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.

Advertisement

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.