Acquire is certainly no stranger to stealth action, having developed the seminal Tenchu series. Now, they’re back to ply their shadowy trade on the PlayStation Vita with Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen. A sequel to a title that was not released stateside, Shinobido 2 follows the titular ninja Zen as he attempts to avenge the destruction of his clan (so it’s not just a clever title). That is essentially the extent of the story, which is just one of the many disappointments on display here. Despite some interesting extracurricular activities, Shinobido 2 fails to get off the ground with gameplay and mission design that is clearly stuck in the same generation as its forefather.
Graphically, the game is pretty disappointing, looking like an upscaled PSP game rather than a game developed ground up for the Vita. The menus look basic, crisp and clean, but most everything else here visually is a muddy mix of poor character models and bland environments. The majority of the areas you will explore remind me strongly of the Tenchu games, but not necessarily in a good way. They are simplistic and samey for the most part, which doesn’t help with the overall variety of the game. The main character looks OK, but the enemies look ripped straight out of early last gen with boxy models and sub-par faces.
Of course, graphics don’t matter if the game plays great. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. The game features plenty of variety and things to do, but most of them just aren’t much fun. There are multiple different mission types here, ranging from assassination missions where you are tasked with killing a specific target (including a whole lot of “evil merchants”) and obliteration missions where you need to wipe out an entire enemy force, to more subtle missions like collecting things in the area or carrying a package without being seen.
At least, they tell you not to be seen. Really all it affects is your rating at the end of a mission. This is where the game really starts to break down. Each of the missions that you take comes from one of three leaders looking to establish themselves as the primary ruler of the land. Taking missions for these leaders will affect your trust level with them as well as the military strength of the others. The game does a terrible job of explaining the motivations of each of these figures, so choosing one is basically a crap shoot. The bulk of your experience here will be taking mission after mission for them while waiting for the intermittent “story missions” that follow Zen’s quest for the Tenma Mirrors. Even with the great variety in mission types, you’ll quickly grow tired of the game’s “rinse/repeat” setup.
The repetitiveness could be excused if the missions were fun to play, but the clunky controls and camera let them down considerably. The action is serviceable, if a bit dated, when you’re sneaking around stealth killing fools while unseen. Of course, the AI is dumber than a box of rocks, rendering the sneak button and a great deal of your tools completely unnecessary, but I digress. Where the game really falls apart is when you are attempting to engage an enemy in traditional combat. The game’s controls are mostly unresponsive and unwieldy, which leads to multiple scenarios where attacks or item usage don’t quite work as you would expect. Be prepared to continually attack past enemies or throw smoke grenades harmlessly over their shoulders. Even things that should be easy like scaling buildings with the grappling hook are hopelessly broken by excessive flips carrying you off of the edge of a roof and the fact that the hook is assigned to the down dpad button.
The camera is comparable to the disastrous spinning monstrosities that were omnipresent in the early days of 3D gaming. The game does take advantage of the touch controls available on the Vita with some interesting approaches. One good idea is the ability to touch the eye icon that appears on the screen to signify that an enemy is near to automatically spin the camera to the enemies’ location. Unfortunately, this is really the only benefit to touch controls as the other options do not work as well as one would hope.
It’s really a shame that Shinobido is so rough around the edges, because the potential is here for some real depth. The game features a ton of menu options and things to tinker with outside of the action. Everything from brewing potions and smoke grenades with the alchemy system to the ability to hold on to items that your mission givers have asked you to swipe and selling them on your own. These things are neat additions that would have been great if they had been placed in a better overall game.
I can only recommend Shinobido to the hardest of the hardcore stealth action Tenchu fans out there. This style of game is too dated to survive this generation in its current form. The game might be worth a shot to others at a heavily discounted price, but everyone else will quickly tire of the repetitive action and clunky gameplay.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.