Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – Review

Who hasn’t fantasised about being a ninja? The idea of being a highly skilled assassin infiltrating an enemy base and dispatching your enemies using an array of weapons like the shuriken, katana, and kusarigama is a hero fantasy that I certainly had (and still do at times). The Revenge of Shinobi (1989) was a popular game. Would a third instalment prove just as successful?

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Super Shinobi II in Japan) is a single-player hack-and-slash action game and a sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi (1989). It was developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive 1993. It would appear as part of the Sega Genesis Collection (2006) for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable, on the Wii Virtual Console (2007) and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009) for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It would also be released for the PC on Steam (2010), iPhone (2011) and Nintendo 3DS eShop (2013).

After the events of The Revenge of Shinobi (1989), Joe Musashi also known as Shinobi, returned to Japan to recover from his battle with the Neo Zeed organisation. He soon learns that the Neo Zeed are rebuilding and that members of the organization have been sent to kill him. Once again Shinobi must prepare to battle for his life and stop the evil Neo Zeed once and for all!

Beautiful level and sprite design (screenshot taken by the author)

Shinobi must battle through seven Levels:

  • Zeed’s Resurrection – Battle through the forests and caves of Japan
  • Secret Entry – Infiltrate a high-tech facility
  • Body Weapon – Battle through a laboratory where biological weapons are being created
  • Destruction – Infiltrate a robotics factory
  • Electric Demon – Infiltrate and destroy a weapons facility
  • Traps – Descend into a gorge where Neo Zeed’s secret base is found
  • The Finial Confrontation – Battle through an air fortress to defeat the Shadow Master

As with the prequel, there are several items and power-ups to look out for:

  • 5 x shuriken
  • 20 x shuriken
  • Heart bonus (for health)
  • Extra Life
  • Ninjitsu – Adds a special ability for you to use
  • Time Bomb – Avoid these as they explode and cause damage to you

A new danger to look out for is mines and these aren’t always easy to see.

Throughout the game, Shinobi can use his sepcial powers:

  • Jutsu of Ikazuchi – Summons a bolt of lightning to create an electrical shield that gives you invulnerability for a short period of time.
  • Jutsu of Kariu – Summons four pillars of intense flame to incinerate your enemies
  • Jutsu of Fushin – Increases Shinobi’s jumping ability
  • Jutsu of Mijin – Shinobi explodes killing nearby enemies, however Shinobi will also lose a life.

These special powers can only be used once per level unless you find a box a Ninjitsu icon along the way.

My kingdom for a horse! (screenshot taken by the author)

New additions to traversing the levels that break up the monotony include a horse and jet-ski. On the horse you must be aware of enemies hanging from kites. You need to dispatch them whilst keeping an eye out for tripping hazards. The jet-ski level sees enemies riding futuristic hover bikes whilst you keep an eye out for ramps that allow you pick up goodies and avoid enemy mines.

The creators have added some nice new moves to the game to make things a little more interesting. For example, Shinobi can now perform a mid-air flying kick, can jump off walls to gain higher ground, can hang from the ceiling (which I don’t recall him doing in Revenge of Shinobi (1989), and a running slash that makes him temporarily invincible.

There are four difficulty settings: Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert offering plenty of replay value to the game. You can also choose how many shuriken to start with, adding a further layer of difficulty should you wish it.

That’s one ugly-assed monster! (screenshot taken by the author)

I think this game looks great! The sprites look fantastic and are very detailed. I particularly like how the enemy sprites explode, reminiscent of many arcade games. The levels are also incredibly detailed with many having multi-layered parallax scrolling. In Level 1 when you enter the cave, the transition in the background is very smooth. The background of the forest fades and after a brief black backdrop, the interior of the cave fades in. I also really liked Level 5 where you are battling through a forest that is ablaze. The oranges and reds of the background really give you a sense of heat from the inferno. You can almost feel it coming through your TV screen!

The music is actually pretty cool. There are some nice upbeat electronic tracks similar to what you’d find on Streets of Rage (1989).

One issue I have with the controls is that in order to perform a somersault, you need to press the jump button a second time when Shinobi is at the peak of his first jump, else he will just begin to fall as normal. I found this frustrating, especially when the levels scrolled up or when you had to jump onto the falling rocks. I lost many lives on these levels and I felt that the window with which you needed to perform the somersault was a little too narrow.

I also have an issue with the fact that Shinobi can still only through his shuriken in one direction…the way he is facing. I think it would be time for him to at least be able to throw them straight up by now. Sadly, this lack of progression in his move set loses them game some points for me.

Did I complete the game?

As of yet, I can’t get past Level 6.

