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Page 1:
Intro
Shinobi

Page 2:
Shadow Dancer

Page 3:
The Revenge of Shinobi (GEN)
Shinobi III

Page 4:
The Cyber Shinobi
The GG Shinobi
The GG Shinobi 2

Page 5:
Shinobi Legions
The Revenge of Shinobi (GBA)

Page 6:
Shinobi (PlayStation 2)
Nightshade

Page 7:
Shinobi (3DS)
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
Other

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Shinobi / Shinobi 3D - 3DS (2011)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

After the longest break for the series yet, Shinobi finally returned on the 3DS in 2011. In Japan appropriately titled Shinobi 3D, Sega's Western divisions apparently decided to compete with Ninja Gaiden in name confusion, which is now the fourth game in the series that's called just Shinobi (after the original, the first Game Gear game and the PS2 one). Since big old Japanese companies don't actually develop games anymore (unless it's Sonic), the new entry was outsourced to American company Griptonite, mostly known for licensed titles on various handhelds and download services. With their remake of the Atari classic Warlords a few months prior, they shifted gears, however, and so Shinobi is already their second reimagening of a classic video game series.

Griptonite decided to use Shinobi III as their role model. A fine choice, since it's the best game yet. Aside from similar gameplay, you'll see a lot of enemies and setpieces taken from both Super Shinobi games. Like those two, the new Shinobi opens with a stage seemingly set in feudal Japan, before it switches to more futuristic stuff; only this time, it's really set in the 13th century (the guys at Triptonite apparently didn't do their research, since shinobi didn't really appear before two hundred years later), and Jiro Musashi is then teleported through time into the future for unknown reasons. Here he gets captured by an equally unknown military force, but a fly from his time that sat on his sword during the transition wakes him up and kills everyone, except one female soldier because... he always wanted a rival slash potential love interest that goes nowhere? According to one of the developers, there was a more elaborate storyline planned initially, but much of it was cut because the company contracted for the cutscene animations had trouble meeting the schedule.

Cutscenes like that are interspersed throughout the game. They're hand-drawn (no 3D effect here), but the animation is minimal - think Neo Geo game intro quality. They're usually short and speechless save for some random quotes from Bruce Lee's philosophical journal, but what makes them annoying is that they can only be skipped after watching them once and when the game saved the status, which only happens at the end of a stage or when hitting retry at a game over. So frequently quitting and retrying forces you to watch them again and again.

The storyline may be abridged to incomprehensibility, but it's still more than any of the earlier games.

Veteran fans will feel right at home from the start, as all the abilities from Shinobi III are back. Walking/running is now conveniently realized with the analog nub instead of double-tapping, making the game feel more fast-paced. Shuriken use is also modernized: there are seperate buttons for the sword and shurikens, and the throwing daggers are now drawn from an infinite pool, although Jiro can only throw five at a time. Afterwards they recharge slowly, downplaying their role a little bit, but also making their use more tactical than a question of ressource management. The four ninja magic techniques got additional shuriken-strengthening traits, only the suicide bomb has been replaced by temporary invincibility and super strength, that leaves the hero with just one speck of health, so it's still best used just before one is about to die.

But Jiro also has a couple of entirely new tricks up his sleeve, like a grappling hook that can be shot straight upward to cling onto ceilings, and he can also slide to pass under low passages (unlike Joe Musashi, Jiro can not walk in a crouched position). The rest of the abilities are all related to swordfighting: the right shoulder button can now be used to deflect attacks (similar to Shinobi Legions), although the timing has to be spot-on. When an enemy is unaware of Jiro's presence, he can take him out silently, Tenchu-style.

Finally, melee attacks are now chained into strings of combos, and there are several new moves, like a sliding attack, a slash that lifts enemies into the air and a guard breaking charge attack. But no worries, Shinobi didn't turn into a Devil May Cry-esque combo fest like Bloodrayne Betrayal. The basic enemies still go down with a single stroke and even tougher ones don't last long, either, but they can be juggled further to maximize scoring. Blocking an entire machinegun salve with your sword and then destroying your foe with a fluid counterattack just feels great, and when things go wrong you'll always know it's your fault and the game gave you all the tools to do better.

Grabbing bosses with the hook is difficult, but very effective.

