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Shinobi (NES) artwork

Shinobi (NES) review

"Tengen makes us laugh right away, however unintentionally. The title screen is supposed to feature the face of our hero, beneath the traditional black ninja mask. His expression should be menacing, confident, his eyes should communicate this to us. Instead, Tengen has him slightly cross-eyed, beady-eyed, and wholly lacking proper pupils. You think to yourself, ''man, if they can’t get this right…''"

Musashi meets Mario! Or something. Joe Musashi is up against the Ring of Five in this, the weakest console incarnation of the classic ninja clash, Shinobi. Right away I can advise you that you’d be far better off picking up the Sega Master System version, or ideally, the PC Engine version of the side-scrolling shuriken-tossing adventure.

Tengen makes us laugh right away, however unintentionally. The title screen is supposed to feature the face of our hero, beneath the traditional black ninja mask. His expression should be menacing, confident, his eyes should communicate this to us. Instead, Tengen has him slightly cross-eyed, beady-eyed, and wholly lacking proper pupils. You think to yourself, ''man, if they can’t get this right…'' Try not to think about the rest right away. Let’s proceed, in the literal face of early adversity.

The Shinobi soundtrack has been annoying at every level, and gets worse, appropriately with this NES mission. The silly tunes are horribly bleeped out at an obscene speed, turning annoying into laughable. If there were lyrics, this would truly be Alvin and the Chipmunks territory. I hit the start button to pause the game, so I could laugh without fear of getting killed onscreen. I hit the button again. Was my controller broken? I fiddled around with the D button and realized that the action was paused, but the music continued, and no ‘pause’ word came onto the screen to indicate the stoppage in play. A minor thing, really, but not surprising.

In keeping with the bad music are the bad sound effects. Joe’s regular jump sounds like my cat (R.I.P. Quincy, bless his soul) when he was locked outside in the rain. Musashi's super jump sounds like some ponderous weapon or tractor beam in operation from the original Star Trek series. This stuff is really unkind to the ears. More on the super jump: its inclusion in the coin-op (and all other versions, for that matter) allows Joe to gain access to higher planes when that plane is available. He is normally invincible during the jump.

Not here. The super jump can be performed anywhere, regardless of whether or not any higher plane is available to be reached. Worse yet, Joe is completely vulnerable throughout the move. This leads one to wonder whether Tengen really seriously studied the game that they were attempting to port.

Thankfully though, Shinobi's NES developers did get most of the basics down, and because of this, there is a competent adventure to be experienced beneath all the foul-up driven hilarity. Your mission is the same; to rescue the white dolls (ostensibly kidnappend children) and as you do so, upgrade your shuriken to a knife, and then to a gun (where are the grenades?). Similarly, your in-close kick should be upgraded to a sword, to nunchucks, and finally to a damaging, long-reaching chain, but Tengen only provides Joe with the kick to maintain the mediocrity that they've worked so hard to present.

As usual, ''Ken Oh'' is your first boss target - he’s the guy who looks sort of like Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After you put his eyes out, you’ll move on to stage two, which is capped off by a visit paid by ''Black Turtle'' (is that a segue or what!), a ninja-packed helicopter that is actually white, and not black.

Stage 2-2, the blood-red area, is notably designed much differently from the same level in the original version. There is a much simpler layout of platforms and as such, the round is much easier. Between stages, you are bombarded by leaping ninjas across three horizontal planes in a first person perspective view. Representing Joe onscreen are only his hands, as your objective in these bonus rounds is to kill all the agile green ninjas leaping about, lest one of them slip between your shuriken barrage and present you with the black screen that wearins the embarrassing message: You Failed.

Area 2-3 was one of my favourites from Sega’s arcade machine, but here, it’s a graphic disappointment. Sure, Tengen’s effort falls far short of the Master System translation in every area, including and perhaps especially sounds and sights, but this level is the worst example of the gulf between the two. You leap about on the platforms that rise stiffly out of the frothy, bubbly depths, while a flat blue sky and even flatter purple barns, er-buildings seem an afterthought in the background.

The mission dubbed ''Mandara'' starts off with a comparably detailed mountain range that doesn’t come close to pushing Nintendo’s hardware graphically, but is far and away the best Shinobi has to offer our starving eyes behind drooping, heavy eyelids. You’ll soon perk up though, when you get a better look at the green ninjas patrolling the area (they get the drop on you so fast in stage 3-1, that you’ll laugh despite yourself). These guys have changed slightly in the NES transition. You’ll notice much more ample asses on them this time around. Either easy living due to the coin op’s success, or boring ninja desk job duty is the culprit.

While you’re taking this in, you might not even notice Bomberman (second stage boss of Ninja Gaiden) making a cameo in place of the bazooka-toting soldier who obviously has much better things to do than to take part in this lame version of Shinobi. Don’t you?

Rating: 3/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 07, 2004)

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