out of the show. It's slated for a release sometime next year for the Xbox 360 and PS3, and it looks like Team Ninja and Keiji Inafune have a solid proof of concept on their hands. Hopefully the dramatic shift in tone and visuals comes together well in the final product.