"Dance Gandolf, dance! Dance for me in the shadows! "
Joe Musashi is a legend. He is known the gaming world over for being a professional tough guy. His shurikens have torn arcade, Sega Genesis and even PlayStation 2 screens to shreds, building for him a legacy of ninja mastery. But every legend has his hiccups. I mean, Clinton and Cosby cheated on their wives for god's sake--and they got caught!. So it's understandable that Joe's track record isn't perfect. Unfortunately, subpar and generally weak excursions on the NES in Shinobi, and on the Master System in Cyber Shinobi, are not the only crap stains in Joe's Y-fronts. The motherload came in the form of the Master System port of the side-scrolling arcade hit, Shadow Dancer.
The game is supposed to be about Joe and his faithful white dog--or wolf, depending on whom you ask. However, I didn't get far enough into the proceedings to see if the dog is even in this game. And I'm an incorrigible completist--I simply have to finish even the worst games. Well, until now, anyway. Shadow Dancer's shortcomings make the game almost impossible to get through. I didn't even make it halfway through the game and if you try this game (please don't), you likely won't finish a single level. Only the classic 'Masters' brand misguided persistence' got me through the first few levels.
Here: I'll guide you through the game from the very beginning, as if you just plugged it into your Master Systems, and we'll see what kind of impression it makes on you. The title screen is pretty impressive. There's ''Shadow Dancer'' written really big and stylishly, and there's fire in the background. Fire always helps. Alright, so press start, already! Ah, there. You'll instantly feel comfortable with the general layout of the screen. Joe is even a bit bigger than he was in the Master System's Shinobi, so at this point we're pleased as punch. But… why is Joe's pelvis pointed forward like he's about to do the Pee Wee Herman thrust dance? And I realize they want his gi to billow around loosely, but it looks like he has a pot belly. Oh well. Go ahead and throw a shuriken, just for the hell of it. Looks okay! Move forward, and you'll see that the walking looks okay too.
Where the hell did that knife come from?? Well now you see the guy who threw it, but only after the knife is inches from your throat. Duck quickly--it's one hit and you're dead!--and respond in kind. This will continue for a bit, this walking and ducking knives appearing out of thin air followed by a scurrying, silly looking enemy gliding forward to follow it in. Soon you'll come upon little campfires on the ground. What is this, Adventure Island? Snort. Seems you'll have to jump.
And Joe is not a good jumper. His jumps are uncertain at best, and he looks like a fairy when he does them. Clad all in white, Joe reminds me of a frail Galdolf The White (from that movie, you know the one) when he leaps about, dodging fires that some troll or something set in his wake, no doubt. This is how the game will go, when it's going as well as it can. You'll have to duck projectiles before enemies even appear onscreen (cheap!), and then fire back. You'll struggle to fairy-jump over ridiculous obstacles and then it's duck down time again, as quickly as you're able. This is Shadow Dancer at its best.
But Shadow Dancer's best is bad. Quite often though, it misbehaves, and then it's horrible. For example, the enemies will kill you with one hit--when you're standing. But for some reason, if you're ducking down, an enemy can bump into you an infinite number of times, bouncing you up against the trailing edge of the screen. As soon as you stand up, it's curtains. If you can deal with that sort of inanity, how about the falling foes? Yup, some enemies 'get the drop on you' from someplace off screen so quickly that you can't respond unless you know the spot. Still not convinced? Get to a boss, if you can. Due in large part to your pathetic jumping skills, even the first boss is harder than the last boss in most games. You'll probably want to use an emulator and cheat your way through Shadow Dancer, but more likely, you won't be inclined to go to all that trouble.
The best thing about Shadow Dancer is the large characters, especially the bosses, and the half decent music. That's about as short a list of positives as a game can boast. All told, the Master System has quite a few of coin-op disasters like this one, so I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised. Take your pick: Strider, Altered Beast, Afterburner--all a toenail fragment away from being completely without redeeming qualities. Now we can safely add Shadow Dancer to that Sega shit list.
Staff review by Marc Golding (November 15, 2003)
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