"Wow, deja vu. I was in this exact same situation when playing through The Ninja, I hated it at first, and thought the game was too unforgiving. I could get up to the end of the first stage, but then lose all my lives when I got to fighting the boss. After a couple tries, I just gave up and never attempted to beat the game. But recently, I started playing the game again and found out it wasn't so bad once I found out more stuff I can pull off with Joe. The game is still quite hard though, ..."
Wow, deja vu. I was in this exact same situation when playing through The Ninja, I hated it at first, and thought the game was too unforgiving. I could get up to the end of the first stage, but then lose all my lives when I got to fighting the boss. After a couple tries, I just gave up and never attempted to beat the game. But recently, I started playing the game again and found out it wasn't so bad once I found out more stuff I can pull off with Joe. The game is still quite hard though, it requires a lot of timing and patience to actually beat it.
Sometime during the mid 1990's, the government (I guess it's save to assume we're talking about the US) gave a secret task to the crew of a certain space shuttle. This important mission was to test out a new weapons system by use of remote control. Unfortunately, the terrorist group, Asian Dawn, found out about this secret, planned to hijack the shuttle and use the weapons system to terrorize the world. Now, Joe Musashi has been looking for a chance to take out the Asian Dawn for quite some time now. And now that he's finally got the opportunity, he makes his way to the space shuttle, with the aid of his dog, to put a stop to these terrorists once and for all!! There's only one problem..........can you dig it?
If you've played Shinobi, then you'll feel right at home with controlling Joe Musashi here. He can throw shurikens (3 or 4 in a row), slice enemies with his katana when up close, crawl, and jump up and down platforms ((where available)). Then there's the magic, and this time he can use it immediately, instead of having to go through a bunch of requirements, like in Shinobi. By holding up and pressing the attack button, a short sequence will occur, followed by the magic attack that will kill everyone on screen. You got three magic attacks (Tatsumaki, Fire Dog, and Butsuzo magic), but you'll only randomly get to use one every time you start a new round or die. It doesn't matter, though, since they'll cause the same amount of damage.
You can use his dog too, he's not on screen with you like in the arcade version, but he's there....somewhere. To summon the absent mutt, you have to kneel down, then you'll see the magic icon in the corner slowly turn into a dog icon. When the icon's finished changing, it'll appear over the head of the nearest enemy. Press the attack button and the dog will mysteriously appear on screen, killing the enemy. There are some downsides with using it though, it takes awhile to ''charge'' up, so you're left open to an attack. The other flaw being, it can only work on two types of enemies: Slashers and Carbines. So it's pretty useless most of the time, and it's mostly useful against those enemies if an object is between you two or when they're on a different height. You can also make your shurikens more powerful by collecting all of the bombs in each round. But the problem with this is, by the time you collect all of the bombs, you'll only get to use them against the bosses (not a bad thing, but still), and you lose the powerup when starting a new round.
The enemies can be quite a challenge at times, especially since you can die in one hit. The reason for this being, whenever an enemy appears on screen, they attack immediately, giving you little time to be ready or react. You have to be real quick and timing has to be right when dodging and attacking, because one wrong move will send you back to the beginning of the round. Types of enemies you have to deal with range from costume wearing men with shotguns (Cargines), knife throwers (Slashers), Molotovs, Kungfus, and even alligators. All of which can become annoyingly lethal if you don't know how to handle them properly.
While the enemies can be hard to deal with at times, you'll eventually learn their attack patterns and easily take them out. But the bosses are on a whole different level of annoyance. I'm pretty sure this is one of the reasons why some people hate the game to the point where they pull down their pants and take a dump on the cartridge in frustration. One reason for this is that you're stuck on a single screen with the boss, who already take up half of the screen. This gives you very little room to be around, like an inch or two. They have patterns you can memorize, but you'll die many times before finding it and their weak spots. Timing is everything too, like with normal enemies, if you screw up, then there's a 80% chance that you will die because of it. There's little room for screw ups. Hell, you can't even use your magic during boss fights, the only thing you can rely on is your powered up shurikens from collecting all the bombs. They cause twice the damage to the bosses then usual, but if you die, you'll lose it when you start the fight over, so you have to be careful.