The system to determine your score is more elaborate than in most shmups. Not only killing enemies awards points, but also each blow that leads to their death, with varying values for each move. Blocking attacks will also raise the score, but getting hit is punished with a deduction. A special meter can be built up with combos for even higher scores. Each additional level raises a score multiplier and makes Jiro's weapon glow brighter, But take one hit and it goes all back to zero immediately. Finally, at the end of each stage you get penalties for every second you go over the assigned standard time for the stage and for each magic use. You can even save replays of good runs, although there seems to be no way to share them with other players.

What makes the new Shinobi a worthy follow-up to the classics - and puts it heads and shoulders above almost any other 2(.5)D action game nowadays - is the brilliant stage design. Right in the first stage the game demands a well-timed combination of the double jump and grapple hook. Each stage has at least one hard to reach or hard to find hidden area, and just like in the good-old days, the game gets hard fast, and excruciatingly so. The once again awesome bosses range from old favourites like the helicopter to a huge robotic shark, and demand not only the right approach, but also ninja-like reflexes to beat them.

Unlike the previous games, though, the game is saved after each stage, and you also get unlimited credits. But if you lose your last live in the boss fight, you're still gonna go back to the very beginning of the usually very long stage. Unless you're playing on the easiest of the four difficulty levels, which not only makes the enemies weaker, but also grants unlimited lives. But you're not likely to die that much in this mode, anyway - its almost too easy, safe for a few bits of brutal platforming towards the end. "Hard" and especially "Very Hard," on the other hand, make even the original games look like child's play. One life at three continues against much harder enemies, anyone? Shinobi experts will be glad to hear that the game pulls none of that patronizing "finish the game on normal to get the higher diffictulties" nonsense.

The After Burner tribute sequence is only one of several rides.

Griptonite even brought back the cool shuriken shooting range bonus stage from the 1987 classic, although it's a bit easier to win here, and awards further bonus points instead of extra lives. Only the parts where Jiro rides various vehicles in an angled perspective are a bit dull, but nowhere near as long and boring as in Nightshade. In a desperate attempt to use more functions of the 3DS hardware, the surfing sequence is controlled by tilting the handheld. That doesn't make it more exciting though, but only more awkward to control. There's also some missed opportunities, like when Jiro jumps on a rocket, and then the game just cuts to him already at his target. Now that could have made an interesting tilt-controlled sequence. By far the best of the bunch is the ride on the After Burner jet, if only for the awesome use of that game's theme music.

Otherwise the music consists of a much more usual modern action game rock/techno soundtrack, ditching the jazzy vibe of Shinobi III and the many different styles from Revenge. It does keep lots of generic "oriental style" melodies and chinese flutes, the kind you'd hear in martial arts movies. No doubt this soundtrack is more befitting to the game than the Genesis ones, especially with its faster pace, but it's also less memorable. The exception here is the excellent, almost Western-like main theme, which will haunt your mind long after you've shut off the 3DS. If Sergio Leone had ever made a ninja movie, surely this is what Ennio Morricone's soundtrack would have been like.

There are some minor issues left, though. Sometimes the commands for clinging onto ceilings and for ducking can feel a bit iffy. That's more or less the fault of the 3DS's analog nub, though, as it has to point at the exact top/bottom location for Jiro to switch from running to either action. Ninja magic is selected via touch, but since you usually wouldn't have the touchpen ready for this game, expect to get fingerprints all over the lower display. Placing an optional selection in the pause menu like in the Genesis games would have been the better choice.

Joe has to be very careful in his VR stages.

Maybe the reason for dropping the "3D" in the Western release title was the fact that the 3D is simply not very good. This doesn't just mean it lacks innovation with the technology and doesn't add much to the experience - although that is the case as well - but the effect is just broken for this game, plainly and frankly. There is no angle you can hold the DS in to prevent ghosting, which is most noticeable on Jiro himself. It isn't that obvious in front of bright backgrounds, but when the contrasts are high, it's terribly irritating and strains the eyes more than usual. In 2D the game looks decent despite PSOne-era detail levels, although it always feels a bit monotonous, as every area has a very dominant color. The total color variety across the game is actually not too bad, but when a stage is orange, it's very orange.

