"As I later encountered soldiers in a churning boatyard, soldiers patrolling a mechanical labyrinth, soldiers waiting in a rusty scrapyard, soldiers inside an abandoned factory, soldiers perched outside a shopping center, and soldiers stationed in friggin' highway traffic... well I got pretty freaking sick of SOLDIERS."
Duncan MacLeod is my hero. Never heard of him? He's the eternal vigilante of the Highlander TV series, lopping heads off evil immortals on a weekly (or in some cities, daily) basis. 500 years and the guy's gained some serious swordsman skills. Ya see, the only way for an immortal to kill another is to slice off the braincase — hence the whole bit about the sharp, pointy blades. Once an immie kicks the bucket, all this lightning and jazz starts blazing all around the headless corpse. And no one kicks others' buckets better than "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod".
In fact, I bet if the studly Scot faced Raiden in mortal combat, our valiant Highlander would pull a Sub-Zero and tear the god of thunder's head from his jenky white-robed body. That's just how drop-dead awesome Duncan MacLeod is.
But as cool as it is to watch super-charged immortals in duels, the best parts of the TV show were the infamous bar scenes. Ya know, since he looks like any normal bloke off the street, Duncan gets jumped by four or five beefy goons in tattered flannel... hapless bullies, doomed to a good butt-whipping. Brawn counts for something, but it can't beat five centuries of battle experience. Those uneven mismatches always left me laughing.
So when I heard about this Revenge of Shinobi cart, where super-ultra elite hyper ninja Joe Musashi runs all up in the face of evil-empire military buffoons, I thought to myself, "Hey! This is just the kinda thing I always wanted to see a modern ninja do!" I figured most of the game would pit the Master of Shinobi (that's you) against the most elite shadow ninja that Neo-Zeed (they're the evil empire) could muster... with an occasional dose of modern-day shuriken VS bullet shenanigans, all set amidst a fast-paced, flashy action game.
Well, to make a long story short, that's not quite what I got. Oh yes, the first time I met soldiers — outside a military compound — was pretty cool indeed:
"You toss a grenade at me? I see your grenade, and raise it with an 8-way Rainbow Shuriken Barrage!"
As I came across more soldiers on the cargo plane, it was still acceptable, but the novelty had worn off. As I later encountered soldiers in a churning boatyard, soldiers patrolling a mechanical labyrinth, soldiers waiting in a rusty scrapyard, soldiers inside an abandoned factory, soldiers perched outside a shopping center, and soldiers stationed in friggin' highway traffic... well I got pretty freaking sick of SOLDIERS.
Where are all the hardcore ninjas? And no, those grey, soft-bellied fools that stand around and die in one hit don't count as "hardcore". Some ace enemy assassins to match your skills would have been nice. Or perhaps even some Japonesque demons like you'd find in Ninja Gaiden! Instead it's almost entirely soldiers from level three onwards, and drab grey shuriken-test-dummies filling the gaps from the first level to the last, with only an occasional cameo by anything more interesting (such as the all-too-brief appearances of airborne gargoyles and kimono-clad dancers).
But don't blame Yuzo Koshiro, it's not his fault.
Who's Yuzo? He's the fellow what did the music for Revenge of Shinobi (also called "the fellow what did the music for Streets of Rage"). The list of soundtracks he's composed is large, far too large for me to name them all. Just rest assured you've heard his work, and you probably liked it, too.
So Mr. Koshiro (also known as Koshiro-Sensei, if you're one of those "I AM EL1T3 IMP0RT JAPaN" types) pulled out the stops for a pretty awesome action soundtrack. There's a bit of funk, a dash of techno, and a sprig of spruce, blended together into... the sounds of a late-night gurgle. It's hard to put my finger on what exactly went wrong here, but the execution (and not the composition) is clearly at fault.
Ever played a Sega CD or PSX game where the orchestral music was run through PCM soundchip instead of spooled directly from the disc? That's how this sounds to me, except in this case, the original source audio wasn't CD quality to begin with. That's why "Genesis Guitar" (don't laugh — I'm a fan!) becomes "Genesis Mandolin" in Revenge of Shinobi. Not that I have anything against the fine mandolin artists of the world. It's just that Mr. Z80 SoundChip is not particularly adept at that instrument.
