SEGA is clearly in a revitalizing kind of mood this holiday season. Not only have they resurrected the classic style of Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay in Sonic Generations, but another SEGA classic has seen new life on the 3DS in the form of the newly released Shinobi.
For those too young to remember, Shinobi was an action, side scrolling title that started in the arcades back in 1987. Players took on the role of ninja master Joe Musashi on a mission to stop the terrorist organization “Zeed.” Players used all sorts of ninja weaponry including a katana, throwing knives and a chain weapon to dispatch enemies and save the world.
Shinobi on 3DS marks the first time the franchise has gone back to its side scrolling roots since 1995, and is sure to spark interest in retro game aficionados. But does it live up to the hype?
Players take control of Jiro Musashi. At the beginning of the game, your dojo is attacked once again by Zeed. Being a ninja, Jiro takes it upon himself to save the day and take down the bad guys.
At least I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. There’s really no story explanation to speak of in the game. There are a few anime-style cutscenes in between levels, but these mostly show Jiro jumping out of an explosion or confronting a boss. The few moments there are speaking parts are purely ninja-style words of wisdom.
Players are given a wide variety of options to dispatch enemies. You could go in with a sword combo, you could stay back and throw kunai knives, or you can use one of the many Ninja Magic spells that you’re given. Be careful with the latter, however, as using magic gives you a penalty on your score at the end of the level.
The magic does a variety of things from replenish your throwing knives quicker to leave you temporarily invincible to eliminating the weaker enemies on screen. I’m unsure of why players are penalized for using such helpful magic, but I felt no remorse for the penalty on my score whatsoever. And here’s why.
When you first start the game, you’re presented with difficulty options. The game helpfully tells you which one you should play based on if you’ve played the other games before. I’ve only briefly played the older Shinobi games and remember them being quite difficult, so I opted for the lowest difficulty, “beginner.” Within the first level alone I had died about a dozen times for all sorts of reasons. A few were cheap shots from enemies, a few were a misjudged gap I had to leap over, and one was falling into a pit of spikes and not managing to jump out of them before I met my untimely death.
And that was only the first level. Multiply that exponentially as the levels progress.
Each time the player causes damage, they get between 500-1000 points. Each time they TAKE damage, they get roughly 30,000 points knocked off. Each death earns the player a loss of 500,000 points.
This is why I didn’t feel any remorse for using Ninja Magic. By the time I got to the end of the level, my score was shattered anyway because I had died too many times.
You also get points taken away for going over the target time of a certain level. I was worried when I was starting to spend 15-20 minutes on a single level, but the target time would only be about two minutes under what I had done, so it was clear that the levels were supposed to be a bit on the long side. Although, this does make it hard if you just want to get a few levels in before work or on a bus ride or something. Much of the point of a game being on a portable system is diminished when you can’t get a whole lot done in a single play session.
The game is mostly about racking up that score. It’s very clear that the game was designed with the longtime arcade fan in mind. Everything from the unusually high difficulty to the score system is representative of that. Unfortunately, I don’t know many 3DS owners that are also diehard fans of the arcade days of old.
And although I usually don’t gripe about graphics, especially on handhelds, the graphics for Shinobi can be pretty bad at times, especially when enemies start grouping together. There were more than a few times where I seriously had to stare at something for a few minutes to figure out what it was supposed to be. That shouldn’t happen.
That’s really about all there is to it. Shinobi is meant to be a reimagined look back at a popular arcade title, and keeps it simple as a result. I applaud this simplicity, because while it also keeps the feeling of playing an old-school arcade game, Shinobi really isn’t a game that needs a ton of bells and whistles.
But it’s for that very reason that I have a hard time recommending the game to anyone other than the audience I’ve mentioned over and over again in this review. Remakes and reimaginings are supposed to simultaneously appeal to fans of the originals as well as bring a new audience in. I can’t find many reasons here for any newcomers to Shinobi to pick this up for a full $40, but a bunch of reasons for veterans to look into it. The combat is smooth and addictive, and that arcade feel has been maintained. If you’ve played a Shinobi game before and loved it, then this one is for you. If you’ve never played one before, this is not a good place to start.
Shinobi is incredibly difficult, much like the arcade games it takes inspiration from. That being said, the gameplay is quite addictive to anyone who might have played Shinobi back in the day and the constant thirst for a bigger high score definitely adds to the replay value.