The main adventure in Shinobi 3D is only about as long as Shinobi III, but Griptonite packed their game with a ton of replay value, and then some. Besides the excellent scoring system, there are dozens of "achievements," which unlock a myriad of different extras. All beaten levels can thankfully be selected seperately in "Free Play" mode to hunt for missed achievements and higher scores. There's the obligatory artwork artwork and movie galleries, as well as a music test, whith every single item hidden behind requirements ranging from "Complete level X" to "Beat the final boss without taking any damage." A neat little extra is the "history" menu, which spills trivia about all the previous games.

But you also get different costumes and weapon replacements (including a golden axe, a chainsaw and a chicken!), and even cheats in "Free Play". The most significant option is the opportunity to play as Colonel Sarah Krieger, Jiro's helper from the story mode. She has all the same acrobatic maneuvers, but feels a bit lighter in the air. Unsurprisingly, she has to fight without ninja magic and doesn't wield a katana, so her only melee option are her kicks. It takes much longer to defeat enemies that way, and instead of the counter she only has a backflip dodge. But Krieger is specialized in firearms combat instead. Contrary to Shiro's limited recharging shuriken, she can fire a large magazine before she has to reload for a second. Certain parts of the game are still far more difficult for her, especially fights against enemies with strong defense.

Colonel Krieger has the upper hand in ranged combat.

Finding two skull coins in each of the eight stages opens access to difficult VR challenge maps, which largely focus on Jiro's platforming abilities. Thirteen more can be unlocked by meeting other players via Street Pass (or by using up the Play Coins you get for running around with the 3DS set to standby). Here you get to run around in an 1987 Joe Musashi memorial outfit, but all of them demand perfect control of your ninja skills, as every single hit is an instant kill. It requires a lot of time to master them all.

There are few other classic game reimagenings that do such a great job at modernizing a franchise while still capturing the original's spirit as well as Shinobi 3D. It effortlessly plays in the same league as Bionic Commando Rearmed and Contra 4. While not quite perfect, considering the mediocre graphics and botched 3D, it's one of the best games in the series yet. Even compared to any old-school 2D action platformer, Shinobi 3D is far up there.

Quick Info:

Developer:

  • Griptonite Games

Publisher:

Lead Designer:

  • Kris Durrschmidt

Genre:

Themes:


Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D

Shinobi 3D



Shinobi 2 / Meiying Renzhe: Yanpiao Xiang (魅影忍者 焰瓢香) - Mobile (2011)

English Title Screen

Chinese Title Screen

The world of Chinese cell phone games is a curious one, filled with offshoots of popular properties, both legitimate and bootlegged. Shinobi 2 is an officially licensed Sega product, though its ties to the Shinobi series proper are tenuous. The titles indicate that this is probably meant to be the sequel to the mobile port of the arcade game released a few years prior, though it is a wholly original game. The Chinese title is Meiying Renzhe: Yanpiao Xiang, which means "Phantom Ninja: Flame Fragrance".

The game stars a female ninja named Honoka, both a member of the Oboro Ninja clan and a CIA agent. Unlike Hibana from Nightshade, she eschews the ninja mask for a less subtle outfit. Her main weapon includes three swords with different abilities: fire, ice, and poison. Each enemy is also associated with a different colored symbol. If they are killed with the matching sword color, they'll drop orbs to strengthen that weapon. Although Honoka does not wield shurikens, the swords have projectile attacks, and she also brings out a gun for when she's hanging on ledges. She can also run straight up walls and bounce back and forth, though these abilities are rarely tested.

Some levels simply require that you get to the exit, others feature certain tasks, like obtaining a certain number of key cards, finding objects to unlock doors, or just killing all of the enemies. A few stages are simple shooting segments, where you control Honoka on a glider. Every few stages there are also bonus levels where Honoka automatically runs forward, and you must press colored buttons to defeat oncoming bad guys.

In spite of the setting and general theme, the game doesn't play like any of the other Shinobi games, and feels more like a generic action-platformer. The graphical style is much brighter and more manga influenced than the previous games. The pixel artwork is generally attractive, though the quality of the animation is inconsistent. The music is also negligible.

