PS Vita
1.5 stars
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Overall Grade
1.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
2 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
2 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
1.5 Stars
Replay Factor
0 Stars

Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen

Street Date:
February 21st, 2012
Reviewed by:
Dick Ward
Review Date:1
February 28th, 2012
Game Release Year:
PS Vita
Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)


'Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen' is a title developed by the folks at Acquire, who you may know from the 'Samurai Warrior' series or from the incredibly cool and underappreciated PSP game 'What Did I Do To Deserve This, My Lord?' More likely though, you know them from the revolutionary stealth-action title 'Tenchu,' which was released back in 1998.

'Shinobido 2' is the sequel to an underwhelming PS2 game that was criticized for having a poor control system and a lack of gameplay variety. Sadly, this game is true to its predecessor.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

When videogame systems are first launched, the crop of first week games is filled with shovelware. There are one or two really good titles released, but if those games aren't in a genre you like, you're left trying to play something that was rushed out to make the launch windo. That seems to be the case with 'Shinobido 2,' or at least I hope it is. If there game was developed slowly and methodically, I'd hate to see what a rush job looks like.

If I have to pick out one positive aspect of 'Shinobido 2,' I'll single out the narrative. There are a few small cutscenes throughout the game, but for the most part the story stays out of your way. If you want to get background on your quest or the factions you're dealing with you can do so through letters sent to you after missions. If you're not concerned, you don't have to bother with it.

Don't go thinking you're going to get something like the 'Mass Effect' codex out of those letters though. If you're the kind of gamer that wants a deep and intricate plot with a rich background then 'Shinobido' is going to be a huge disappointment. There are a few groups of ninjas and they don't like each other much - done and done. Most of the game is spent grinding out reputation and levels, like the worst parts of MMORPGs.

After some quick training, your missions are laid out before you in a menu and you get to pick what you want to do. Each mission raises your reputation with the clan you're serving and damages the other clan in some way, whether it's monetarily or through weakening their army. Well, the game says the army gets weaker, but the weaker they get the stronger the enemies become - go figure. If you do enough missions against a specific clan and lower its military strength all the way, you can accept a mission to assassinate the leader.

The concept is cool and at first I thought I was going to be in for a really interesting time. However, after an hour or so, things start to repeat themselves in a very annoying way. There are only a few set pieces on which the missions take place and the bland surroundings get old fast. Even worse, the layout seems to be the same every time you run the same mission. Setting out to assassinate a Kihan merchant? You'll assassinate the same merchant in the same place of the same level every time.

Assassinating leaders is where things get even worse. In attempting to assassinate the leader of the Kihan clan, I killed no less than ten body doubles. That is to say that I spent five to ten minutes completing the mission - much longer the first time - and at the end found out that it was a double I killed instead of the leader. What made that even more frustrating is that every time I took the mission to kill the leader, the stage was exactly the same. No variation at all in a quest that I ran over and over again for an hour.

Of course, this stuff is all easy to ignore when the game is fun to play. 'Shinobido' is not, or at least not for long. The prime sources of entertainment are combat and finding routes through the mission area. Unfortunately, the abysmal camera makes both navigation and fighting a chore. It doesn't follow you as you turn, so that means you're stuck babysitting the camera the whole time.

The solution built into the game is to use the block button to turn towards your target. If this worked it might be a decent solution, but it doesn't. Using this technique sometimes turns you the right way and sometimes just leaves you facing away from your opponent while they shove cold steel through your back.

As a result of those frustrations, I ended up going the stealth route to avoid any head-to-head confrontations that would have me fighting the controls more than fighting the enemies in the game. Stealth kills are fun and all, but as it turns out they don't require stealth - they simply require you to be behind someone. If you run towards someone who isn't looking at you, they won't see you. You can jump right behind a highly trained ninja and they won't even turn around. If they do notice you, don't worry - they have the object permanence of a newborn. Walk around a corner for a bit and they'll go back to being blissfully unaware.