One of the best examples of how annoying the boss fights can be, is the first round boss. As soon as the fight starts, he'll start throwing bouncing balls at you, each bounce at different lengths. So already you have to dodge at least 2 or 3 balls on screen at once. On top of this, his weak spot is his head, so you have to jump to hit it. Can you image how much maneuvering this all takes, to dodge and jump over 2 to 3 bouncing balls coming your way? While at the same time, trying to jump and attack his head on a single screen, in which you only have half of to move around in? THAT'S how frustrating some of the boss fights can get.
There is a total of 4 rounds in the game: an airport, train, sewer and shuttle round. There's also two different bonus stages at the end of every round. The first bonus stage, which appears twice, is very similar to the bonus stage in Shinobi. You have to throw shurikens at ninjas as they pop out of windows of the building and make their way to the bottom. If one of them makes it to the bottom, you'll lose. The bonus round in Shinobi is nothing compared to the difficultness of the one here, I still haven't beaten one yet! The other bonus round that appears is quite different, you're falling down between two buildings and you have to attack all of the ninjas that pop out from the bottom. It's not as hard as the first, thankfully. If you manage to complete these bonus stages, then you'll gain an extra life. So, no matter how hard they seem to be, you'll try to complete them anyway just for that. Unfortunately, due to the limits of a master system cartridge, not all of the stages in the game made it in this version. For each round, you only get one stage and then the boss fight. Unlike the arcade version, where you would go through 2 or 3 stages before the boss fight. Because of this, the game is extremely short, you can get through the entire game in 10 to 13 minutes total.
I blame the graphics for this. The character sprites are pretty big and the animations are pretty good for a Master System game. I'm not surprise they couldn't keep this up and have all of the stages in at the same time. Although I wished they could've done it the other way around, sacrifice graphics for more stages. Joe Musashi has the most animation, obviously. Almost everything he does, from walking, throwing shurikens, slicing enemies, and jumping up and down platforms, doesn't look half assed. I'll go as far to say he's more better animated here then he was in Revenge of Shinobi. The enemy animations are also pretty good, Cargines reload their shotguns when they're not firing, and the enemies actually react to getting hurt. There are some problems though, some of them don't move so smoothly, and Musashi's stomach pops out during one moment of his walking animation. This game also has one of the weirdest dying animations I've ever seen. When Musashi get's hit, he'll proceed to pull out his katana real quick, fall to the ground, and then, FINALLY, die. It's just really odd, and something you need to see for yourself.
I can't say the backgrounds look as good, though. They look butt ugly at times, and the character sprites don't blend well with them. When I was walking through the airport round and saw the plane in the background, I thought it looked more like a painting instead of an actual airplane. The train round's background has got to be the worst, I couldn't make out what the hell was scrolling by. I know it's suppose to be a desert, but it looked more like they started making it, then gave up halfway and decided to put it in the game anyway.
The music is really a mix bag, some of it is good. A couple of examples are the 2nd round's somewhat melodic tune, the boss music that seems to match the nervousness of fighting the boss, the second bonus stage's frantic music, and the last round boss music that gives you the feeling that it is the last fight. But there are other tunes in the game that just sound horrible. The worst ones are the tune that plays when a sliding curtain appears, the one that plays after you die, and the one you hear at the game over screen, they suck. I don't think they could even be considered music, it's like they just threw a bunch of sound effects together and decided to call it ''music''. The sound effects in the game are almost nonexistent, there's the sound of shurikens throwing, your dog barking when it attacks, clinging sounds, and the voice when you use magic. That's basically it. I did think the (muffled) speech you hear when using magic was impressive, I didn't think they could cram that much in there.
So why did I give Shadow Dancer an above average score, if the game was so frustratingly hard? Well, it is hard, and you can die a lot, but for some reason I kept coming back to it, determined to beat the game. I welcomed the challenge, it's like how some people think about Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox. They kept dying a lot and thought it was a very difficult game, but they kept playing and were determined to beat it, no matter what the game threw at them. And when I finally beat the game, it felt great, like I accomplished something that I thought I would never be able to get through. Besides, it can be a pretty fun game once you know what kind of moves and tricks you have at you disposal. This is one of those love it or hate it kind of games, though. If you're a person who doesn't like intense difficulty (mainly because of the one hit kills and tough bosses), then don't even try to play this game. I would recommend the Genesis sequel, if that's the case, it's a bit more easy compared to this. If you're up for something challenging though, you might want to think about checking this game out. Just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.
Community review by pickhut (October 11, 2004)
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