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The Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis) artwork

The Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis) review


"Be careful. This game is often called a classic, and perhaps rightfully so. But don’t expect it to be the perfect, quintessential 2D action adventure platform game - it’s not. There are two flaws that prevent its ascendancy into the lofty realm of perfection as we know it: Joe has a bad back. Joe has bad knees. "



Be careful. This game is often called a classic, and perhaps rightfully so. But don’t expect it to be the perfect, quintessential 2D action adventure platform game - it’s not. There are two flaws that prevent its ascendancy into the lofty realm of perfection as we know it:

Joe's back is ailing.
Joe has bad knees.

Yet, isn’t this Joe Musashi, master of all ninjas, on the case? It is indeed. And the case this time around is doubly clichéd; rescue the girl and avenge your master. You see, Neo Zeed is back on the scene, and they are much meaner and their numbers greater and more varied than the last time out. So they assassinate your master and kidnap Naoko as a warning. (What they want from you is not made clear.)

You must penetrate eight districts - from the streets of Chinatown to the top of a speeding train - each featuring three sublevels, to get your girl back, avenge your master's death (groan), and make things right.

It won't be easy. Though Joe is equipped with shurikens as in the first game, (Shinobi, the arcade classic, of course!) in Revenge, their supply is not unlimited! I found this handicap to be intolerable and unnecessary. The game would be challenging enough without this rationing, this forced difficulty. Fortunately, there is a well known cheat that allows for unlimited shurikens, accessible from the options screen. As it is, ninety shurikens is the maximum you can equip yourself with from the onset. There are tons of items held in crates along the way, and the most common is the extra shuriken icon that you will grow to love. So why then, are the ninety stock and all the bonus shurikens (they come in fives and twenties) not enough?

Enter, the rainbow shot. In both the original Shinobi and this follow up, you are able to leap to a higher level on the screen. But in Revenge, the type of jump needed to get there is much different. At the height of your normal jump, press the jump button again and voila: the double somersault. It will get you to the higher levels, allow you to leap into the background, (e.g.: behind a fence) and back to the foreground, and, if you hit the attack button while doing it, you will execute the aforementioned rainbow shot.

This move is almost essential to dispatch most of the bosses, and the fact that with it, you can get multiple hits, cover a larger area, and hit the tops of enemies' heads makes it indispensable. Unfortunately, it uses up eight shurikens at a time. Now you can see why the unlimited ammunition option was sorely needed.

Other items found in crates include the Power Pack that allows you to block enemy shots with the Cross Guard skill, powers up your shuriken, and while in close, enables you to slash with your sword rather than low kick. (There was more variety in Shinobi in this regard. In that game you had the low kick, a sword, nunchuks, and a chain.) Hearts for energy, and extra men are also available. Some crates will contain bombs and the game has a nasty habit of putting them on small ledges, positioned to explode and knock you off.

Which brings us to the gameplay. It is diabolical, and excellent. If you’ve got Castlevania master platform skills, they will help you, but may not be enough! Revenge is harder than any Castlevania game. You must play perfectly to make it through many of the levels. You've got magic again, to help you through those tough spots, and they are very cool, ranging from the Matrix-like jumping power, to the crackling shield magic, to the human explosion. And unlike Shinobi, Revenge actually demands their use.

The enemies - from ninjas to machine gunners - can be extremely nasty because of their placement. Think of it as an action-adventure R-Type. You will constantly be in sticky situations, and if the Force Device was your ace in the hole in that game, look upon your rainbow shot the same way in Revenge. The trick is to be prudent with it; running out of shurikens is not something you'll want to have happen to you, especially during a boss encounter.

Speaking of which, they are excellent. The bosses are hard, well thought out, and memorable. From a car tossing Terminator clone, to a web tossing Spiderman lookalike, to a flame spitting brontosaurus - this is one of the best boss collections in the genre.

And while the visuals appear slightly fuzzy, they're very detailed and bring to mind a stylish comic book. The music however, is far from fuzzy - the notorious composer Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Super Adventure Island) is at the top of his game in Revenge, producing hard driving rock tunes, hip hop inspired tunes, as well as dramatic, oriental sounding selections. The score is intensely listenable and pushes hard to elevate this game well above the realm of average platform gaming experiences. It is one of the best complete scores I have ever heard, and I often, even now, turn on my Genesis just to listen to the sound test.

By this time, you're probably wondering about Joe's ailing back and bad knees. Our man walks slowly. This makes the game feel tedious at times, and it's already very long as action-adventures go. And what of Joe's torn ACL? Well, it hampers his double jump capabilities, and as such, makes the rainbow shot unreasonably difficult to pull off. The timing window you've got to hit the double jump is just far too slim, and the result will be a lot of leaps into bottomless pits, and a lot of failed attacks that leave you prone to nasty retaliations. This is the stuff that makes Revenge not so much fun.

Luckily, there's more than enough upside with Revenge of Shinobi - its powerful music, stylish visuals, colourful characters and engaging gameplay - to offset the imperfections. I urge those who look back on this game, and unequivocally call it a classic, or dismiss its lasting appeal as nostalgia, to play again, and see again, respectively: the frustration, the brilliance.

Rating: 9/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)

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