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Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Genesis) artwork

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Genesis) review

"With Shinobi III, a new evil has reared its head, demanding of Joe more side-scrolling, projectile-hurling escapades! You and Joe both reminisce, silently cognizant of the style and thunder of his previous path to bloody revenge (forget the offbeat Shadow Dancer for the moment). The Revenge of Shinobi in fact, was the game that cemented his status as hero extraordinaire. That mission had been diabolical in its conception, and his response to its dangers was legendary. Would this latest challenge prove as worthy? Would he? "

Old man Joe had a lot to live up to. He was a successful ninja many times over. His calloused killing hands brought many a terrorist to their knees for the sake of his vengeful spirit’s peace. Kidnapped children, the abduction of his own girlfriend, the murder of his master. When perverse injustices such as these were carried out by rising evil, Joe Musashi would rise similarly to stamp out their threat single-handedly and fade away with the last shreds of sunset. But the years have been unkind to old Joe, making it more difficult for him, now than ever, to rise to the occasion.

With Shinobi III, a new evil has reared its head, demanding of Joe more side-scrolling, projectile-hurling escapades! You and Joe both reminisce, silently cognizant of the style and thunder of his previous path to bloody revenge (forget the offbeat Shadow Dancer for the moment). The Revenge of Shinobi in fact, was the game that cemented his status as hero extraordinaire. That mission had been diabolical in its conception, and his response to its dangers was legendary. Would this latest challenge prove as worthy? Would he?

Not right away. But old relics--ninja or not--need time to warm up. And when Shinobi III gets going... look out!

Begin your trip with Joe down calisthenics boulevard, and from un-promising beginnings feel the ineluctable swell of his mission's majesty. A nondescript forest welcomes back our worldly ninja unspectacularly, serving solely as training ground for Joe's new move: the jump kick/wall climb. This vapid stage will not go far in convincing us of Joe’s relevance--indeed, of the relevance of his new mission. We can only hope that things get more heated, and in a hurry. After all, the first level of RoS was positively incendiary, admittedly due in no small part to the wondrous opening track. You'll notice right away that the style of Shinobi III’s tracks is similar to RoS's score; the heavy bass with the agile Oriental notes played out on top. Only here, they blend into one another, being nowhere as varied or creative, like well-played rehashes of about three RoS tracks.

However, hopes still high, you, Joe and steed will take part in the equestrian, leaping spiked fences and evading spears from the mini-boss. Then, Navy SEAL wannabes shoot at your knees, confounding Joe's tried-and-true 'duck-and-pop' technique. It's an exhilaratingly fresh challenge trying to undo your Shinobi programming which assures you standing and firing, then ducking when return fire comes your way--will always advance you safely. It won't here!

The strangely named Body Weapon mission offers newly the menace of quicksand on the menu, and the pink pincers that somehow resist its pull to live in it. You too, must escape its pulpy grip as the ugly visage in the distance conspires to play target practice using his laser, with you residing in the reticle. You’ll soon get a fair shot at the owner of both countenance and weapon: a massive, sweetly pink monster that turns sickly white when you pound his eye with your dirks.

From crumbling caverns to sun and surf, we find Joe using wreckage as ramps to soar above floating mines to capture power ups hung high. We know that this level is just a repeat performance of the horse-riding stage with different scenery, but we appreciate the variety these fast-paced sequences bring.

Next, the intensity of Electric Demon will be obvious right away. It becomes apparent here, more than in any other area, how graphically superb Shinobi III is, how much sharper it looks when compared to RoS. Tiptoe through mines, exploding boilers, and guerrillas firing guns and mortars along a fence line--all while the forest behind you is ravaged by eternal fire. Some armoured dashing guard makes a foolhardy stand at the entrance to another factory, offering to you his last moments. Setting off enemy explosives is your key to progress once inside, as long as you don’t get caught in the blasts! This best-looking level ends off with appropriate grandeur, as a robotic fire-breathing dinosaur looms large and awe-inspiring in the blackness of the boss screen, bringing down a localized hail of fire and brimstone.

All at once, things get much, much harder in Traps. Should you survive the falling rock climb into the thinness of the sky, a scimitar-wielding birdman will descend to slice you as thinly. At the temple, scores of black-clad ninja suffocate you, and 'one-hit and you’re dead' crushing spikes increase the difficulty with the resonance of the sweet piano chord marking death after death. Zeed and his invincible shadow play with you from behind revolving doors, each of the two emerging from one of the six wooden doors for just long enough to lash out with resolute silver locks, or for you to lash out with resolute silver-tipped blades in kind.

And when coal skies and the glimmering underside of a gargantuan airship welcome you as their company on this night, you'll know The Final Confrontation is upon you. Fumes and plumes of smoke from wailing jets strive to send you away like Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ascent on the elevator through the moonlit sky is reminiscent of a much less scary climb in Shadow Dancer. Joe is aware that the price to pay for victory in this instance will be far greater. Topside, intimidating armaments flare with great force and insistence, a la R-Type, but you aren’t in the relative safety of a reinforced spaceship cockpit. You are just one man, flimsily cloth-clad, with only primitive shards of sharpened steel to let fly against cannons whose blasts are body-encompassing. Not David, nor even the Spartans bore a lot so difficult. This is the final level of Super Mario Brothers 3 as seen through the darkest of lenses.

Inside, frightening blue electricity curls eagerly around steel platforms daring you to interfere with their deadly union. You'll travel on tiny elevators against the will of walls that threaten to push you down with their sheer obstinate immobility. Later they become anything but immobile, as you race against time to avoid being liquefied like so much Nutella between bread. The super cyborg ninja will cross his arms nonchalantly when he sees you. He knows you. He knows your tricks, he can perform them all, and better than you can. He can toss more knives, jump kick faster, and he even incorporates a trick of his own design, an invincible rising uppercut lifted straight out of Street Fighter II. How will you cope?

Handily. Not that Shinobi III is easy--it's not. But it's got much of RoS's colour which makes us feel so welcome, with an easy-going and forgiving temperament contrary to RoS's frustrating and punishing disposition. Throw in sharper looks and controls (no double-jump difficulties here!), and the moves added to Joe’s repertoire, and for all RoS's unmatched charm, Shinobi III might be even easier to love. Certainly there’s some give and take deciding between the two. The only solution is to make sure you own both Musashi missions. RoS hits harder, both with its positives and negatives. Shinobi III is the more deftly balanced and refined adventure. Grab this game where you can, rouse the sleeping killer.

Rating: 10/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (June 04, 2004)

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