After Sony's press conference during the Electronic Entertainment Expo, we managed to get some hands-on quality time with the demo of a stealth action game that seemed a little too familiar to an old ninja-heavy franchise.
Who's Making It: Shinobido 2: Tales of the Ninja is published by Spike and developed by Acquire. Gamers may remember the developers for making their mark with the Tenchu and Way of the Samurai series.
What It Looks Like: While Shinobido 2 looked crystal clear, the aesthetics weren't anything special. The game's setting in feudal Japan was about as cookie cutter as a game set in that period could get, especially when compared to Acquire's past titles.
What You Do: You play the role of a ninja named Zen, who is given the task of assassinating whoever he's assigned to kill. The representatives from Spike weren't able to reveal much of the story, but we would bet that it involves Zen trying to piece together his memories to find out about his clan's destruction, if the first Shinobido on the PS2 was any indication.
How It Plays: Like most ninjas in video game history, Zen is armed to the teeth to take out anybody foolish enough to cross him. Next to swinging his standard ninja swords, he can fling shurikens, lay down mines, and chuck the Feudal Japan equivalent of frag grenades. Since he's not really hot at melee confrontations, Zen has to sneak around and dispose of his targets and their bodyguards by hiding amongst the shadows. Pressing the R trigger puts him in stealth mode; when he is close enough to an unsuspecting guard, he can do an instant kill with a press of the triangle button.
Zen also has the Zankoku method to take down tougher enemies with ease. As you take down enemies, your Zankoku meter builds up. When you're close to a target, you can press and hold the triangle mode to initiate the Zankoku state, where time stands still. After selecting your nearby victim, Zen will perform a fancy and clean kill provided that players press the correct inputs displayed below.
The game implements a few touch-screen options. You can switch to first-person mode by touching the rear touchpad to throw your projectile weapons with more accuracy. Whenever an eye icon pops up on the right side of the screen, you can touch it to focus on a nearby threat either to avoid or ambush it. When the icon flashes purple, the threat will be searching for Zen until he's out of range or he's discovered.
What We Say: If Shinobido 2 is a little too similar to the last Tenchu game, that's because the developers just gave it a different name and spiffed-up graphics. The enemy AI for both the guards and the sole gun-wielding merchant (essentially the demo's boss) was spotty at best. The camera got very stubborn and was content in obscuring our view during the fight with the merchant in his headquarters.
Still, the game will cater to players who need their stealth ninja action fix, since games like this aren't commonplace. The developers will have a lot more time to polish things up since the game's release date is unconfirmed for the US and Europe. Shinobido 2 will be a launch title for the Japanese release of the PlayStation Vita.