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Yasai Ninja / 12th of September 2015

Yasai Ninja, a third-person action adventure, has emerged unceremoniously on Xbox One through the ID@Xbox program, and this was probably for the best (sort of) as no publisher in their right mind would have presumably touched this with a barge pole. It is under no uncertain terms the worst game that I have played on this hardware generation (thankfully I avoided Fighter Within), and quite possibly one of the worst releases that I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, and that, I can assure you, is not an overreaction. For, as Luke Skywalker might say about it, “if there is a bright centre to the world of gaming, then this is the release that it is farthest from”.

In Yasai Ninja, players guide a samurai warrior – who also happens to be an onion – as he seeks to gain revenge against his former sensei, on this journey he is accompanied by a nunchaku wielding piece of broccoli who bears some passing resemblance to Jim Kelly’s Williams from Enter the Dragon. Well, if he’d also been made of broccoli that is. The entire world that the developer has created here is populated with vegetables, so yes, as you’d have guessed it, the game is primarily targeted at children, but even knowing this, it’s rather difficult to find anything positive to say about it, though I certainly like the manner in which enemies split apart when defeated, which makes for a nice touch in a game that is otherwise found lacking.

The comic book art style that has been employed here allows for some nice touches from time to time, such as the swirling clouds that back the dimly lit escape in Episode 2. These somehow seemed to recall Van Gogh’s “Wheat Field With Cypresses” to me, yet without bearing any real direct aesthetic link to it. Regardless though, they certainly make a beautiful touch to a game whose visuals are below par at best. I knew that I was in for something rather poor when the title screen was riddled with screen tearing, and these V-sync issues raise their ugly head sporadically throughout the adventure, and in a game as visually simplistic as this one, such a problem really is inexcusable. Textures are poor throughout, as are the lighting and particle effects, and as for the animation, well, watching this onion run is like watching him have a fit, but at least the team went for something reasonably authentic looking (for a samurai that is, not an onion). I suppose that, as a game targeted at kids, its core audience won’t really notice such deficiencies anyway, yet there are no excuses whatsoever for the in-game audio.

The audio that accompanies these primitive visual effects is certainly nothing to write home about either, the score is effectively a by the numbers attempt to create faithful sounding Japanese instrumental compositions, yet they are completely devoid of any character. Sadly then, these arrangements reside roughly equidistant away (about a million miles of so) from the sumptuous work of Toru Takemitsu on Kurosawa’s epic, Ran, or the more modern sounding work of videogame composer Richard Jacques on Sega’s Shinobi X (Shinobi Legions in the US). Technically, I shouldn’t be too hard on the game here, at least they made the effort, which cannot be said of the game’s sound effects which grate to say the very least, with a simple run through a field being accompanied by sporadic thumps and clicks that that had me worrying about the health of my speakers. Very poor.

However, these aesthetic weaknesses are but the tip of the iceberg, the real issues lay somewhat deeper within this shoddily cobbled together game, making it one of the roughest slogs that I have ever had to endure. Everything feels so heavy and lethargic, from the character movement to the unnecessarily awful camera controls, which feel as though they hark back to the mid-nineties, and the early iterations of the genre. Frequently, and especially in co-op mode, the camera finds its way to get stuck behind walls and other objects, or it simply refuses to turn, forcing the player to attempt an already fiddly jumping section without the ability to see where they’re going. This, as one can imagine, does not help its cause in any way.

The platforming sections (apart from the 2D areas which are fine), which form part of the staple experience are a plague upon mankind, asking that players give it perfection, but without the game actually providing the tools necessary to make this happen. Through a combination of piss poor camera and sluggish movement, the game’s simple jumping mechanic feels almost broken, typically seeing the player tumble into the very obstacles that they are trying desperately to avoid, such as water, which, for some reason, is particularly dangerous to vegetables. The worst part about this though, is that dying (despite the fact that the game is targeted at children) is incredibly harsh with its checkpoint placements, sending players back to the start of a section (or level) rather than simply respawning them back on land. After failure in combat, I could almost understand it, but when the game is already painful to play, forcing gamers to repeat whole sections of the game feels like something prisoners in Guantanamo Bay might have had to endure!

And on the topic of combat, here is another major issue with the game, as if you are surprised though, right? Sluggish doesn’t even come close to describing the combat system in Yasai Ninja, which greets players with a button prompt on the first level, indicating that by pressing “X”, players will carry out a light attack. However, unlike most games, this “light” attack seems to take the character several seconds to carry out, though that’s assuming that they even bother to attempt it. It seems as though the developer, RECO Technology, wants players to utilise perfect timing when attempting to attack their foes, yet this is neither explained in any way, and nor, quite frankly does it seem possible to achieve. In single player, with the AI controlling my broccoli based side-kick (players can switch between character with the press of a button though), I frequently found myself battling alone – particularly in wide open areas – as the AI would simply make the character run off until completely out of sight, which is not particularly helpful when players are downed in combat as the bleed-out time that they have available is incredibly harsh, amounting to little more than a fraction of what Epic offered its fans in Gears of War. This is of course further worsened by the fact that should one of the two characters die, it’s game over, meaning that the section will need to be played all over again. Joy.

Now, bearing in mind that this game has been designed with children in mind, there is precious little guidance as to where or what the player has to do next, in fact some of the tasks required on the first level seem like little more than optional actions, though this is of course impossible, as there is nothing in the world that can be interacted with bar the very items that must be used to open up a way forward. Regardless though, everything seems overly innocuous, nothing is particularly well highlighted, which will likely leave many players simply wandering about aimlessly, and given that Yasai Ninja is neither fun to play nor good to look at, the chances of this happening are invariably slim to say the least.

Now, I know that the team at RECO Technology are listening to the feedback that they have been given and are currently working on a patch to redress some of the complaints and tighten up several of Yasai Ninja’s gameplay features, so who knows, perhaps they’ll find a way to salvage this. However, in its present form Yasai Ninja is a very bad game indeed; it’s sluggish to control, painful to look at and somewhat torturous to play. Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote in “Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai”, “wisdom comes from paying attention to wise people”, and so, with this in mind (and also presuming myself to be wise), I have counsel for you which can be surmised simply and pertinently; avoid this horrendous mess like the plague.

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