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Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z's anti-hero is part cyborg, part foul-mouthed comic book killer

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

The star of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, the ninja versus zombie action game collaboration from Team Ninja, Comcept and Spark Unlimited, sounds like a teenage boy's bloodlust-fueled fantasy. The cybernetic eponymous ninja, Yaiba, is part machine, sporting a mechanical arm and eye, part ruthless killer and part wisecracking comic book character.

He rattles off expletive-laced one-liners like Marvel's Deadpool and rips apart foes like DC's Lobo. Co-creator Keiji Inafune, founder of Comcept and producer behind series like Dead Rising, Onimusha and Resident Evil, says the idea behind Yaiba is partially rooted in manga and anime series Dragonball.

Inafune likens the relationship between arch rival ninjas Yaiba and Ryu Hayabusa, who players will face in the Ninja Gaiden spin-off, is influenced by the rivalry of Dragonball's Goku and Vegeta, two immensely powerful fighters.

"Goku is the ultimate fighter, but Vegeta always thinks he can beat him," Inafune said, "but always loses." Who's who, in this case, we don't yet know.

At a preview event timed with the Game Developers Conference, Team Ninja lead Yosuke Hayashi and Comcept founder Keiji Inafune revealed new details about their upcoming game and its wildly different ninja protagonist. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z will feature a distinct art style influenced by American comic books. Team Ninja reinforced this by showing pages from a comic book built from in-game screenshots which highlight the inky, comic book style of the game. It looks unlike the smooth, action figure style of Team Ninja's Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive games, instead featuring a sharper, rougher aesthetic reminiscent of the work of Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson and Frank Miller.

Inafune says that Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z will feature more comic relief than your typical Ninja Gaiden game, humor which should offset the game's extreme violence. Yaiba will be able to, for example, rip off the arms of a zombie and use them like a pair of nunchaku or rip out a glowing gland from a monster and shoot deadly goo from its insides.

While the game will feature Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa, Yaiba is very much a side story — a "brand new IP," Hayashi said. Inafune said he's bringing his own "flair" to the title and Hayashi explained the game doesn't need to adhere to past Ninja Gaiden gameplay conventions or necessarily run at 60 frames per second.

Inafune said he's been interested in working on a Ninja Gaiden game for a long time. So after he left Capcom, he gave Team Ninja a call to gauge their interest. Hayashi said Team Ninja had already conceived of a game that pitted ninja against zombie, but needed the right creator to help them realize their idea.

But it wasn't just that simple, Inafune said, telling Polygon that he has a longer history with the franchise.

"Back in the day when I was creating Onimusha, I was friends with [former Team Ninja head Tomonobu] Itagaki-san," Inafune said. "He complimented me by saying he really liked Onimusha, but he also said that 'I'm creating this new title that's better than yours.' He was talking about the Ninja Gaiden reboot. I played it and thought it was good but I still feel competitive [about it]."

Inafune said he feels like the Team Ninja's original Ninja Gaiden was "born with my influence" and Yaiba feels like a relative of the family he's a part of.

Hayashi told Polygon he has full confidence in Inafune to treat the Ninja Gaiden IP with respect and is confident with the three-team development approach to Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

The two creators say they'll share more about the game and the relationship between Yaiba and Ryu — and have a playable demo — at this year's E3.

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