Our Editor-in-Chief has a big video game collection consisting of retro and modern games. This is the first installment of his Collection Chronicles as he reviews games he has completed from his video game library. Enjoy!
Revenge of Shinobi is an action platformer released in 1989 by Sega for the company’s Genesis console and puts you in control of Joe Musashi, a member of the Oboro Ninja Clan, and his mission to avenge the slaying of his master by the crime organization Neo Zeed, who was defeated in the first arcade-released installment by Joe and the Oboro. To make Joe’s rage boil even more, his dying master tells him that Neo Zeed kidnapped his bride-to-be, Naoko. With revenge fueling him, Joe sets out to defeat Neo Zeed, avenge his master, and save his lady.
You know, ninja stuff.
Your main method of taking out the dirty bad guys is with your trusty shuriken. Your shuriken is not infinite so you can’t go all Tarantino on stages, but it does add a bit of challenge to the game especially in later levels as the enemies become more difficult. You can also eliminate enemies with a low kick and sword swipe if you run out of shuriken during the course of a level, but you have to be close to the enemy for those attacks to be used. For someone like me that couldn’t hit anything that I was aiming an actual projectile at, losing all your shuriken during a level can make things interesting to say the least. The game does give you wooden crates that contain extra shuriken, health, or power-ups, but they may also house a timed explosive you quickly have to avoid. The feeling of needing shuriken and getting a bomb is like finding a chocolate cake made with tobacco snuff (I know what that cake tastes like. Believe me when I say it’s horrible).
Joe does have some special abilities to help him in his mission for ninja-style justice. One of the key moves you have to perfect is Joe’s somersault which gives you the ability to ascend higher off the ground and also release a devastating attack that projects eight shuriken instead of the standard single one. You also have four mystical Ninjutsu powers that will help you on your quest. You have one Ninjutsu power at the start of each level and you can gain another if you find the Ninjutsu power-up while in a stage:
Jitsu of Ikazuchi: Covers Joe in a lightning shield that deflects damage from up to four hits.
Jitsu of Karyu: Creates four columns of fire that runs across the screen left to right inflicting damage.
Jitsu of Fushin: Improves Joe’s jumping ability and makes a cool shadow effect.
Jitsu of Mijin: Joe literally explodes costing him a life, but it also gives a restored health bar and Ninjutsu power without restarting the stage. If you do this with one life, it’s Game Over regardless.
In short, you will use Karyu a lot with a pinch of Ikazuchi for when you get overwhelmed by the ninja jerks trying to kill you. The other powers I used once just to see what they did and I never used them again to be honest. I beat the game just using Karyu and Ikazuchi because they were the most effective in getting you out of jams and beating end stage bosses.
Speaking of bosses, this is where the game gets weird in a really awesome way.
Before this game came stateside it went through four different iterations due to some pretty blatant copyright infringement. By time it got to us here in America, all of that was fixed to side step any litigation that may come up.
And I had no clue this was the case. The only piece of literature that caught my eye was that Spider-Man was a trademark of Marvel Comics during the opening credits and just figured they had a boss that just so happen to make a man with spider characteristics called Spider Man and had to get the license from Marvel.
Until Spider-Man showed up as an actual boss fight on the sixth stage, “Chinatown.” Our Friendly Neighborhood Webhead is now working for a criminal ninja organization of murderers and people stealers.
This is when I did a cannonball into the pool of infringement created by Sega. When I finally came up for air, I had a list of characters that Sega had tried to use in the game. The list is as follows:
Sonny Chiba (Japanese Actor)
This game should have been Revenge of the Infringed Properties featuring Shinobi.
You can look at the changes made with screenshots included over at Hardcore Gaming 101. The whole situation is fascinating and I was completely shocked to see Spider-Man crawling towards me with blood lust in his eyes. Sega was able to keep Spidey in the game because they owned the exclusive licensing for the character during this time and put out Spider-Man for the Genesis and Spider-Man vs. Kingpin for the Sega CD.
