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Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja

For: PSP

If ninjas were infallible, they'd have overrun the world

Product: Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja | Developer: Spike | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja PSP, thumbnail 1
I have a confession to make: when I was 12, I decided I was going to be a ninja. So I watched every film based on stealthy Japanese assassins that was available at the time (miraculously, without suffering any long-term trauma – not because I was too young to see them, but rather because they were awful, awful films), scoured martial arts mail order catalogues for the latest in shuriken, nunchaku or katana development, and regularly 'practised' my combat technique on my younger brother.

While I like to think my puns can kill, that I'm sat at a desk typing these words should give you a clue that stealth and assassination was not the path I ended up on. But at the time I spent far too many months convinced it was the life for me.

If only I had benefited from playing Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja. Because if there's a game likely to put you off following in a ninja's sandals, it's this dire effort.

A two-second review of the UMD case might mislead you. Shinobido's main Story mode offers generous historical background and a considerable number of missions, usually set in or around the grounds of ancient Japanese residences. These are split into assassination, theft, protection, collection, kidnapping, transport, and total destruction – your everyday ninja business, really.

Progress though the game occasionally branches, so you do get some choice as to what your next sortie will entail but don't expect great variety.

In fact, you eventually end up with a wider range of characters than types of mission, although these extras need unlocking – you start as a lone ninja, and gather accomplices through mission completion. They'll also require looking after, mainly by improving their overall level through experience points gained from mission successes.

It's a basic role-playing system that operates in the background mostly surreptitiously, which may explain why you are unlikely to notice a great deal of difference in your skills when you're facing off enemies.

Actually, that's really because combat in Shinobido is so dreadfully implemented that not even the ability to take along helpful items such as explosive sushi, remote wind-up chicks (for distraction), mines, or strength potions will make it any more tolerable.

You end up spending the majority of the time stabbing away at the Square button (combos do reveal themselves but are often unresponsive and therefore unusable in practice) in order to launch your character into a repetitive and often ineffective routine. Far better to sneak up on an opponent and press Triangle to perform a quick kill move – which is more in line with the ninja spirit, agreed – but not an approach that will enable you to completely bypass the game's tedious sword-on-sword combat.

Incredibly, however, there's a bigger snag than not being able to enjoy Shinobido's fighting system, and that is the fact the game itself is mostly broken. We could excuse the average visuals and, at a very long stretch, ignore the use of 'invisible walls' to fence off play areas (a practice thought to have perished along with games of the '90s), but it's impossible to forgive graphics that simply disappear.

The game is littered with glitches that result in your character (and opponents) vanishing from view, which while perhaps in strict adherence to the sense of stealth ninjas are renowned for, does make life exceedingly tricky and infuriating.

To this already toxic mix you can add one of the most horrendous camera systems to have cursed a game. While hardly well behaved when outdoors, in confined spaces it becomes like a caged animal, its wild movements doing a remarkable job of utterly disorientating the player.

Sadly, unlike those ninja films from yesteryear, there is no heroic turnaround for Shinobido. Very, very rarely, there are micro-moments offering a glimpse of what the developer was trying to achieve; instances such as using a grapple hook to get on to a roof and running across it before dropping silently behind a guard and letting his aorta breathe a little night air, when the game momentarily behaves with the fluidity and consistency you'd expect of a 21st century production.

But for the rest of the considerable time it would take you to finish this, everything is as damaged as I would have been had I insisted on a career as a ninja.

I'll never get back the time I invested in that ridiculous notion, of course, but that doesn't mean today's 12-year olds shouldn't be spared. The easiest way would be to make Shinobido part of the school pre-teen syllabus. Except, of course, they can't because the game is actually aimed at those aged 16 and above. And by then you should be old enough to realise the way of the ninja is actually a fruitless, highly contemptible one. A lot like this game, then.
Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 21 February 2007
A mess of a game – repetitive, tedious, technically ruined
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