"I don't think our hard-ass hero, Joe Musashi, would be pleased with the name of this adventure: ''I know it's a stealth thing, but it sounds so...fruity!'' Regrettably, Joe did not have much say in naming the game, so the title stood. Shadow Dancer (snicker) is the side-scrolling, shuriken-shooting, arcade follow up to Shinobi. However, it was released for the Genesis after the console-only Revenge of Shinobi, and that is partly responsible for gamers not giving it its due. After all, it's hard to follow a class act like RoS - especially when in many ways, Shadow Dancer is a step backward. "
I don't think our hard-ass hero, Joe Musashi, would be pleased with the name of this adventure: ''I know it's a stealth thing, but it sounds so...fruity!'' Regrettably, Joe did not have much say in naming the game, so the title stood.
Shadow Dancer (snicker) is the side-scrolling, shuriken-shooting, arcade follow up to Shinobi. However, it was released for the Genesis after the console-only Revenge of Shinobi, and that is partly responsible for gamers not giving it its due. After all, it's hard to follow a class act like RoS - especially when in many ways, Shadow Dancer is a step backward.
You control the ever-vigilant (but slightly red-faced) Joe Musashi, flinging shurikens when at a distance from your foes, and cutting a swath through them with your sword when they're nearby. There is a cool option to disable your shurikens and just slash your way through - a welcome, exciting, added challenge. Joe is out to avenge the murder of his friend Kato, (the Green Hornet was busy) and he's brought his best friend along with him this time. His pooch, Yamato.
So man and canine companion embark on a mission of murder to bring down Sauros, the newest evil; and mercy, to rescue his gagged and bound victims. The game stacks up well graphically to Shinobi for the PC Engine and to RoS for the Genesis. It is colourful, but manages to look appropriately dark and brooding at the same time. The content helps; there are more alien-looking enemies and more crumbling urban locales this time 'round. Fighting atop the Statue of Liberty, and avoiding columns of flame that erupt from beneath manhole covers are just some of the visual treats in store for you.
Thankfully, Sega has looked to RoS, and Shinobi III (the critically acclaimed follow up to that game) as musical models rather than attempt to pay homage to Shinobi's somewhat limited score. They've given this game a tight, rock-inspired soundtrack, a nice step up from the mostly annoying bleep-inspired tunes of the pioneering original game.
Joe is something fearful in battle - that much we already knew - but now we know that he's taught his old dog some new ninja tricks in training as well. The attack dog stalks enemies when you charge him up by depressing a button. Release that same button and he rushes the nearest enemy and incapacitates him. This enables you to walk boldly up to the helpless, quivering thug and cut him in half, like the coward that you are (Joe, say it isn't so!).
This newest gameplay addition might seem to make the Shinobi engine simpler in the challenge department because you can just sic your pet on enemies placed in the more problematic spots. However, in reality this is not the case. The enemies are tougher and faster, and appear out of the blue sky in many areas, keeping things difficult. Gladly, there are none of the aggravating 'risk it all' jumps found in both Shinobi and RoS present here in Shadow Dancer. The difficulty is derived solely from the fair yet fierce enemy confrontations.
All in all, Shadow Dancer is a solid arcade action game with impressive 16-bit sounds and graphics, which help it to feel like the gritty ninja crusade that all Shinobi games are surely meant to be. It does this atmospheric bit - if nothing else - better than any other game in the series. The bosses are brilliant and difficult to beat without a good deal of practice, but there are few really frustrating bits surrounding failing long jumps or being knocked off platforms.
Shadow Dancer doesn't boast the easy innovative and crushing challenge level of RoS, nor is it the genre-defining gem that is Shinobi III. But it's an exciting, fast-paced sequel that outdoes the popular and much-enjoyed Shinobi in all areas. So, if you're looking for the weak link in this powerful series, keep looking (hereís a hint, itís on the Master System, and it goes by the same name!). Curses! I think Iíve said too much.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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