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

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

"The settings don't just differ from area to area --- they completely change in theme within stages. Your five-minute horseback ride --- during which, as in every level, you battle with a midpoint boss --- is followed by an entry into a high tech, futuristic enemy base, where the enemies no longer toy with spears and ninja stars, but rapid-fire ammunition. "


Your syndicate superior has placed you, a quiet, advanced killing machine, and many more like you, deep in the forest, among leafy trees, perched high in the branches and crouching in the tall, thick grasses. A stirring wind accents the unbreakable silence. Your position has significance: it's directly in the path of an approaching traveler named Musashi, against whom you are exacting revenge. You are told to eliminate this enigmatic character on sight. Drop him in his tracks and be done with it.

In fact, someone is approaching now, clad in white and red. He's still a short distance away, but you squint, and it appears that the man is actually swaggering, completely oblivious to the fate that awaits him. This is your man. This is going to be easier than you thought! You just need to----

Too late. You're dead.

You've been ripped open, and then burst into a wall of licking flames that disappear just as quickly, no sign of blood or ash. You've been blinked into nothingness.

How did it happen? Did he send a dagger through your skull from afar, piercing the bone and shredding through? Perhaps it was something more than that. That mysterious Musashi could have been charging at you with a blurring swiftness and an unstoppable alacrity to the likes of which there is no practical response, lunging from five yards away, unleashing a blow of immeasurable fury upon the crown of your head, forcing his blade downward, tearing you from face to belly. Then again, he could've noiselessly sprang through the air, somersaulting at the peak of his leap, launching himself downward like a missile, burying his foot into your chest with a kick of ferocious power.

These are all possibilities, because Joe Musashi, protagonist of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, is simply the most versatile, agile, energetic warrior to appear in a platformer. In fact, Musashi seems to be the star of a title where the hero was intended --- maybe even destined --- to emerge victorious, against all odds. The mere fact that a seemingly endless supply of physical and acrobatic tactics are readily at your disposal, used to conquer the seven different environments as well as the generally tame adversaries, proves that this was a quest that the champion was meant to complete successfully. To complain that the adventure is 'too easy' is not realizing that this is merely an all-around display of unmatched resourcefulness, allowing adventurers to gracefully exploit each and every one of Musashi's abilities to their fullest in a variety of circumstances. You're battling dangerous surroundings with careful navigation almost as much as you are enemy forces.

This would prove to be a problem, had your multitude of techniques been irresponsive or unmanageable. This is not the case, as each and every one of them --- every high-flying wall jump, every reach for a grip to a precarious ledge, every deadly shower of shooting shuriken --- are executed in the same promptness that it took you to react to your situation.

These high-flying antics and devastating attacks aren't even the bottom of the well, because our hero is capable of using temporary bursts of magical abilities with an array of results. The Jitsu of Ikazuchi surrounds Musashi in a clinging bolt of yellow lightning, making him momentarily impervious to pain. Others make him even more agile than he ordinarily is, or allow him to summon great columns of flame that spread across the screen, torching any nearby enemies. These facilities are useful and fun to unleash, adding even more depth to an already impressive repertoire. The fact that your arsenal is so deep, and each and every device is as accessible as the next, is an impressive feat and a testament to Musashi; he's a quick-witted warrior who trusts in instinct to defeat sword-wielding behemoths and biomechanical dragons alike.

Of course, sword-wielding behemoths and biomechanical dragons wouldn't fit appropriately in the same scene, so each inhabits a vastly different world. Every one of the seven stages are completely unlike the others in tone and appearance, which is an idea executed surprisingly well, considering that there is a fine line between "varied" and "bizarrely mismatched'," and Shinobi III walks it. By the second mission, you will have already exited the forest and taken to horseback, downing darting enemies to the ground from the saddle of a galloping stallion, overtaking the swollen, inky-blue clouds above.

The settings don't just differ from area to area --- they completely change in theme within stages. Your five-minute horseback ride --- during which, as in every level, you battle with a midpoint boss --- is followed by an entry into a high tech, futuristic enemy base, where the enemies no longer toy with spears and ninja stars, but rapid-fire ammunition. As you board an elevating platform, shrieking alarms sounding, summoning more guards, a brightly-lit cityscape serving as the background, a flying, electronic security robot waiting in the wings, you'll question: wasn't I just riding on a steed across a field along a crystal lake? The quick switch-ups are so sudden and so drastic that they almost seem unreasonable. But they work, and they're beautiful, so it does not matter.

It does not matter that your next stop will be a biological laboratory that's crawling with an unsettling infestation of monsters, followed by a nauseating journey through the lair of a disgusting, bloated mutant, oozing with a desire to slaughter, the grabbing clamps of other animal life reaching from the soft, tissuey ground below, clenching for your ankles. Next, you'll be riding a metallic surfboard, derailing patrolling enemy air cruisers, creating an interesting juxtaposition to the equestrian efforts from earlier. And the the senselessness of the sequence doesn't matter, because every locale is so inspired in look and feel, that the jump from setting to setting, no matter how seemingly unlikely for a ninja, is acceptable and appropriate when it's done like this. Bolt up the giant, plunging rocks that tumble over a rushing waterfall; explore the scorching, scarlet woodlands, savaged and wasted, no longer comparable to the gorgeous, lush forests in which your quest began; work your way through a temple maze with massive, deadly, protruding spikes, capable of impaling you with a single prod; do it all, because it all works.

With so many levels of variety, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master offers little to complain about. It's an adventurous exploration that knows no bounds, as proven by the vastly unique environments. Simply relishing in utilizing each and every one of Musashi's skills is enough to draw you back time and again. To cling to insignificant complaints such as difficulty level is wasting time that should be spent dancing up falling boulders, or roaming across the hulking ship in The Final Confrontation. Enjoy the experience.

dogma's avatar
Staff review by K T (June 17, 2005)

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