What the critics said:

Computer and Video Games: “As good as Super Shinobi II is it just doesn’t have that awesome mix of action and graphical excellence that the first one was full of. The graphics look a little better with some topper backdrops and Joe himself has had a bit of a facelift and been given Ultimate Warrior type arm-ties. Once again the music is absolutely superb with some really hard thumping rock tracks and some brilliant effects. Game play has been made a little more involving with some new moves and other treats but there’s just something missing to make it a classic. Overall 84%.[1]

MegaTech: “One of the best MD action titles around. Great, fast-paced action, briliant graphics and sound and a few new tricks up Joe’s sleeve make this a must for all atcion fans. Overall 93%.[2]

Mega: “As much fun as the previous Shinobi games and a bit better besides. Why the, didn’t they make the bloody thing a bit harder? Overall 74%.[3]

Sega Power: “Shinobi is to predecessors what Kellogg’s Special K is to cornflakes – same ingredients but with a different shape. It’s very playable, but unremarkable, performing title. Overall 79%.[4]

GamePro: “Just when you’re getting bored with similar-looking-and-similar-playing action games, along comes Joe Musashi to shake things up. Mind-blowing backgrounds, great new moves, a horse-riding sequence, and hot music push this Genesis to the max. III cheers for Shinobi III. Overall 19/20.[5]

My Verdict:

“This game looks great with some stunning levels and backdrops. It is enjoyable to play too and contains some fab music. Although there are some new moves, I still think they could have allowed Shinobi to throw shuriken in more than on direction. Apart from a few small gameplay gripes though, it’s defiantly worth playing and I will not doubt return to conquer this game at a later date.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master? 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] Anglin, P., ‘Three Page Review – Super Shinobi II’. Computer and Video Games. (February 1993). 135:22-4.

[2] ‘Game Index – Shinobi III’. MegaTech. (June 1995). Issue 42:30.

[3] ‘Game Review – Shinobi 3’. Mega. (October 1993). Issue 13:34.

[4] ‘Mega Drive Review: Shinobi 3 – Return of the Ninja Master’. Sega Power. (September 1993). Issue 46:38-9.

[5] Slasher Quan., ‘Genesis ProReview: Shinobi: return of the Ninja Master‘. GamePro. (August 1993). Issue 49:58-9.

Shadow Warriors/Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Ryūkenden – Review

Throughout the 70s and 80s, the popularity of eastern martial arts rose dramatically in the west through Bruce Lee and The Karate Kid movies. Naturally, gamers are attracted to games where they can perform a flurry of punches, an array of agile kicks and jumps, and master hand to hand combat because, let’s face it, these things take years of training and dedication which many of us don’t have the inclination for.

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Shadow Warriors is a side-scrolling action-platform game developed and published by Tecmo. It was released for the NES in Europe in 1991, having previously been released in Japan in 1988 as Ninja Ryūkenden, and in North America in 1989 as Ninja Gaiden. It was later ported to the SNES, PC and mobile phones. For this review, I chose to play the NES version.

Plot

You control Ryu Hayabusa who travels to America to avenge the murder of his father. He soon learns of a person known as “The Jaquio” who plans to take over the world with the help of an ancient demon whose power is contained within two statues. The game contains 20 levels broken down into six acts.

I’m not sure why Ryu has a reddish tinge to him (screenshot taken by the author)

Gameplay

The gameplay mostly consists of running at and cutting down your enemies. Ryu’s main weapon is a sword but you are able to pick up and use limited numbers of shuriken. Ryu can also jump and cling onto the walls, but can only climb if he is on a ladder. If not, and a wall is opposite, he can spring himself up by jumping between walls.

How Does It Handle?

The controls are very responsive and the movement tight, allowing for close control. Annoyingly, and this is common amongst early games, if you progress to a higher screen and you fall back down the hole you just came from, you die as oppose to simply fall to the level below.

Between levels, there are beautifully illustrated cut scenes (screenshot taken by the author)

Graphics & Music

The graphics and music are standard for 8-bit home consoles in the 80s but with the introduction of 16-bit consoles, begin to look dated by the time of its release in Europe in 1991. The Ryu sprite has a reddish glow to him, which is strange. After each act, there is a beautifully illustrated anime-style cutscene furthering the storyline.

Personal Experiences

The levels are very difficult and unforgiving, but you do receive unlimited continues. Sadly, I was only able to get to Act Three as my version kept crashing. However, I really enjoyed playing this game and so will definitely return to it in the future.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, my game kept crashing on Act Three.

