It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new game in the Tenchu series, which is kind of a shame. After all, this was the premiere series that literally put you in the shoes of a ninja, mastering everything about stealth and fancy weaponry while you executed some truly sick kills, all in the name of honor. Namco Bandai tries to fill this void with the release of Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen, a ninja simulation for the PlayStation Vita that attempts to copy Tenchu’s formula for success, right down to the silent kills. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the fun got lost in the translation.
First off, the original Shinobido never got released here in the United States, so why put a 2 behind this game? Calling it Shinobido: Revenge of Zen would’ve been suitable enough. But believe me, the name’s the least of this game’s worries.
You play Zen, an assassin-for-hire who actually incorporates himself between numerous clans, who are stuck bickering with each other and have resulted to dirty tactics in an effort to try and take control of the land. You’re really seeking out the murderer of your girlfriend, but in order to do this, you have to inexplicably move back and forth between clans, completing repetitive missions and sneaking up on guards who have the worst hearing known to man. Literally stopping short of yelling “Hey, I’m over here!”, they couldn’t detect you unless you walked clear as day in front of them.
The theme of warring clans is pretty nice, but there’s a problem. Shinobido never really establishes a way to build loyalty towards one. One second you’re killing a merchant, the next you’re working for whoever employed said merchant to kill someone from the other side, and then you switch back around again. It’s like a back and forth storyline that never really makes any sense, and only after a few hours of going through this runaround do you really accomplish anything. And by then, the sheer feeling of being a badass ninja has gone stale.
The controls are a big part of the problem. They function with too many failures, like when you’re trying to sneak around an enemy and somehow end up rolling in front of them, or you’re trying to accurately aim a grappling hook using the PS Vita’s back touch screen – and failing – thus resorting in you turning it on for automatic use. But even then, it doesn’t get you where you need to go the first time. Combat is also rather mundane, thanks to a crappy lock-on system and flawed gameplay, especially when you try to give chase to someone. We’re embarrassed to say that we almost lost to a fat merchant in a marsh because we couldn’t accurately get close enough to stab them the first time around. What kind of ninja could live with that shame? None, that’s what.
Though new weapons and gear unlock over the course of the game, by the time you get around to unlocking anything, you’re bored with the experience as a whole. Without a loyalty factor or a storyline that makes a lick of sense, the only real satisfaction comes from the stealth kills, in which you take someone from behind and give ‘em a nice slice. But even after a few of these, yawns set in. During the coolest parts of the game, no less.
Shinobido’s presentation doesn’t do it any favors. The game looks like a PlayStation 2 title at best, with muddy environments, unfinished animations, sloppy blood effects and very few indicators where your enemies are, save for a little emotional mark on your screen. The music doesn’t even come close to the atmospheric tunes that played during Tenchu, and the voice acting sounds even worse than most English translations of kung fu action films on Blu-Ray. And yes, that includes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In the end, Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen is simply an embarrassment. The controls never click accurately, the presentation is lifeless and the game’s story, asking you to run around clans mindlessly without developing a true following, is an insult to ninja fans. If you must get your slicing fetish on, stick with Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus instead. Sure, it’s an older game, but it’s functional, and won’t make you feel like committing seppuku afterwards.