No one said it was easy being a ninja.
With Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen, Acquire—a developer well-versed in the medieval Japanese setting—aims to deliver a sneaky variant on the hack-'n'-slash formula. Those picking up this PS Vita launch title will be presented with a wealth of tools and gameplay that rewards patience and cunning.
Good moments aren't few. Dashing around the tiled roofs of a brothel and quietly picking off its lantern-bearing sentinels has a certain sadistic charm. In Shinobido 2, direct confrontation is rarely your best option. Zen, the main character to whom revenge belongs, sticks to the shadows, dashing out at opponents to deliver a Chimatsuri Sappo, perhaps Japanese for "indiscriminate rending of the internal organs"—either that or "Surprise!"
Executions are quick and quiet, and a successful mission often looks like an undetected romp through enemy grounds, chaining attacks and carefully hiding one's victims (look around, there should be a bush or a well somewhere).
Players will usually accept missions from one faction, usually with the aim of putting a dent in another. Upon completion, a Mission Results screen shows off numbers flying and bars fluctuating based on how fast you did the deed, how unnoticed you went, etc. The sweat of your brow is rewarded by a portrait of your employer with a little quote to the effect of "I'm happy/unhappy with your work." Often it feels about as engaging as the outcome of a text-based adventure which, outside of combat, it is. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but know that it is how this game rolls.
In one instance, I was tasked with the assassination of a corpulent merchant. Apparently he wasn't dancing to the tune of my employer; that meant blood, and there were many ways to shed it. The player's arsenal includes various shuriken, caltrops, mechanical insects for distraction, and primitive mines. Some enemies are simply too vigilant for Chimatsuri Sappo—you'll dash in only to have your attack thrown off in an awkward struggle—and offensive tools may be your only recourse. The traditional "hit square to slash" mechanism is also available and, while functional, isn't as rewarding as calculated sneakiness.
Resource gathering and alchemy are also possible, the former done in game, the latter through its menus. Concoctions and ingredients can even be shared with fellow players through "the Network Jar" (read: 3G). Help a ninja out, yo.
Anyway, back to the man with a bounty on his head. In my first attempt, I'd successfully made my way to his residence thanks to overlaid maps and an "objective compass". Quietly, I slid open the paper doors, but eyes need no noise to see. I was right there in front of him, the man I needed dead. He pulled out a flintlock pistol and proceeded to riddle me with its contents.
Damn. I tried it again, aware this time of the sentinels' routes. I turned them into sushi on the spot, not bothering to hide their corpses. This would be quick. I got to the other side of his residence and crept in. I stalked the halls and peered around corners, eventually padding my way to his back and proving that, no, none are immune to the bite of steel. Chimatsuri Sappo it was, silken and rich as his robes.
Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen would do well to deliver many moments like these. The mission types are varied—assassination, obliteration, escort, etc.—which should keep players on their (silent) toes. You probably won't see Zen sleep or eat much, but maybe that will contribute all the more to the illusion that ninja are beyond human. Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen releases February 22nd for PS Vita.