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March 12 2007
Shinobido Tales of the Ninja - PSP Review
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Not going to win graphics awards.
Rewind back a few months and you might remember a delightful title I reviewed for the PS2 by the name of Shinobido: Way of the Ninja. A nice stealth title surrounding the Ninja Goh, I gave it a high score of 83% and enjoyed it thoroughly. Needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to review the sequel game, this time on Sonyís PSP system, I eagerly said yes. Unfortunately, while Shinobido Tales of the Ninja is far from the worse game released, it falls significantly short of its PS2 cousin and is likely to frustrate many players more than entertain.

The PS2 release had a fairly decent story, even if it was not delivered in the most effective way. Unfortunately the PSP title has little to no plot behind it. Set after the first game, Goh and co. are still working for the feudal lords, and fighting off a rival ninja clan. To be honest, that is probably as much of a summary of the plot as is needed. Players would do best to skip the short text-sequences that really donít string together at all.

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OK, so this screen shows potential.
But anyway, we all love ninjas, so who cares about the story? You probably just want to get into the levels, sneak around and perform some rather brutal stealth kills, right? Well on this front you wonít be disappointed. Stealth gameplay, for the most part, follows in the exact same style as the PS2 Shinobido, and you will find yourself hanging off ledges, jumping from above, sneaking behind enemies, running up walls, and so on, to perform particularly painful-looking kills. This is not the only element to the game though, as there are several different types of missions that players will have to undertake.

Some of these mission types are a bit redundant (example: Travel, which is exactly that) while others will have you massacring an entire clan of enemies in true ninjitsu style. And with over 70 missions in the story mode, there is plenty of time for each of the mission-types to make at least a few appearances.

Like the PS2 game, each level is more or less a large area in which you are allowed to go about completing the set task however you like, whether you want to kill everyone head on, sneak by them, or stealth kill the lot then make your delivery or whatever it is you have to do to pass that level. One thing that surprised me while playing this game is that there is a lot of variety in the level settings. Unlike the PS2 release, where there were only a few locations, there seems to be well over thrice the amount this time round, and while it is a welcome change, it perhaps is a little too much. As a result levels barely seem to be connected.

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Texturing is, ermm, crap.
Another surprise in this chapter of the Shinobido universe is that players will be able to play through levels as one of up to 36 characters, ranging from stealthy ninjas, to conflict-seeking Samurais, to a few fairly useless characters. Likewise, the inclusion of multiplayer is a very unexpected (but welcome) addition. Unfortunately we have not been able to test out the multiplayer modes, but I can tell you that the game includes co-op and some sort of deathmatch/versus mode and by the accounts of some others, is quite fun.

In my review of Shinobido: Way of the Ninja I mentioned a level editor which could be used to make levels for both the PS2 and PSP version of the game (which was, at that time, unannounced for Australian shores). This means that anyone with the PS2 game can make levels and then play them on the road using their PSP. Itís probably not a huge selling point, but if you do own the first title you may be able to get some more game time out of this release using it.

Okay, thatís enough of the good. What about the bad? Well, I am sad to say that there is quite a lot of bad to go through here. While Shinobido has a lot of potential fun in it, there are a few major issues that are sure to annoy at least half of the gamers out there. Letís start with the main issue surrounding all these types of games on any platform: the camera.

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Check out the blood splatter.
Unlike many reviewers, I do tend to be quite forgiving of third-person cameras, and they rarely get to me. I cannot recall even one game that I have reviewed where I have made a major point of camera issues. Well, there is a first time for everything and that time is now. To say that Shinobidoís camera is problematical would be putting it lightly, and this really does stem from the simple fact that you have almost no control over it. Tapping the right shoulder button on the PSP will centre the camera behind you, but, other than that, looking around whilst in third person is virtually impossible. This makes sneaking up on un-suspecting enemies quite difficult and frustrating. This is quite unfortunately because controls otherwise are, for the most part, very nice. The only other exception to this is the combat.

Open combat is, at all times, the last resort in Shinobido, and this is for a good reason. Goh and his cohorts are quite useless when it comes to taking on a foe with sword in hard. Taking on more than one person at a time? Forget it. You will be dead sooner than you can say Ďninja vanish!í. While most of the comboís Goh and the other characters are capable of are quite nice and cool to look at, they simply do not do enough damage, and in some cases are almost impossible to do un-interrupted, to make open swordplay enjoyable. Luckily, the AI is such that you can run away and almost instantly be forgotten about by the enemy. They are among the stupidest foes weíve seen in an action game in some time.

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Easily one of the best screenshots!!
Graphically this is a bit of a mixed bag. Character animation looks very nice, and the game runs perfectly smooth, but textures are fairly bland and large, giving the game quite a dated look. Draw distance is also a big concern as you can often only see enemies just before they see you, making stealth attacks very difficult. Cut-scenes are basically non-existent, short of still shots with text, making this an overall C-grade eye-candy release.

Likewise, aurally Shinobido isnít anything amazing. With fairly generic sound effects and basic music, thereís little to warrant turning the PSP up louder here. Best to save your battery power and turn it off, chuck on some background music and sneak away (in-game that is)!

Shinobido Tales of the Ninja is an unfortunate release. A little more time in development could have seen this become one of the best action games released on the system, but ultimately it has just become another of the half-hearted releases so common in this genre. Itís not as bad as Tenchu: Time of the Assassins, but itís probably not going to be one of the most popular releases. Unless a few friends have the game, or you own the PS2 title and want to play your levels on the road, Iíd probably steer clear of this one.

Review By: Michael Hutchesson

Order your copy now from Gameswarehouse.
GRAPHICSFairly average. Gritty textures, low-level detail, but very nice character animation.
SOUNDNo voice acting, generic effects and bland music; below par.
GAMEPLAYFix the camera and combat controls and it wouldnít be too bad. But thereís fun to be had nonetheless.
VALUEAbout 8 hours of story time, plus multiplayer and ability to play created levels. 36 characters to try out over more than 70 levels. Not too shabby.
OVERALLOnly just a passing grade for this one. Think twice before you buy it.

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