Like most mobile titles, the game falters with its controls. The hit detection never feels right, and enemies take far too many hits to kill. Even though you can double jump, it's still difficult to land on platforms, which is troublesome considering that you take damage from long falls. A few areas take place on a moving train, and the physics make absolutely no sense.

Shinobi 2 is not particularly good but, like most of these obscure Chinese offshoots, it is amusing for fans purely from a trivia standpoint.

Shinobi 2 (Mobile)

Shinobi 2 (Mobile)

Shinobi 2 (Mobile)



[Related Game] Alex Kidd in Shinobi World - Master System (1990)

American Cover

In 1990, Sega mascot Alex Kidd collided with the world of Shinobi to create a decent action game for the Sega Master System. The big-eared monkey-esque prince doffed his usual red overalls for a ninja outfit as he battles through city landscapes and construction sites, against familiar from the Shinobi enemies. It doesn't play like any of the games in either series, but it's a colorful, light hearted look at Shinobi's rather dark and serious world. Several of the stages are reminiscent of levels from Shinobi, and the bosses take vague inspiration from them too. Instead of a huge samurai named Lobster, you literally fight...a lobster. Even the main theme music is derived from Shinobi. However, some aspects from the Alex Kidd games remain, like the destructable blocks, the slippery controls and the swimming stages.

Even though it draws from both franchises, it's very much its own game. Alex attacks with a sword, which can stregthen with a certain power-up. You can also find ninja knives to attack foes at a distance, and can also find ninja magic to temporarily turn into a whirlwind. You can climb up ropes, bounce off walls Ninja Gaiden-style, or grapple onto pipes and spin until you become a fireball, flinging yourself at foes. This is the only game in the series where you have a life meter. You can take three hits, but there are numerous health restoration items, so it's not too difficult. You only get a single continue, but there are only eight stages (plus four boss battles) so it's a pretty short game.

Like most later Master System games, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World was only released in American and PAL terrories. An early magazine reveals an early version of the game titled Shinobi Kid, starring some generic boy instead of Alex Kidd. It also reveals that the first boss was meant to be named "Mari-Oh", to make fun of Nintendo's famous mascot. (He resembles the first boss of Shinobi, named "Ken-Oh".) Even though the sprite was slightly redrawn for the released game, it's easy to see the resemblance - he shoots fireballs that bounce like they do in Super Mario Bros, and once you deplete his life meter, he shrinks and continues to attack. Pretty clever.

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World


The Legend of Joe Mushasi: Shinobi Music Collection - Soundtrack (2009)

In 2009, Wavemaster published a 4 CD compilation filled with music from the Shinobi series. This includes the arcade version of Shinobi, both the PSG and FM versions of the Master System port, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, both Game Gear Shinobi games, The Cyber Shinobi, The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III, and the arcade, Master System and Genesis versions of Shadow Dancer. It's quite an impressive collection, especially since a number of these games were never officially released in Japan. It is missing some of the non-Sega ports though, like the PC Engine and NES versions. It also only covers the 8 and 16-bit games, so it's missing both Shinobi Legions/Shinobi X soundtracks, as well as the PS2 games (and obviously predates the 3DS game.) It was only officially released through the Sega Store, which does not ship outside of Japan, although certain importers carry it. More info at the VGMDB.

Soundtrack Cover


Sonic the Comic: Shinobi

Shinobi was featured in the British Fleetway Sonic the Comic series, which included several other Sega properties. Five different stories, most taking place across several issues - "The Dark Circle", "Fear Pavilion", "The Art of War", "Way of the Warrior" and "Power of the Elements". They were written by Alan McKenzie and drawn by Jon Haward. The story and characters are based off of The Revenge of Shinobi. You can find several scans at Sonic the Comic Reruns. Unrelated to Sonic the Comic, there was also a single issue comic published by Dark Horse Comics based on the PS2 game, which acted as a prologue to that game.

Cover



Related Articles


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Shinobi

Page 2:
Shadow Dancer

Page 3:
The Revenge of Shinobi (GEN)
Shinobi III

Page 4:
The Cyber Shinobi
The GG Shinobi
The GG Shinobi 2

Page 5:
Shinobi Legions
The Revenge of Shinobi (GBA)

Page 6:
Shinobi (PlayStation 2)
Nightshade

Page 7:
Shinobi (3DS)
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
Other

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