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 games, eh?
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).
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.
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, they are replaced by a gun. You can also find a katana to replace your melee attack too. If things gets too tough, you can use your ninjitsu attack, but only once per level. Your ninjitsu attack changes Depending on the level: 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, and 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 throw shuriken at encroaching enemy ninjas. Winning this bonus round will gain you an extra life.
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 gameplay 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.
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 have 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 well 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.
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.
Sinclair User: “Conventional combat ideas – but the gameplay makes up to make a winner. Overall 8/10”.
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”.
“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.”
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.
 ‘Arcade Action – Shenobi’. Computer & Video Games. (March 1988). Issue 77:92-3.
 ‘Coin-Ops – Shinobi’. Sinclair User. (June 1988). Number 75:83.
 Kelly, N., ‘Arcades – Shinobi’. Commodore User. (February 1988). Number 54:104.