Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen

Tale of the Ninja

Hands-on impressions of Shinobido 2? Sure, we got that.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: January 20, 2012
Though the PlayStation Vita launch is just over a month away, it's been an absolute chore trying to get hands-on time with the software hitting day and date with the system. A combination of coverage-hungry editors and an absence of playable hardware has kept us at arm's length for months now, but a fortuitous inclusion of a few Vitas at Namco's event this week finally gave us (sadly limited) time with one of the more mysterious games in the launch lineup.

Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen harkens back to developer Acquire's earlier PlayStation work with the first two Tenchu games, where stealth and careful planning take priority over any sort of in-your-face hacking and slashing (though lead Zen is certainly capable of that against one or two opponents). If the 2 in the title is confusing, that's probably because the first Shinobido was never released here in the States, but know Revenge of Zen is a direct continuation of the PSP original, and that he was betrayed by Asuka clan and, well, wants revenge. Congrats, you're (sort of) caught up.

Left for dead in the civil war-torn Utakata region of feudal Japan, Zen fights off death and steels himself to take on the clan that betrayed him. To do that, though, he'll need more than sheer rage. His attacks must be swift, silent, and above all else, invisible whenever possible. To that end, we spent our precious few minutes (the poor Sony rep that brought the hardware to the event was waiting to box up the systems and fly them down to Los Angeles immediately after the event) going through the motions of the game's training program, learning how Zen's moveset took advantage of the Vita's unique control options.

By holding the R Button, Zen drops into a low stance and his footfalls grow silent, allowing him to walk right up to enemies and off them with a single press of the Triangle Button (a flashy kill called a Chimatsuri Sappo). The R button also allows Zen to snap to walls, Solid Snake-style, letting him peek around corners to observe patrol routes without being seen. Though the right analog stick (all hail the right stick!) can control the camera, there are a few other options, most notably the ability to tap L to re-center things or hold it to lock onto a nearby enemy.

The screen isn't without touch abilities, though; tapping the items in the lower-left corner of the HUD brings up Zen's inventory, allowing him to map items and restoratives to the up, left and right directions on the d-pad. Pressing them, obviously, uses the item, but with a lock-on, things like shurikens can be flicked out with precision. In the opposite corner of the screen lies an eye demonstrating the awareness of nearby enemies, growing increasingly red as they start to notice Zen. This can be pressed and held to pull the camera toward the nearest threat, allowing a quick glance toward the most obvious threat (or soon-to-be threat).

You'll notice we said items can be mapped to three of the four cardinal directions of the d-pad. The fourth, down, is reserved for Zen's grappling claw, and when coupled with the back touch that allows simple free look at any time, the claw can be used for traversal to rooftops, cliffs or any other surface where the targeting reticule lights up. It's an interesting setup, though one that takes a little getting used to, as do all back touch implementations, mostly because the normal PSP-like way of cradling the system doesn't work as well when trying to use the back touch and physical buttons, though we're sure we'll get used to it.

Though we weren't able to get a chance to delve into Shinibido 2's various missions, we were at least able to get a basic grasp of how the end-of-mission structure works. Graded on elements like detection and time taken, there are also side objectives that might crop up that can feed into the overall score, which in turn offers more experience rewards that can be used to upgrade Zen, RPG-style. So long as the upgrade options offer a nice variety, we can see ourselves replaying missions for better scores just to help nudge up the XP bar that much closer to the next level.

Thankfully, with all of Namco's Vita offerings hitting within the Vita's launch window, we're not going to have to wait much longer to offer our verdict on the final product. Check back next month for a full review, and enjoy the screens and movies we were able to cobble together for your enjoyment.