Acquire integrated some touchscreen controls to 'Shinobido 2,' and some of them actually work out pretty well. Each enemy around you has an awareness indicator that shows you whether you've been detected or not and touching this indicator turns your camera to face the enemy. There's also a minimap that expands to a full map when you tap, it which is good in theory but doesn't work out as well in practice. The map is located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, which means that my thumb ended up hitting it every time I used the D-pad to select an item.

Touchscreen controls are inconsistent within menus, which is more of an annoyance than an actual problem. Selecting a mission requires that you use traditional controls - the D-pad and buttons. If you're saving the game, you have to use the touchscreen. It's not a huge gripe, but it's the kind of thing that indicates that there probably wasn't a lot of thought going into this game.

I'll credit 'Shinobido 2' for trying to integrate the Vita's rear touch pad, but only so much credit can go to something that doesn't work. It's supposed to be used for aiming throwing stars and the like, but I found it to be inaccurate, hard to move and intrusive. If your fingers touch the rear pad at all, which they will unless you only hold the Vita by the edges, you'll go into aiming mode whether you want to or not. I ended up turning it off and having a much better experience as a result.

On a more technical note, load times are absolutely ridiculous. After launching the game you'll have to wait about 45 seconds for the title screen to load up. Missions aren't as bad, but you'll still be waiting 15 or 20 seconds to get into the action.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

I received my 'Shinobido 2' review copy on the same day that I bought my Vita and it was the first game I played on the new system. Not long after starting the game, the buyer's remorse started to set in. I came to the conclusion that I had made a big mistake on the Vita and that the graphical improvements weren't all they were cracked up to be - that the actual fidelity wasn't much better than the PSP. Then I put in 'Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3' and all that remorse went away. As it turns out, 'Shinobido' is just a bad looking game.

It would be untrue to say that the game has PSP or PS2 level graphics and unfair to say that everything in the game is awful looking. The model for the main character is nice and detailed, but that's about where it ends. Not everything else is bad, but nothing else stands out as good.

This is the sort of thing that goes to show that adding extra polygons and a higher resolution doesn't actually improve the look of a game. Characters are bland and lack personality, levels are flat in terms of color and the whole design just comes off as boring. Of course, the constant repetition of the same locations and limited amount of places to explore helps ruin things too.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

There really isn't much to say about the music in 'Shinobido.' It's not bad, nor is it good. It's just serviceable. There's one song that plays during every single mission and it sounds like it's picked from a "Best of Generic Samurai Music" CD. The lack of additional background tracks is frustrating, but thanks to the voice acting, it soon stops mattering.

There are some games that I play with the audio off simply because I don't need it to be on. When playing 'World of Warcraft' for example, I put on a podcast or audiobook because the sound isn't essential for the gameplay. When I play 'League of Legends' I kill the music and put on some Blind Guardian to get me ramped up. It doesn't mean the audio in these games is bad, just that I don't need it to be there.

With 'Shinobido' I opted for silence when I had no other options handy. The repetitive music is a bit irritating but the voice acting makes me cringe. It comes out of nowhere much of the time, and doesn't fit the action on screen. The written dialogue and performance of character taunts, deaths and the strange introspective self-narration just takes me out of the experience.

Replay Factor

'Shinobido' is repetitive to the point of frustration the first time through. Going through the same mission over and over again, beating the game and then going back to do it all again would be downright masochistic. There are no alternative game modes to speak of, and no multiplayer.

Final Thoughts

There's no getting around it, 'Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen' is a bad game. It fails in essentially every way a game can fail, leaving players to try and suffer through the subpar mess that Acquire managed to squeeze out in time for launch. If you want some ninja in your life, grab 'Ninja Gaiden' instead. You'll be glad you did.

Tech Specs:

  • Available as physical copy or download.
  • Download size: 1.1 GB
  • PSN Price: $34.99

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1Q HD

Audio Formats

  • Stereo

Motion Controls

  • Yes

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