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Shinobi (Sega Master System) artwork

Shinobi (Sega Master System) review

"Shinobi. It's one of Sega's oldest running (and surviving) franchises that has spawned many sequels (Revenge of Shinobi, Shinobi III), spin offs (Shadow Dancer 1&2, PS2 Shinobi, NightShade), and even a parody (Alex Kidd in Shinobi World). So, after all these years, is the original still worth playing? HELL YEAH! What's wrong with you?! A fun and challenging game that will test your timing, reflexes, and even patience, Shinobi ..."

Shinobi. It's one of Sega's oldest running (and surviving) franchises that has spawned many sequels (Revenge of Shinobi, Shinobi III), spin offs (Shadow Dancer 1&2, PS2 Shinobi, NightShade), and even a parody (Alex Kidd in Shinobi World). So, after all these years, is the original still worth playing? HELL YEAH! What's wrong with you?! A fun and challenging game that will test your timing, reflexes, and even patience, Shinobi isn't exactly a cakewalk like its successors. You'll probably end up playing through the game a couple times before you actually beat it.

The children of world leaders have been kidnapped by a terrorist group, the Ring of Five, and have been kept hostage in various parts of the world. Since Michael Jackson is too busy "rescuing" children in another game, the government has called upon Joe Musashi. A master ninja and under cover agent, his mission is to rescue the kids and take out the Ring of Five in the process. Now, when you begin, you won't have much: shurikens, your hands and feet (for close up attacks), and a tiny life bar (compared to the arcade version's one hit kills, that's something). That's where the kids come into play: scattered throughout every stage will be identical tied up blond children in red (was someone having an affair?). Whenever you rescue one, you'll be rewarded: to weapon power ups for long range and closeup attacks, life gauge upgrades, points, or access to bonus rounds. It's probably just me, but I still think it's hilarious that he ends up using a gun (one of the powerups) in this game.

Another attack you'll gain during the game is Ninjutsu magic, there are different types you can get, too. From one that'll make every enemy on screen freeze, an attack that will send multiple copies of you flying about the screen killing everyone, to one that makes you fly. Obtaining and using them won't be a simple task, though, the only way you can (randomly) get one is to complete a bonus round. And even after you got one, you can't use it right away. You have to kill a certain amount of enemies during a stage, then the Ninjutsu box will blink indicating you can use it, and you can't even pick which one to use if you have more then one, only the first. And considering you won't even be using them 90% of the time, it's almost not worth the trouble getting them. The only helpful one I can think of, is the flying Ninjutsu magic and it's usefulness during the platforming stages in the fourth mission.

Speaking of which, there are five missions, each having two or three stages, for a grand total of fourteen stages (not counting boss stages). You'll be making your way through various locations (city, docks, underground base, etc.), fighting against many types of enemies. From punks with mohawks, gunmen, knife throwers, Spidermen wannabes, jumping ninjas and more. There's plenty of variety to adjust your approach through every stage. Don't think you can just walk into any stage, easily start killing everything, and exit the stage without a problem, you'll need timing and quick reflexes to fight off most of your foes. Like the green ninjas that'll follow you no matter what platform you're on, or the knife throwers that you can't kill unless they're not holding their knifes. And then there's the rolling ninjas in the fifth mission that quickly jump out to attack, giving you little time to react. There's even times when approaching an enemy head on isn't exactly the best method, this is where the different platforms come in handy. In some stages, there's a platform you can jump up and down from. You can use this to your advantage to sneak by an enemy on a different plain and sneak up from behind them, which adds a bit of strategy to the game.

The bosses are a mix bag when it comes to difficulty. Of the five ninjas (gee, wonder where they got Ring of Five from), only three pose a serious challenge. Like Mandara, the third boss, in which you have to fight against a row of statues that slowly move their way towards you. Sounds easy, right? Not really, especially considering there's an electric field behind you that'll kill you in one hit. And then there's the final boss, Masked Ninja. If you don't have your life gauge or weapons maxed out, he's almost impossible to defeat. If you're going in with your default life gauge and no weapon upgrades, then YOU. ARE. ******. There is absolutely no way you can defeat him like this. Especially since you have to fight through his four "forms", two of which literally having unavoidable attacks with your default weapons. This is probably the biggest problem I have with the game, you get all the way up to the end, and if you're not properly equipped to fight the final boss, you're screwed.

In the graphics area, I think they did a pretty good job with the translation from arcade to SMS. The characters are a tad smaller, but they have a nice amount of detail on them. Like Joe's mask-less, tight skinned, spandex suit with sword in his back (which puzzles me as to why he needs to rescue a child to use it). The enemies are also as nicely detailed for such small characters. Like the big knife throwers with their beards and long pony tail with a red ribbon, and the Masked Ninja, who as tons of animation movements, from spinning as a whirlwind to running and jumping around with dopplegangers. Another impressive thing is when Joe Musashi performs the one Ninjutsu magic, the one where you see nine or ten clones of himself bouncing around the screen, that was pretty neat. The backgrounds are just as nice, with a good amount of detail to them. Like in the first mission, where you see those multiple detailed pictures of Marilyn Monroe, and the building from the outside in the fourth mission, with nicely designed windows and doors and all those bricks. And the forest in the last mission, with colorful leaves and bamboo everywhere.

Although there isn't that much music in the game, what's there is still enjoyable. The main tune you hear throughout the game is pretty catchy and doesn't get on your nerves after hearing it repeat after the twentieth time. It has a nice mystical feel to it and fits in with the whole ninja vibe. The other tunes are just as good, from the bonus round's elevator-ess music, the small little ditty you hear at the end of every stage, and the boss music, with it's frantic and "fight to the death" feel. The sounds do a decent job, nothing really sticks out except the odd jingle you hear when you save children. Or the weird sound you hear when you defeat the first boss and it looks like he got kicked in the crouch. Other then that, nothing really important, but they get the job done.

Shinobi has a decent length, it takes about twenty five minutes to beat the game. Not bad really, considering how short other action games are on the SMS. A good, yet slightly flawed action game with mostly challenging enemies and stages, it's definitely one of the better games for the Master System. It makes you wonder, though, how later ports of other games turned out so crappy (Altered Beast and Golden Axe to name a few), especially since Shinobi turned out so well on the SMS.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (October 11, 2004)

Currently the longest time I've spent with a game in 2024, Pacific Drive took me around 40 hours to finish. Would've been more, but my Internet modem died when I was on the final area. The distraction made me lose interest in any post-plot gameplay.

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