Since the dawn of time there have always been ninjas, well near enough. Those pesky assassins can never be seen so we don’t really know when they started creeping around dark alleyways at night. Even so, SEGA since the mid 1980s had started documenting the exploits of one such ninja. Or Shinobi as they were known in the west at the time as the N word was considered to offensive an sinister to use over in this part of the world. That has now been relaxed but the Shinobi name still remains for this series. That is because save for a minor reboot on the PlayStation 2 between 2002-2003 the games have stayed in the mid eighties – mid nineties.
Fast forward almost a decade and here we have the 2011 game with the simple and yet effective title – Shinobi. Released for the Nintendo 3DS, this is a statement by SEGA that a return to roots type of game can appear on the latest and most up to date console at the time. It is a return that many have craved since the 3D incarnation since the PlayStation 2 games were actually half decent.
From the get go, this isn’t just a rehashing of a PS2 game released 9 years previously. Shinobi is a new story and bringing the series back to it’s roots – a rock solid two dimensional side scroller. Set before the original, the main protagonist is Jiro Musashi – the father to our hero from previous games and now we know where Joe got his skills from. Starting in Feudal Japan, it is up to Jiro to fight a deadly clan and find the “friend” who betrayed him. To do this Jiro has the same katana and shuriken weapons which have been ever present though out the series, and even a handy parry button has been included. There is also Jitsu magic, which can be used to become more powerful or effect the stage in play, but in reality it is hardly ever used.
If magic is used, it takes away from the total score at the end of each level and to gain the top ranks, playing it safe is the key as everything, yes everything has points attached to it. Sword attacks earn more than long range weapons, and getting hit subtracts. In true arcade style, the more points the better.
Also in true arcade fashion, moving from left to right defeating ninja after ninja is the aim of the game. This may sound like a chore but it is surprisingly difficult even on the lower difficulty settings. If timing is off or a button isn’t pressed quickly enough then it’s game over. This means to play Shinobi, one must become a Shinobi. Or at least have the reflexes like one. The controls respond beautifully to quick and successive pushes so when dying multiple times, it can be safe to assume it’s not the game’s fault.
Progressing in Shinobi, is a slow task. While it is a hard game to play through, it does become repetitive as the spawn points for enemies can be learned and in essence the levels don’t have much substance to them. Starting off wonderfully, the game quickly stagnates and even the level design becomes boring. A real shame, as it seems like SEGA and developers Griptonite seem to have lost interest by the end. Or spent the entire game’s budget on the first few levels and had to botch the rest together with duct tape.
To split the left-to-right levels, there are moments of a sub-boss or horse riding that provides a nice break from killing enemy after baddie after enemy. These use the 3DS’s 3D capabilities and show the game to be what it is – nice to look at. It is no Super Mario 3D Land however when it goes into a 3D scene, it is instantly noticeable. As well as the 3D, StreetPass and Play Coins are used to unlock extra missions and extend the gameplay. More extras can be earned for the skilled who manage to complete the game’s achievement system.
Shinobi is a game for people who want a challenge, that is for sure. It’s hard as nails approach has been the same since it’s first inception in the 1980s. It has stayed true to the arcade roots and has a few flourishes that can only be found on a Nintendo 3DS such as StreetPass missions and the overall look of the title. It does get repetitive and sadly, environments do get stale. For fans this is a must, new comers maybe put off by the samey nature of the game and it’s difficulty.
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