Shinobi – Review

I can’t speak for females, but I would wager that most boys (and men come to think of it) have fantasised about being a ninja at one point in their lives. The idea of being a stealthy assassin dressed in black and wielding “cool” weapons such as nunchaku, shuriken, and kusarigama is an appealing fantasy…until you realise the amount of training and self-discipline one would need to achieve such expertise. Thank God for video game, eh?

Titlescreen (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi is a side-scrolling hack-and-slash action game. It was developed and published by Sega and released in the arcade in 1987. It was ported to the following:

  • Master System (1988)
  • Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, NES, PC Engine (Japan only) and ZX Spectrum (1989)
  • Wii Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade
  • PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)
  • Nintendo Switch as part of Sega Ages series (2020).

Plot

The evil Zeed Terrorist Organization have kidnapped young students who belong to the clan of ninja master Joe Musashi. Joe must battle through a number of levels dodging gunshots and flying swords in order rescue his students.

Rescue the hostages by walking into them (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The controls are very basic. You can walk, crouch, jump and attack. Depending on your proximity to the enemy will determine if your throw a shuriken or kick. There is only one movement speed, but you can jump into the background and back into the foreground to evade enemies and save your students. You have an unlimited supply of shuriken and when you rescue certain hostages, your they are replaced by a gun. You can also find a katana to replace your melee attack too. If this gets too tough, you can use your ninjitsu attack, but only once per level. Depending on the level will determine which type of special attack it is thunderstorm, tornado, or doppelganger.

Although you can harmlessly bump into enemies, this is a one hit kill game. If you are killed, the stage begins again minus the hostages that you have saved (if you saved any that is). This game has infinite continues and you will simply restart the stage (apparently this does not happen if you run out of lives on the final stage though).

Each level has a time limit of three minutes. You can gain points by finishing the stage quickly, refraining from using your special attacks or melee attacks. After each boss, you will fight in a bonus game where from a first-person perspective, you must through shuriken at encroaching enemy ninjas. Winning this bonus round will gain you an extra life.

Complete the bonus stage to gain an extra life (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

This game handles incredibly well. The controls are very responsive allowing you to duck or jump and evade enemy attacks. Also, the ability to jump to and from the background adds an element of tactical gameplay too. The game isn’t as fast and furious as The Legend of Kage (1985) but I think the characters look and move more realistically.

The bonus stage was a nice little addition too, to break up the game play and offer something a little different.

One of the frustrating aspects to the game are the beige coloured enemies who guard the captives. They have three attacks: they swing their sword, throw their sword at you, or throw their sword in the style of a boomerang. It is difficult to determine what the sword is going to do.

Also, I found the first boss much tougher than the ones at the end of stages two and three. It was incredibly difficult to judge the flight of the fireballs that he shoots.

Graphics

The graphics aren’t ground-breaking but I still I think the game looks good. The sprites aren’t, as detailed or as colourful as the likes of Rastan (1987) or Ninja Gaiden (1988) but I prefer them to The Legend of Kage (1985) and Captain Silver (1987). There is enough detail about the sprites to make them interesting to look at. Th levels and backgrounds are good too, but not very memorable.

Music and SFX

The main music from the first two stages and the boss battle has a good beat and fits very well with this style of game. It returns for later stages and is quite memorable for me, but the other music from the game doesn’t seem to stick in my mind.  

I like the voice over stating the mission numbers at the beginning and end of each mission as wll as the “Welcome to Bonus Stage” introduction to the bonus stage. The SFX in general are fine. There are no annoying sounds or trings that drive you nuts.

Upgrade your shuriken to the more powerful pistol (screenshot taken by the author)

Replay Value

I think there is replay value to this game because, although it is very difficult, it is very fun to play and I can see myself returning to again.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, as of yet, I cannot get past the first stage of mission four.

What The Critics Said:

Computer & Video Games: “Fast moving and very challenging, Shenobi is well worth playing. I particularly liked it for the controls which weren’t too complex. A straightforward kick and punch game with bags of action.” No rating.[1]

Sinclair User: “Conventional combat ideas – but the gameplay makes up to make a winner. Overall 8/10.[2]

Commodore User: “Shinobi doesn’t break much new ground but nevertheless bares the hallmarks of a coin-op wow. It’s tough, but not so tough that you lose interest. It combines several different kinds of shoot ‘em and beat ‘em up action in one well thought out, well executed game. It looks good, it plays brilliantly and it’s coming to an arcade near your soon. Overall 8/10.[3]

Verdict:

“I like this game. It’s fun and it’s the sort of game I would have spent all my money on in the arcades. There’s nothing ground-breaking about it but there doesn’t need to be. Good music, good graphics…simply a solid game.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shinobi? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Arcade Action – Shenobi’. Computer & Video Games. (March 1988). Issue 77:92-3.

