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Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen
Graphics: 6.9
Gameplay: 6.7
Sound: 6.4
Control: 6.2
Replay Value: 6.5
Rating: 6.5
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Acquire
Number Of Players: 1

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: in rare cases, a title gets a mediocre review score while at the same time, a select group of gamers are likely desperate for such entertainment. Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen isn’t worth more than the 6.5 you see here but even so, those who recall the days of Tenchu with particular fondness might just have to play it. They’ll be willing to deal with a few obvious drawbacks for the sake of sating their stealth desire, and I have zero problem with that.

But for now, the technical elements: the game doesn’t boast fantastic graphics but then again, I wasn’t expecting a mind-blowing visual presentation. I was expecting what is for all intents and purposes Tenchu, and graphics were never a highlight. Still, this production is pretty clean (despite the lack of intricate detail), and although the environments are uninspired, the effects are great and the animations are pretty good, too. There’s just a grayness; a blandness you have to accept.

The sound does best in the midst of a mission when you’re attempting to stay silent. That’s when you hear the yawn of a guard, the scrape of feet on gravel, and the crickets chirping in the night. The voice acting is poor throughout and what those guards say is painfully corny, but such ambient effects save the audio. The soundtrack is almost nonexistent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; after all, we’re trying to be quiet. I still think it could’ve kicked in harder in the midst of battle, though.

Honestly, if you were familiar with the Tenchu iterations of past generations, I don’t need to explain much. But for the record, Acquire does attempt to implement more depth that strategy fans might appreciate; it’s not just about going through missions and killing everyone in sight. You operate from a main menu hub, where you can select any missions offered to you, but your character also levels up, and there are a multitude of gameplay elements to consider before embarking on your chosen quest.

For instance, you can choose sides; specifically, a daimyo that you will assist. You can work for any daimyos in the game but that isn’t the best idea, as you’ll keep pissing everyone off. It’s better to pick your ally from the start and go from there. On top of this, you have to keep an eye on your faction’s coffers (that’s money, people), and you’ll read letters and pieces of advice sent your way. Mission types include straight-up assassinations, total elimination (kill everyone), kidnapping, and grab-the-loot types.

Get More:, Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen - Launch Trailer, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

All of this adds some cosmetic depth to the game but in truth, it doesn’t really mean much. That’s the biggest problem with Revenge of Zen: outside of sneaking up behind someone and putting your blade through their back, there isn’t much that can be considered necessary. Sure, you have the options: shurikens to throw, the handy grappling hook, land mines, and even a bad-ass Zankoku move that lets you execute a flashy assassination from a distance away.

But I always had to go out of my way to use this stuff. I rarely came across a situation where I’d look at my inventory and go, “oh, that’s the perfect tool for the job.” And that’s because it was easier to climb than to use the grappling hook, and easier to run behind someone and finish him off than use shurikens or land mines or any other little gimmick. That’s really the issue; too much of this supposed depth feels gimmicky and hardly critical. Lastly, if you happen to get caught up in combat, prepare for a frustrating and mostly generic experience.

Locking on and keeping one enemy in your sights is easy enough (just hold down the left trigger button), but multiple enemies cause all sorts of camera problems. On top of which, if you get hit hard, rag-doll physics kick in and you’re sent flying into the air…which is not only senseless but tremendously annoying. Now, at first, I really thought this would be a crippling flaw that screwed up the whole game, until something hit me square between the eyes: "This is a stealth game. I’m not supposed to be in combat.”

Other than boss fights where you have no choice – and thus have to deal with the aforementioned problems – you should be staying out of sight. And when you do, this really does feel like a decent stealth game. It’s true that too much of your inventory feels superfluous, but experimentation is still fun, and the tools do work well (most of the time). Your foes aren’t entirely mindless, either, so staying out of sight and working your shadowy magic is a satisfying challenge.

Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen doesn’t do much in terms of story, little of what you learn or obtain in terms of skills and tools seems necessary, and the combat is seriously flawed. But beneath that beats the heart of a competent stealth adventure, which is difficult to find these days. Therefore, I want to make it clear that if you really want a Tenchu for the Vita, this is not a bad option. You’ll want to keep replaying missions to get better rankings, and being seen will feel like a failure.

Yeah, I know what that mentality is like. It got to me a little when playing, which is why I can recommend it to certain people.

The Good: Decent ambient sound effects. Stealth gameplay can be engrossing. Freedom of choosing a side is a plus. Incentive to replay missions for a better rank. Some cool abilities and tools.

The Bad: Voice acting is terrible. Story is weak. Many tools feel superfluous. Mechanics break down during combat. Camera can be an issue.

The Ugly: “Never thought stealthy assassinations could get repetitive.”

2/22/2012   Ben Dutka