In all fairness, this "flaw" might be nothing more than my own idiosyncratic taste. A lot of long-time Genesis fans will attest to this soundtrack's greatness, so perhaps they are right and I am wrong. But to me, it sounds like a rock band performing underwater.
However, there are deeper elements that bar Revenge of Shinobi from the glorious throne of timelessness.
Picture a ninja, darting through a bamboo forest, swiftly yet silently infiltrating an enemy entrenchment. Or envision Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon, when he embarks on his night-time raid. Well, that's not what you get here. In Revenge, Joe Musashi sets out on an entirely un-ninja-like FULL FRONTAL ASSAULT against Neo Zeed's compound. Okay, so such a brazen attack, while illogical, could still be fun. Not as fun as full frontal nudity, but fun nonetheless! But for this daring, headfirst attack, your ninja walks. And he walks slowly. It's true, Musashi is incapable of running, and it's a damn shame. Ninja Joe moves with none of the agility of a trained assassin; he could just as well be nothing but a fat cat dandy, only wishing that he could play with Dexy and the midnight runners.
In a modern, fast-paced world where even RPG's come equipped with a "run" button, it would be hard to turn back the clock and enjoy this game, if only for the speed alone.
But then there's also the aforementioned paltry assortment of opponents. Compounded by the washed-out, blocky background scenery.
And the silly obstacles, such as random blocks of steel that fly through the air while you're atop a passenger train. Remember the train scene from Ninja Gaiden? Being attacked by ski-masked goons while atop speeding railcars is cool. Having mystical floating metal blocks zoom across the screen and hit you upside the head is just dumb. Unfortunately, the latter is what you'll find in Revenge of Shinobi.
And it's all made even worse by the frustrating "double jump". While it's not too hard to pull off, the timing required to make an additional somersault (for added leaping distance) is too precise. You must tap the jump button a second time at the exact peak of your first leap — missing two out of ten attempts is really not out of the question. So when I'm required to make a super-long leap at the end of level two... well eight in ten times, I'm fine. The other two, I plummet into a bottomless gorge and get to replay the entire level. Now imagine the automobile plant, where you need to use double jumps to ascend the conveyor belts — and if you miss a tap, a soldier shoots you, knocking you several feet back, into molten lava. And yes, the lava kills you instantly... but with excruciatingly slow animation, a la Sword of Sodan.
The problem with these instant-death pitfall hazards is not that they exist. The problem is that they are the primary challenge in the game. Aside from a few of the bosses, none of the enemies Musashi encounters are particularly capable at combat. Most of the difficulty, little that there is, resides in the unfortunate interplay between long chasms and flawed control. It's not fun to play through three levels and die because you missed a jump — it's just frustrating.
There is a cool side to the game, though. At any time, you can select one of four Ninja Magics: perhaps a lightning shield, or raging flames, or enhanced jumping power. But it gets better. You see, there's this one magic that lets you explode yourself real good, turning everything on the screen all nice and toasty. It's not as stupid as it sounds, because Musashi magically regenerates at the same spot where he ignited himself. Now, this whole ordeal does cost a 'life', but it lets you refill your health in a tight situation. Quite an ingenious little addition to the game, in all honesty!
Blow yourself up often enough, and you can conquer any swarm of enemies through attrition. But ya know what I call that? COWARDLY! If you're gonna blow yourself up, do it Zig's way! Whenever I start a level, the very first poor fool who strolls down the screen can expect a face-full of burning flesh! I don't have to have a reason. I do it because I can!
That's about the only way I could pump myself up enough to finish each stage — the anticipation of being able to incinerate the next level's weenie private, weenie sergeant, or weenie lieutenant, in Nasty Ninja style. Toss out the Assassin-Hero gimmickry and the game feels to be little more than a slow-arse stroll through drab scenery, tossing darts at drab grey ninjas and drab green soldiers. Sure, we can whittle any game, no matter how fantastic or how mind-numbingly dull, down to such bare-boned concepts... but it's hard to candy-coat the misguided nature of Revenge of Shinobi.
Staff review by Zigfried (March 14, 2005)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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