[2] ‘Coin-Ops – Shinobi’. Sinclair User. (June 1988). Number 75:83.

[3] Kelly, N., ‘Arcades – Shinobi’. Commodore User. (February 1988). Number 54:104.

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Fantasy Zone – Review

In this world of almost unlimited access to video games through emulation, we forget sometimes that once certain games were only released in selected countries. I myself used to own a Honey Bee, which allowed me to play Japanese games on my Mega Drive. Although ported to consoles around the world, as far as I can tell, the Fantasy Zone arcade cabinet could only be found in Japan. It proved very popular in Japan and so it is anyone’s guess as to why it was never exported to Europe or the US.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Fantasy Zone is a side-scrolling shooter developed and released by Sega. It was released for the arcade in 1986 and was later ported to the Master System, MSX, NES, Sharp X68000 and PC Engine. Each port contained slight alterations to the game. Later releases include:

  • PlayStation 2 as part of Sega Classics Collection (1996), although there were some very noticeable changes to the graphics.
  • Sega Saturn as part of Sega Ages (1997)
  • Mobile devices in 2002 and 2003
  • Virtual Console (2008)
  • PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as part of Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009)
  • Nintendo 3DS (3D port) as part of 3D Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Bros. (2014).

For this review, I played the version found onSonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).

Unlike many other side-scrolling shoot ’em ups, you can turn and fly in the other direction (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

The Fantasy Zone, a solar system with 8 planets, is under threat from the evil Menons who are using foreign money, acquired by illicit means, to build a force of flying monsters. You must destroy the Menons and recover as many coins as possible along the way.

Gameplay

You control a sentient spaceship called Opa-Opa. Armed with your Twin Shot gun and single bombs, you have 8 stages to conquer. In each stage you must destroy 10 specific ships in order to collect the coins they drop. Once you have collected all the coins from one planet, you can move on to the next…after a boss battle, of course. Oh, and unlike many shooters I’ve played, this one allows you to turn around and fly in the opposite direction.

Throughout the stages, you will occasionally see a balloon which has the word ‘Shop’ written across it. Flying into these balloons will allow you access the shop and spend your hard-earned coins on upgrades and weapons:

Shot Type Upgrades:

  • Wide Beam – Damages over a wider area than your Twin Shot
  • Laser Beam – Incredibly powerful laser
  • 7-Way Shot – Shoots in 7 directions at once

Bomb Type Upgrades:

  • Twin Bombs – Launches two bombs at once
  • Fire Bombs – When it hits its target, it fires out a blast in two directions destroying everything in its path
  • Smart Bomb – Damages every enemy on the screen
  • Heavy Bomb – Drop to smash through anything it comes into contact with.

Speedup Parts (Each upgrade allows your ship to fly faster):

  • Big Wings
  • Jet Engine
  • Turbo Engine
  • Rocket Engine

Other:

  • Extra Life

Weapons and bomb power-ups have a limited number of ammo. When they run out, your ship will revert back to your default weapon.

Beware, one hit from an enemy and your ship will get destroyed, losing and power-ups you have bought!

Don’t be fooled by the cutsie appearance, this game is tough (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

The controls are very responsive, allowing you to quickly evade enemies. You can keep your thumb on the fire button to release a steady stream of fire, or quickly tap the fire button for more rapid fire.

As the levels progress, the main enemies you need to kill require more hits to be destroyed and the screen becomes busier with smaller enemies increasing the level difficulty.

Graphics

This game is very bright and colourful. There is plenty to look at and take in and the many enemy creatures are nicely illustrated and animated. At first glance, you can be forgiven for thinking this is aimed at kids. After all, compared to the likes of Alcon, Darius and Lifeforce (also released in 1986) the graphics have a very cartoon-like feel. These graphics will sit well with some but not with others who may desire a more adult look to their games.

Music and SFX

I quite like the music. It has a good beat and I found myself bopping along to it as I attempted to evade the many flying enemies. The change in tone to a lower register for the boss battles adds a feeling of danger. You find yourself saying “Right, here we go”.

