The first major game announcement of Tokyo Game Show 2012 is sort of like the Traveling Wilburys for video games, a fantasy collaboration between artists twenty years after their prime. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z pairs Keiji Inafune, the creator of Mega Man, Lost Planet, and Dead Rising, with Team Ninja and its the legendary action series starring Ryu Hayabusa. The Traveling Wilburys were entertaining of course, but their albums paled in comparison to that of the individuals in the super group. Will Inafune’s first major home console game since leaving Capcom be a new benchmark in his career or a merely competent meeting of minds?
Things don’t look good on the surface. The glut of zombies in video games—this year alone we’ve had DayZ, The War Z, Deadlight, Resident Evil 6, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Zombies Mode, Lollipop Chainsaw, Yakuza: Dead Souls, Resident Evil Revelations, and many, many others—means that Yaiba’s hook is more tiresome than exciting. Ninja Gaiden plus the undead is not exactly the reinvigoration Team Ninja’s action series needs at this point in time. The titular main character Yaiba is actually trying to track down series star Hayabusa
Team Ninja is certainly confident about its new game though. Referring to Keiji Inafune’s infamous statement that the Japanese video game industry is dead back at the Tokyo Game Show in 2010, Team Ninja’s Yosuke Hayashi said, “I remember a few years ago, a Japanese game designer said that Japanese games were dead. But Team Ninja is still around and we’re still strong. And we’re going to prove that to you.”
Team Ninja isn’t alone. The studio and Inafune are actually working alongside the American studio Spark Unlimited on Yaiba. Spark is actually hard at work on Lost Planet 3, a very promising looking sequel to one of Inafune’s last Capcom creations. The studio’s track record is a little spotty (e.g. Legendary: The Box), so think of them as the Jeff Lynne in Wilburys corollary. Hayashi didn’t clarify which studio is handling what in terms of Yaiba’s development.
Talented people are making this game, but a resurrected, sword-wielding super warrior fighting hordes of zombies is going to have a tough time distinguishing himself in today’s video game market. The people who want that game are already well served. Yaiba’s due out next spring though so Inafune and his super group have time to prove themselves unique in the zombie sea.