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Shinobi (PlayStation 2) artwork

Shinobi (PlayStation 2) review

"Shinobi isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s always demanding, and it offers no forgiveness if you fail to deliver when it asks you to. If you cannot handle intense ninja action moves, stages that lack checkpoints, or mildly taxing platforming, then you should consider picking up a copy of Billy Hatcher instead. "

Shinobi isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s always demanding, and it offers no forgiveness if you fail to deliver when it asks you to. If you cannot handle intense ninja action moves, stages that lack checkpoints, or mildly taxing platforming, then you should consider picking up a copy of Billy Hatcher instead.

If you are still with me, allow me to tell you about the greatest action game to ever grace the PS2 platform.

We all know the drill: whenever a thousand year-old menace is released from some sort of seal, the first thing he does before remolding the world to his taste is exact his revenge on those who sealed him away. In Shinobi’s case, the sorcerer Hiruko has just been freed, and he plans to take revenge for what the Oboro ninja clan did to him years ago. His chosen form of vengeance: turn the Oboro’s dead into his army of conquest. What a poetic way to get back at those who imprisoned you for a millennia.

As in the past, the government has decided to turn to a single Oboro clansman to save the day. Hotsuma is the last of Joe Musashi’s kin. To save civilization from Hell on Earth, he’ll have to battle his own flesh and blood.

Things have changed since Musashi laid the Zeed syndicate to waste in Shinobi III. Shurikens are no longer good enough. Hotsuma must utilize melee combat like never before if he hopes to cut a path through the risen corpses of his fallen clanspeople. He must command ‘tate’, the art of chaining kills together.

Whenever Hotsuma approaches an area populated with enemies, icons will appear at the top-right corner of the screen. Each symbol represents a foe in Hotsuma's immediate vicinity, and they will light up as you off each one. In this manner, you plow through waves of opponents. When the total number of chained kills exceeds three, you’re rewarded with a glitzy cinematic. Hotsuma pulls a tokusatsu-style pose, utters a slick phrase in Japanese, and his targets fall apart behind him in a glorious spectacle of blood and meat.

There’s more to ‘tate’ than just style, though. After the first level, Hotsuma makes the acquaintance of a blood thirsty sword dubbed “akujiki”. Akujiki is kind of like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors: it wants blood, and it doesn’t care how it gets it. It’ll even draw some from Hotsuma if it has to. Fortunately for you, chaining a huge tate can quickly satisfy the blade’s hunger. Even better: as you chain together kills with akujiki, your strokes grow more powerful!

This mechanic is crucial to surviving the harsh world of Shinobi. You can’t take a tough enemy head on; you must pick off the weaker minions around him, and then swoop in for a critical strike with your charged akujiki. With some luck, you can even fell bosses in a single stroke.

You are given every tool to help Hotsuma succeed: a fully manipulatable camera that you can re-center with a single button press, double-jumps, the ability to dash on or off the ground, a targeting system, and an arsenal of abilities that range from stun projectiles to melee moves to offensive/defensive ninja magic. The only thing you aren’t given is the thing needed most to win at the game: skill.

A common misconception about Shinobi is that it’s “too hard”. Those who hold such a sentiment do not understand Shinobi. The game is about technique. If you don’t have it, you’re doomed; if you do have it, every level becomes a piece of cake. A moderately skilled Shinobi player can breeze through each stage before they can say “where’s the checkpoint?” (The answer: there aren't any, because there's no need for them.)

The truth is: if Hotsuma fails, it’s because you failed.

Shinobi can be a pretty harsh mistress, but she’ll reward your patience and skill. Take the Oboro Coins for example: they’re scattered through each of the 13 stages. As you graduate to higher difficulty modes like “Hard” and “Super”, new coins will appear in each level. What are the fruits you’ll reap if you collect enough of these tokens? How about two new characters to play as, one of whom is none other than Joe Musashi from the classic Shinobi games? Or special VR levels to further test your skill?

If that doesn’t sound rewarding to you, then you’re just not the kind of person Shinobi was made for. Shinobi is the type of game you’re supposed to play over and over again. You don’t get the full effect by picking it up one weekend, clearing it with everything, and putting it back on your shelf. You revisit it; hone your skills; get that fix of visceral action and cinematics.

This game has a kind of quality that others in its genre lack. Most hack ‘n’ slash titles are soaked in waves of button mashing and drawn out “hit ‘n’ run” boss encounters. In such a world, it’s refreshing to play something that can offer both substance and swift gratification. It’s that quality that has me inserting Shinobi into my PS2 disc tray time and time again, while the likes of Devil May Cry collect dust on my shelf.

Rating: 10/10

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Community review by joseph_valencia (April 21, 2005)

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Iapetus posted June 09, 2008:

Excellent review. You, my friend, know the true nature of gaming.
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joseph_valencia posted July 22, 2008:

Thank you.

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