I heard recently from a person who didnâ€™t believe Ninjas really existed â€“ this person believed them to be the construct of imaginative movie makers, cartoonists and game designers. I patiently explained that not only were they real and active in the middle ages in feudal Japan, there were also several local schools dedicated to learning their ancient secrets. He still didnâ€™t believe me, so I threw a smoke bomb at my feet, shot my grappling hook into the top of a nearby building and retracted myself up it at lightning speed. When the smoke cleared and my friend looked around wondering where Iâ€™d gone, I dropped to the ground behind him, and quietly assassinated him. Nobody saw a thing, and never again will he doubt the reality of the Ninja. Or eat a hot meal again.
Although parts of the previous paragraph are a construct of my imagination, the techniques are all available to you in Spike/Acquireâ€™s new PSP stealth Ninjitsu game Shinobido: Tales of the Ninja. The story is as follows: the Asuka Ninja have watched over Utakata for an age, protecting its citizens and keeping war beyond the city gates. They are feared and respected throughout Japan. After defeating Gamuran and sealing away the Fuin No Katana, the powerful sword that overcame him, the Asuka Ninja turned their attention to the rebuilding of Utakata. However, with the province still weak, the threat of evil was ready to strike again, hoping to devastate Utakata and finish off the Asuka Ninja.
You start the game as a level 1 Ninja named Goh. As you progress through missions, you unlock new characters, each with their own style. You are scored on your performance (and general ninja-ness), and this score counts as experience for the character you play with, allowing you to gain levels and strength. All up, there are 70 missions for you to work your way through, and they are all linear except for the occasional areas where you can chose either path A or path B. The objectives for each mission include assassination, theft, robbery (which is different from theft in that you have to steal something which somebodyâ€™s carrying), total destruction, guarding, collection and kidnapping. However, youâ€™ll find no matter what the objective, youâ€™ll spend most of your time sneaking around on the tops of walls or in shadows plotting your perfect attack or entry.
I had some great and memorable moments during the game, which I feel I must recount at least one of to youâ€¦ and itâ€™s a rare game which would make me want to share in this way. This one time (at band camp), there was a huge grizzly bear in a cage in the courtyard that I needed to pass through and kidnap a rich merchant. The building at the end was being guarded and they had spotted me jumping down from a building in their line of sight. I threw my â€śexplodeyâ€ť thing to confuse them, but to my amazement it ended up knocking the door to the bear cage open and then all Hell broke lose. After the bear had decimated the guards it began playing with my merchant (the one I was supposed to be kidnapping) and the poor fellow was being picked up and tossed around by the bear. Eventually the bear grew bored of his plaything and turned its attention to me and I had to run and climb for my life. I managed to hide up a ledge for a while and waited for the bear to get bored before quietly sneaking back down to grab my target (who was still lying thereâ€¦ not looking too healthy). Everything was going well as I scooped up his body but as soon as I turned aroundâ€¦ the bear was right there. Needless to say I soon became his new plaything. It was this kind of clever randomness that the game contained and made it not only unpredictable but almost cinematic at times.
The game was full of moments like these and offered hours of not only solid gaming but memorable moments. Finally, to top it all off - itâ€™s about Ninjas! Nothing is cooler than Ninjas, so this should be enough to make you buy it regardless. Shinobido is an excellent title for the PSP and is in the same vein as the much-loved Tenchu series, but with a little more polish. The controls are reliable, the equipment you get to play with is great fun and the game is hard enough to keep you going - but not so hard you dread starting a new mission (most of which can be completed in under 10 minutes, so itâ€™s a good handheld choice). Sure, there were a couple of minor graphical glitches (some strange clipping problems with enemies disappearing into walls), but nothing which upset the gameplay. Did I mention itâ€™s about Ninjas? Highly recommended.