What The Critics Said:

Mean Machines: “A superb game, very similar to Shadow Warriors coin-op. Highly recommended top Nintendo beat ‘em up fans. Overall 88%.[1]

Mean Machines: “A superbly presented Ninja game which proves very playable. Overall 90%.[2]

Awards:

Best Challenge 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[3]

Best Ending 1989 – Nintendo Power Awards 1989[4]

Best Game of the Year – Electronic Gaming Best and Worst of 1989[5]

My Verdict:

“Tight controls, beautiful cut scenes but very difficult and unforgiving. A good edition to the ninja genre”

Rating:

What are your memories of Shadow Warriors? 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] ‘Nintendo Review – Ninja Gaiden’. Mean Machines. (July 1990). Issue 06:12-4.

[2] ‘Nintendo Review – Shadow Warrior’. Mean Machines. (July 1991). Issue 10:66-8.

[3] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:27.

[4] ‘Nintendo Power Awards ‘89’. Nintendo Power. (May/June 1990). Issue 12:28.

[5] ‘Best and Worst of 1989’. Electronic Gaming Monthly – 1990Video Game Buyer’s guide. 5:17.

Kage (Shadow of the Ninja/Blue Shadow) – Review

A picture containing text, book, man

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I often wonder what goes through the minds of game creators. Naturally, creators wish to make money but at the same time, surely they want to make a game that’ll be loved by gamers. Why they would create games that frustrate gamers because of limited moves, the inability to select weapons, and limited lives and continues, I’ll never know? Kage is one such game!

Title screen (screenshot taken by the author)

Kage was developed and published by Natsume in 1990 (Taito in 1991). It was later renamed as Shadow of the Ninja in Japan and Blue Shadow in Europe and Australia. Originally released on the NES, it was later re-released for the Virtual Console on the Wii. For this review, I played the NES version.

Plot

Set in 2029, the evil Emperor Garuda has taken over the USA. Two ninjas from the Iga clan, Lord Hayate and Lady Kaede, are sent to infiltrate the Emperor’s stronghold and assassinate him.

Gameplay

Using weapons such as the katana (sword), shuriken (throwing stars) and kusarigama (sickle and chain), the ninjas must fight through numerous enemies and sub-bosses. There are five levels broken down into 16 stages, which see you fight through a seaport, underground sewers, city rooftops, an air fortress and a final fortress.

You can select to play either as Lord Hayate or Lady Kaede (screenshot taken by the author)

It can be played in both single and two-player mode. In one-player mode, you have the option to decide who you play as. You can run, jump and attack, and even hold onto certain platforms and hang from them. You can then choose to flip up to that platform or drop to the platform below. However, you can only attack the way you are facing when hanging from a platform.

How Does It Handle?

The controls are responsive and simple…perhaps too simple. When using the katana and shuriken, you can only attack straight in front of you or in a crouching position. You cannot slash your sword or throw a shuriken up or diagonally, which I think is pretty dumb, especially where the shuriken is concerned. You can attack diagonally up and straight up when you wield the kusarigama, but not down or diagonally down. Finding scrolls throughout the levels increases the range of your attack, but I didn’t find any on the first stage. You may also find bombs and health potions.

Hangin’ tough (screenshot taken by the author)

Annoyingly you cannot switch between weapons meaning when you pick up shurikens, you have to use them up before reverting back to the katana or kusarigama, or you need to find an item box conatining a different weapon or additional shuriken. This is frustrating because, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain this, but I will, it would be very handy with some bosses and sub-bosses to be able to save some shurikens back.

Thankfully, there is no time limit on the levels meaning you can take your time.

Be prepared to evade small missiles (screenshot taken by the author)

Graphics

Graphically, levels are detailed and well designed, and the sprites are clean and well defined. No complaints there.

Music

The music is very basic and easily forgettable.

Personal Thoughts

I didn’t spend that much time on this game because I found the limited move set frustrating and I just didn’t enjoy playing it. The inability to defeat various enemies without taking hits is frustrating.

Did I Complete The Game?

No, I only managed to get to level 2.2 before I gave up.

What The Critics Said:

GamePro: “Shadow of the Ninja, however, is above average Ninja fare with top of the line graphics and fast-paced gameplay. One minor hang-up is the sluggish transition between dialogue screens. But all in all this is a top flight, fast-paced action cart.” Overall 4.6/5.[1]

Electronic Gaming Monthly: “Superb Graphics and sound intensify this battle for freedom. No rating”.[2]

Total!: “A sexy-looking and very playable platform hack ‘em up, with great two-player option. It’s just a bit too easy for my liking. Overall 74%.[3]

My verdict:This game isn’t bad, but the limited ways to attack your enemies make it very frustrating. Sadly, this detracts from the nice graphics and keeps me from wanting to pay more. It’s a poor man’s Ninja Gaiden”.