The boss fights range from challenging to easy. Some of them take a bit to figure out and you will die numerous times until you do. You have some bosses that are very difficult to beat and then some that are easy to figure out. For example, the 2nd stage gives you the Shadow Dancer that has five shadows and you have to guess which one is actually the boss while trying to avoid his fast movements and attacks. For me personally, it was one of the more difficult boss fights in the game, but also one of my favorites of the game. You also have the aforementioned Spider-Man battle which is directly proceeded by another boss battle with a giant bat creature named Web-Bat (This was originally Gotham’s own). The battle is intense and, again, is one of my favorites. On the other end, you have a heavily armored military convoy that has three orbs you have to destroy while avoiding the fire reigning down on you that was a bit too easy for a boss halfway through the game. In fact, besides it reminding me of a Mario 3 battleship stage, it was more tedious than difficult. The final boss fight throws in a speed element as the love of your ninja life is about to get crushed under a wall of cement. You have to beat The Boss (no wonder they tried to steal other properties) before she is crushed to death. In other words, they add a bit of theater to the proceedings. The game has two endings depending on whether you save Naoko or not which is a good touch. Overall, the bosses are pretty challenging with just a couple of head scratchers after all is said and done.
The level design is the most challenging part of Shinobi. The platforming is top notch with enemies scattered throughout. Some levels have you starting at the top and working your way down while other start you at the bottom and have you climbing upward. You also get the classic left to right levels as well. Some of the more memorable levels are the ones where you have to jump from the foreground to the background in order to progress. One in particular has you jumping between a sidewalk and an open road with cars speeding towards you. It was one of the most well designed levels in the game, and even though I died numerous times, it was a fun changeup and very rewarding when I finally conquered it. Each level brings its own unique challenges and the difficulty goes up with each stage even if the boss battle doesn’t always live up to the level that proceeded it. The last two levels, New York and the Neo Zeed Marine Stronghold, will make you weep as it continually destroys you over and over again, but both are well designed last stages. Shinobi‘s levels are all fun to traverse with only a few parts I felt was “cheap” as far as enemy placement that may have caused some undue pain and frustration.
The music in Shinobi is phenomenal. Legendary video game composer Yuzo Koshiro, who also composed another favorite game soundtrack of mine in ActRaiser for the Super Nintendo, gives you a soundtrack dripping with synth and techno chiptune goodness. Every level has a catchy track that brings energy to each stage. Koshiro used all types of musical genres to bring the world of Shinobi to life from the smooth R&B stylings of “Make Me Dance” to the heroic “Long Distance,” the music is nothing but outstanding. “Ninja Step” is probably one of my favorite tracks in the whole game with it’s pop sensibility along with the jazz influenced “Dark City.” Koshiro made the game even more enjoyable with his unique and memorable soundtrack.
Shinobi’s visuals are what you would expect from an early Genesis game. It’s not bad looking by any stretch, but you can defiantly tell that Sega was just scratching the surface of the system’s graphical capabilities. The character and boss sprites are a good size with basic backgrounds and stage animations. The colors are a bit bland with textures leaning more towards darker shades with brighter colors reserved for our hero and the enemies he are fighting through. The character sprites do pop out against the darker backdrop which leaves no questions where an attacker may be coming from which is always a good characteristic for any game to have. Overall, I like the the bigger and brighter sprites with the stage graphics being nothing to write home about. Regardless, Shinobi was probably one of the best looking games on the system during the Genesis’ initial release.
The controls are smooth and responsive with really no negatives to bring up. The button strikes have no delay and I don’t recall any issue with a command not working as soon as I pressed it. The only problem I had was with getting the somersault to register at times, but I chalk that up to more timing than the actual controls. They are basic working 16-bit system controls that aren’t too tight or loose and you never feel like you lose control of Joe at any time. That is all you can really ask of any system during this time and the less you say about controls, the better the game is for it.
Revenge of Shinobi is a classic for the Sega Genesis and I highly recommend it to any one looking for a solid action platformer or someone who is wanting to start collecting the best and brightest the system has to offer. The game isn’t too expensive and I recommend trying to find one with the case and that awesome early Genesis artwork.