When shooting the enemies where you gain the main coins from, the noise changes slightly which I though was a nice touch, and there is a satisfying ‘boing’ sound when you blow up the smaller flying enemies.

Replay Value

There is an addictiveness to this game as well as an element of competition in two-player mode. It is a pity that two players can’t play at the same time but it is understandable as it would likely take away the option to scroll the screen in both directions.

As the levels progress, the main enemies take more shots to kill (screenshot taken by the author)

Did I Complete The Game?

At present, I can only get to the third planet.

What The Critics Said:

At present, I have been unable to find a contemporary review for the arcade version.

Verdict

“It may look cute, but it doesn’t play cute. This game is a real challenge! Bright and colourful, with nice music, its simplicity is also its appeal.”

Rating

What are your memories of Fantasy Zone? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.

Congo Bongo – Review

There will always be a debate about emulation vs original hardware. Some argue that you can only experience the true essence of a game upon playing the original. Others aren’t that fussed or simply can’t afford or access the original hardware. Why should they miss out? I tend to fall into the later category. I would never have played Congo Bongo had it not been for emulation…and I’m glad I did.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Congo Bongo (also known as Tip Top) is a platform game developed and released by Sega for the arcade in 1983. For this review, I played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the PlayStation 3.

Plot

One night, deep in the jungle, an unnamed safari explorer has his tent set on fire by a huge ape named Bongo. The explorer then proceeds to chase Bongo to try and capture him.

Gameplay

The explorer must pursue Bongo across four screens. Whilst in pursuit, there are a number of obstacles for you to evade and conquer. These include jumping across water, dodging other jungle creatures who wish you harm, or evading coconuts thrown by Bongo. You are unable to attack any of the other jungle animals, but you can jump over them to avoid being hit by them.

The four stages include:

  • Stage 1 – The hunter must climb a series of cliffs whilst dodging coconuts thrown at him by Bongo and avoiding the smaller monkeys that try to throw him off the ledges.
  • Stage 2 – The hunter must cross a swamp by riding on the backs of diving and swimming hipposs. There are also poisonous snakes and scorpions to avoid.
  • Stage 3 – The hunter must cross a plain and crouch into holes to evade the horns of charging rhinos. He must then climb more ledges to get to the next stage.
  • Stage 4 – The hunter crosses a second swamp with lily pads, fish, and hippos. Once you reach the other side of the swamp, you must dodge more charging rhinos that are blocking the ledges where you can capture bongo.

One you reach the end of level four the game repeats from the first level with increased difficulty.

Watch out for the cocnuts! (screenshot taken by the author)

How Does It Handle?

I think our hero moves at a good speed and is easy to control once you gets used to the isometric view. I find it helps to rotate my controller to match the directions he will go on the screen. The jumping is tight too. No complaints there. As you can imagine from old arcade games, this is a tough game to master. I think I’ve only ever managed to get to level five or six before losing all my lives.

Graphics

I think this game looks great for 1983. I love the blue of the water, and the animation of our hero as he climbs out of the holes and climbs up the ledges of the mountains. I think the animals are nicely animated too. No issues for me here.

Music & SFX

There is no intro music or in-game music, but there is a nice little piece of celebration music as you pass each level which for some reason reminds me more of a wild west game than it does a jungle game. There is also a strange little riff when you die and float up to heaven.

The noise that the coconuts make as they are being thrown and bounce down the mountains is annoying, as is the low level bassy noise when the rhinos are on screen.

Replay Value

I can imagine that when this game was released it had tons of replay value. I can envisage groups of friends hanging around the machine seeing who could get the highest score. I can also see this game being quite addictive too. There is something about it which draws you back to it.

Did I Complete The Game?

I don’t think this sthe sort of game you can complete but I only reached level five or six before losing all my lives.

I didn’t know there rhinoceroses in the jungle?! (screenshot taken by the author)

What The Critics Said:

Computer and Video Games:  “Donkey Kong in three dimensions is the fascinating idea behind Tip Top. (No rating)“.[1]

My Verdict:

“I think this would have been a good game in its day. I like the look of it, but the music just doesn’t fit for me. It is also incredibly difficult. Other than that, I can see this game becoming addictive.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Congo Bongo? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.


[1] ‘Arcade: Jungle Revenge in 3D – Tip Top’. Computer and Video Games. (July 1983). Issue 21:30.