Wanted Dead and living up to the legacy of Ninja Gaiden

By Lee Brady,

Wanted Dead is a hack-and-slash PS5 and PS4 title being developed by ex-Ninja Gaiden alumni — a detail that looms heavy over 110 Industries' publishing debut. We talked to the game's creative director about that legacy.

To brings its goriest, hack-and-slash Wanted Dead dreams to life, developer and publisher 110 Industries banded together with developer Soleil — a company founded and comprised of numerous Team Ninja and Ninja Gaiden alumni. In doing so, Wanted Dead may have inadvertently inherited the Ninja Gaiden legacy — something, according to the game's creative director Sergei Kolobashkin, was not exactly the intention.

wanted dead ninja gaidenWanted Dead... or Alive?

Wanted Dead is thinking less about Ninja Gaiden and more about the PS2

We had the chance to talk to Kolobashkin at Gamescom 2022 after getting some hands-on time with Wanted Dead itself. Kes, our TT news team editor, detected so palpably the rough soul of Ninja Gaiden while playing Wanted Dead that, in his preview, he said: "it was clear there was no need to fear about it losing any of the Ninja Gaiden series heritage."

Yet, when we talked to Kolobashkin about that legacy, and where Wanted Dead fits into that, he suggested it was far from the creative team's mind: "Well, funnily enough, we always thought that Wanted Dead would be its own thing, so that no matter how big or not very big the game will get, it will be just that game, 'Oh, it's Wanted Dead, it's its own thing.'

"The thing is, when you go into the third-person action genre, [people wind up thinking] 'oh, this thing looks in place like this', or 'this thing looks in place like that.' So you can start [getting grouped up] with all your Gears of War and Uncharteds and all that — I'm a huge fan of both series. But just so we're clear, the idea was to make sure that Wanted Dead is a game in its own right.

"Yes, it was developed by the guys [from] the original Ninja Gaiden team. And at the same time, we know that, okay, they can make awesome ninja games — we know that. And they also did Samurai Jack (Battle Through Time), which is also an incredible hack-and-slash action game… but at this same time, we were like, we have to make something new. A new experience that at the same time feels like a game that always existed."

Wanted DeadNot your average samurai cop.

Aside from the poorly-received zombie-infused spin-off Yaiba Ninja Gaiden Z in 2014, the last mainline Ninja Gaiden title developed by Team Ninja was 2012's Ninja Gaiden 3 Razor's Edge — a title that, ten years ago, was not too warmly received by fans or critics. Wanted Dead wanting to stand out and be its own things in the minds of players perhaps makes a little sense then, given this was the last impression modern players were given of the classic franchise.

That said, we still could feel Ninja Gaiden in this game's bones, so we decided to borrow deeper with Kolobashkin on what truly inspired Wanted Dead's design. As it turns out, Kolobashkin had another legacy in mind for Wanted Dead: "We wanted to make a throwback title and go back to the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Dreamcast era of games — not visually and not in how it controls, but the vibe, the feel of the game that could have came out 20 years ago. And this was one of the challenges that we decided to tackle."

Wanted DeadThis chaos definitely feels very PS2.

Kolobashkin elaborates: "Wanted Dead tells a very dark story, and with all the goofiness, all your crane games and karaoke and stuff, we just try to lighten it up. The character banter you hear and stuff like that, it was purposely written to be very cheesy and to basically be reminiscent of 'old-style' games.

"When you're like, 'oh my god, that's cringe' — it’s purposefully cringe because people love to cringe even when they say they don't. I mean, there's a reason why people play games like Final Fantasy X over and over and over again. It was a lot of work to make sure that the product feels authentic to the era it pays homage to."

This adds up — as Kes noted in his preview, Wanted Dead's "absurd mini-games about ramen, the fully-formed side-scrolling shoot-'em-up, and the karaoke mini-games give it a definite Yakuza series flavour." Yakuza was certainly a big name in the PS2 era; as was Devil May Cry, which Kes compared fondly to Wanted Dead's fluid balance of shooting and slashing combat.

Wanted DeadStealthing back up on ya.

However, there was another big series on the Xbox in 2004 that certainly helped define the hack-and-slash genre during the sixth generation of video games: Ninja Gaiden. Whether intentional or not, Ninja Gaiden's DNA emanates throughout Wanted Dead, both through its development team's experience and in the era that inspired the game's varied, hybrid design. Our hope is that Wanted Dead can utilise its inherited design DNA to build something of its own legacy, and continue to deliver on that first positive impression we received.

For more from our time at Gamescom, read up on our Hyenas impressions and another game that faces the challenge of a difficult legacy: The Callisto Protocol and its desire not to be Dead Space 4. Let us know in the comments your thoughts on Wanted Dead so far, and if you can spy any other design details in what you've seen so far of the game.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Lee is a Staff Writer specialising in all things PlayStation. He loves talking about classic PS1 and PS2 games on PS Plus, picking apart the game design of new PlayStation Studios releases, and trying to explain his love for Sonic, Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts. He can also speak Japanese — albiet poorly.