The Shinobi, Joe Musashi, embarks on a rescue and destroy mission against the terrorist network Zeed. The organization kidnapped his students and now Joe must traverse through deadly obstacles and fierce enemies to save his pupils and confront the mastermind behind it all. -summary
When people look back at the 80's, many remember the surge of horror's sub-genre the slasher flick, those amazingly cool robots that changed into vehicles the Transformers, and the various comedic sitcoms that flooded our tubes. But I noticed something, many children of the 80's seem to have forgotten America's obsession with the absolute coolest of the cool, the ninja. Everybody loved the ninjas. I mean hell, I was a ninja for Halloween 4 times in a row, I had every single GI Joe ninja, I hurt my back for weeks pretending to be a ninja. The point is I really loved them, until they started eating pizza... *hint, hint*. However, one ninja caught my attention, and he would be the star in his own video game called Shinobi.
Shinobi is one of those franchises that have been unjustly overlooked in favor of the more mainstream titles, despite constantly showing some type of progress with each newer addition, with Cyber Shinobi and Shadow Dancer (Genesis version) being two of the only real hiccups. The game has been well known for its very high difficulty and those humble beginnings began here. The franchise has enjoyed a good run over the last 24 years with the release of its most recent incarnation this past November Shinobi 3DS. Now lets take a look at why I still enjoy this game and feel it still holds up as a solid plat-former.
Influenced by the 1986 action plat-former Rolling Thunder (at least it appears to me), Shinobi is an action game that heavily relies on trial and error. In other words, you're going to die a whole damn lot in your quest to master this games stages, and believe me you're going to have to master all the early levels, because you cannot continue in the final mission after that last life is lost. The game follows Shinobi as he battles through 5 missions which are made up of four tough levels, excluding the first one which is made up of three. At the end of the mission, you will encounter a pretty tough boss with only a single weakness, and you will need some good timing and coordination to hit those vulnerable areas. To make things even more difficult, Joe doesn't have a life bar and he dies with only a single striking blow. Which is pretty bad, because your enemies are made up of pistol-wielding marksmen, sword hurling Mongolians, bazooka blasting soldiers, knife stabbing creeps, and various ninjas who will leap into the air with their aim being to stick a katana straight through your damn head. It's not going to be easy for Mr. Mushashi at all. And easy this game sure is hell isn't, at first anyway.
Joe has the tools he needs to send all of his enemies to hell. He has an unlimited amount of shurikens, and he can punch and kick at close range. When rescuing the hostages, some of them will grant him a power up and he will be given a gun with bursting bullets and will now use his sword at close range. I know the gun part sounds a little un-ninja, but oh well. The power up is great because it kills enemies with one hit that usually requires two, and the impact of the bullet penetrates blocking shields and swords. Unfortunately, Joe can't take the gun with him into boss battles since he loses it after completing the stage or being killed. His ultimate attack is in the form of ninja magic that can be used once per stage, which kills everything on screen and weakens bosses.
The stages have an upper and lower level. Joe can ascend to the upper level at anytime by pressing up on the control pad and jumping, the same with descending. This can also work into strategies, but not all stages are like this though. The stages are very linear, and the key to getting through them is memorizing enemy placement and attacks; as well as when and where ninjas will appear out of the background to kill you. After the third mission, the stages will become very difficult, with several instant death falls and the ninjas will hurl through the air doing somersaults almost as if they're flying.
I still enjoy this game up to this very day, because it's such a challenging plat-former. You may be able to run through the first two missions, but after that you need some serious patience. Obtaining a high score is pretty important because you need the points to earn extra lives. The stages are timed and after completing you will earn points for the remaining time. There's also two ways to earn an additional 5000 bonus points; you can do this by making it through the stage without using the ninja magic, and the second, you can prove to be a real bad-ass ninja, by making it through the entire stage without killing anyone with a single shuriken. Easy during the first couple of stages, damn near impossible the rest of the way. There are also bonus stages that will grant you an extra life should you complete it, plus give you a lot of points while you're doing it.
I also like the boss battles since they aren't really push overs. The first boss is an iron clad ninja who shoots fireballs from his hands that move around the screen, the third boss pits you against a super computer who sends stacks of Mandaras on top of each other at you, that slowly move into your direction pushing you into an electrical current. The final boss is by far the coolest, as he attacks with different versions of your ninja magic. When you complete this game the first time, you will probably be wiping your forehead.
This is a pretty basic set up, you have a shoot, jump, and ninja magic button. The controls are responsive, which is very important for those later stages with tight jumps. Nothing here to complain about.
I think the game shows its age here, and it indeed looks primitive when compared to the later games in the series, but it was good back then. The battles take place outside and sometimes inside of buildings. The backgrounds are ok at best with day and night time lighting for some stages, and one stage appears to take place inside of a construction site that is completely in red. The best stages are towards the end, with one battle against flying ninjas taking place in a bamboo forest. For the most part, they match the personality of the game. Now, a crazy thing in regards to the character designs, Joe is actually one of the lame looking ones when compared to most of the bosses. He's a mask less ninja, and his black outfit with yellow wrist bands and anklets looks pretty silly. Thankfully, Sega hooked him up in the later games with a cooler design. The bosses like Ken-Oh look really good draped in black armor and wearing what seems to be a sphinx's helmet. The animation is still pretty impressive, as the pulsating flames from Ken-Oh's attack follows you during the stage, and even Musashi's shuriken glides through the air with nice detail.
Although it's only about 5 tracks, the BGM seems to be a nice fit, and the third song has that smooth, ninja like feel to it. As usual, the boss themes should stand out, and that's what they do here. You will know you're in trouble once that theme starts up. I like at least one of the sound effects here; the clanging sound of shurikens hitting shields. Other than that though, I would have to say this is the weakest area of the game, since everything else sounds a little too bland.
Unless you're a serious diehard gamer who must master every game he plays, then there's some replay here for you. You can always try to run through the stages and boss battles without using the magic, but if you're the type who likes to beat games and move on, then you won't find much value here.
Back then, I use to beat this game on one quarter without dying once. I came into it a couple of days ago thinking I would do the same thing, and found myself continuing on the second stage of the third mission. I got my ass handed to me with extreme prejudice. It's no bullshit that cockiness will get you killed. In any case, Shinobi was always a game I could look back on fondly, and I think it's still pretty fun to play once in awhile. However, and this is actually a good thing, a majority of the sequels have evolved far past this and become far more complex, and yes, even more challenging. It's no secret that video games have gotten easier over the years, but Shinobi is a franchise that sure as hell hasn't fallen into that trend. If you're the type who can't stand hard games, then Shinobi is not for you. If it's a challenge you want, then give this and all of the later games a try.
Also check out:
The Revenge of Shinobi
-Challenging, cool bosses and stages
-Feels a little dated in some areas
What did you think of this review?