Rating:

What are your memories of Kage? 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] Bro Buzz. ‘Nintendo Proview – Shadow of the Ninja’. GamePro. (July/August 1991). :24-5.

[2] ‘Shadow of the Ninja’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (April 1991). 21:98-102.

[3] ‘Blue Shadow’. Total!. (April 1992). 4:38-39.

Saboteur – Review

I was born in 1983, and had an older brother and father who were interested in computer games. Although I vaguely remember some sort of computer system that we played Pong on, the first computer system that we owned that I really remember was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Games on cassette tapes that would crash frustratingly often and multi-coloured loading screens were my childhood memories of this system. One game that holds a special place in my heart is Saboteur, as it was the first game that I completed. I remember playing it alot as a child. My dad even spent time creating a map showing every room and all the features. For this review, I revisited the ZX Spectrum 128 version.

The title screen is a rip-off of the cover art for the 1983 film Revenge of the Ninja (screenshot taken by the author)

Saboteur is a single-player stealth action-adventure game. It was developed by Clive Townsend and published by Durell Software in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 16. Enhanced versions were released for the PC, iOS and Android in 2017, and the Nintendo Switch in 2018.

Beware of the Dog! (screenshot taken by the author)

Plot

You play as a ninja who must infiltrate a warehouse to steal a floppy disk, which contains names of rebel leaders, before escaping in a helicopter.

Gameplay

Along the way you may have to evade or engage in hand to hand combat with guards and guard dogs. You can also pick up and throw projectiles such as shurikens, knives and bricks. To add to the excitement, you’re given a time limit with which to complete the mission.

How Does It Handle?

The game is easy to learn and control, and there are plenty of places to explore, even if you don’t necesarily need to visit them to complete the mission.

Graphics

The graphics are smooth, and I like the way that there is a stark difference between rooms that are lit and rooms that are supposed to be in darkness. The sprites are clear and well defined, and there is virtually no colour bleed between sprites, and the backgrounds.

Music

The music is only existant once the game has loaded, and you see the first option screen where you can opt to play with a joystick, keyboard or Kempton interface. You also have the option to redefine the command keys. The music that plays over this menu is actually pretty good. It reminds me of the sort of music melody that might be played over any number of 80s action movies. It tells the player that the game is serious and means business. Sadly, there is no in-game music.

Use your kung-fu skills to take out the guards (screenshot taken by the author)

SFX

As far as SFX goes, the game is quiet. I don’t know whether the lack of in-game music and SFX was intentional or not, bearing in mind that this is supposed to be a stealth game. You can hear the boat as it arrives at the dock and your saboteur’s footsteps as he runs. There is a noise when you’re being fired at and when you attack a guard, but other than that the game is eerily silent. This silence, intentional or not, actually adds to the atmosphere of the game.

Replay Value

There are nine skill levels which increase the difficulty of the mission by including more guards, more locked security doors and giving the player less time to complete the mission. This feature adds to the overall replay value of the game.

Did I Complete The Game?

Yes, I’ve completed the game several times and I’m working my way through the harder settings.

What The Critics Said:

Computer & Video Games: “Saboteur is an addictive, exciting and challenging game. A mixture of Exploding Fist and Impossible Mission. It’s a winner – watch it climb the charts! Overall 9.25/10.[1]

Sinclair User: “The game is very realistic, the graphics are outsnaindgly smooth and there is no colour clash or flicker to speak of. There are nin levels of play, ranging from extremely easy to extremely difficult. Overall 5/5“.[2]

Your Sinclair: “Saboteur manags to combine the good graphical representations of the other kung-fu games with a solid background of an action-packed story. One to be recommended. Overall 9/10”.[3]

Computer Gamer: “An exceptional game that takes the kung-fu game a stage further to perfection. Overall 4.75/5.[4]

My Verdict:

“Modern gamers, don’t be fooled by the seemingly crude graphics and lack of music and SFX. This game is challenging and fun, and there is enough here to have you wanting to continue playing on harder difficulty settings.”

Rating:

What are your memories of Saboteur? 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] ‘Software Review: Saboteur’. Computer & Video Games. (January 1986). :23.

[2] Edgely, C., ‘Spectrum Software Scene: Saboteur’. Sinclair User. (January 1986). Issue 46:20.

[3] ‘Review: Saboteur’. Your Sinclair. (January 1986). Issue 1:66-7.

[4] ‘Reviews: Saboteur’. Computer Gamer. (December 1986). Issue 9:74.