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Shinobi Review

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Developer: Griptonite Games Publisher: Sega
Release Date: November 15, 2011 Available On: 3DS

Shinobi - Banner

The Nintendo 3DS installment of Shinobi was released last November, amongst the thick crowd of “AAA” titles released during the Holiday 2011 season. I decided to put off the revival of the classic Sega franchise until I found a cheap, pre-owned copy at the local E.B. Games. Lo and behold, that time finally came about two weeks ago. For quite a reasonable price – roughly $20 – I finally got my hands on a copy of the old-school reboot for the 3DS, and I didn’t hesitate to jump right into the stylish, nostalgic, and relentlessly-challenging side-scroller.

Shinobi - WaterfallThough I traditionally claim to avoid the infamously “difficult” games out there (Dark Souls, the Ninja Gaiden series and Devil May Cry 3), I actually appreciate just as many of them (Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, Shank, N+) and find myself pushing the limits of my patience just to master their mechanics. This is exactly what is required from anyone choosing to play Shinobi for the 3DS; the game doesn’t hold back – just like its predecessors, it essentially punishes you for simply choosing to play it, unless you become as skilled as the series’ protagonist (Jiro) himself.

Shinobi - RaftThe Story Mode in Shinobi takes Jiro through 8 stages, starting with the stereotypical feudal Japanese village under attack from an opposing ninja clan. Without much explanation about what is really happening, Jiro is eventually transported through time. The game ultimately spans a few centuries, but doesn’t spend much time explaining the events (despite containing some nifty animated cut-scenes) as Jiro slashes through the countless waves of minions. Throughout the game Jiro encounters eveything from rival ninjas to robot soldiers armed with chainguns and vicious, mutated aliens that spit acid. Though it sounds pretty mindless, this over-the-top style is overall very reminiscent of the classic 16-bit side-scrollers found on the Genesis and Super Nintendo.

Shinobi also stays true to its predecessors with its fundamental gameplay mechanics, which are quite easy to learn – but as the saying goes, very difficult to master. Jiro’s movement (circle pad) is quite rigid, and takes some getting used to – the same goes for his jump (B) and double jump (B+B), which are very awkward to judge the disatnce and learn the timing, at least initially. In combat, Jiro can attack with his katana (Y), Kunai daggers (A), and a handful of magic scrolls (L). He can also parry (R) the attacks of enemies and use his grappling hook (X) to quickly latch onto ceilings and escape danger.

Shinobi - Jumping
Combat skill is important, but evading and parrying is the only way to stay alive

Those are all the basic controls, but far from the only moves and tricks you will need to learn: Jiro can also wall-jump, pass through certain platforms with his grappling hook, and slide along the ground to pass beneath certain obstacles. Additionally, he can execute special attacks that are performed once enough kills are “chained” together – resulting in the added bonus of a score multiplier.

Also true to the classic game design, Shinobi constantly judges your performance based on almost every action – from taking any sort of damage (lose some points) to dying (lose a lot of points) or resorting to the use of magic scrolls (lose even more points). If you don’t complete the brutally-challenging stages within the “par times”, you lose points. Basically, Shinobi demands the kind of perfection that just isn’t really seen in modern gaming – and like it or not, the game is actually very fair. The controls are completely intuitive, though they certainly feel unique. This is what makes the mastery of Jiros’ movement so important; it’s the only way you can eventually stay calm and make the precise jumps and maneuvers required to make any progress. Sure, there are some enemy patterns and obstacles that seem to be perfectly scripted to kill you; but even the loading screens constantly remind the player that practice and patience are the only way to succeed.

Shinobi - Parrying Bullets
Guns for show, knives for pro

Though it sounds short, the Story Mode actually takes a good length of time to finish – even on the Beginner setting, which was quickly chosen as my preferred difficulty setting. What makes all of this so rewarding is the replay value that it creates; despite the countless frustrated moments I witnessed in each stage, I couldn’t shake the urge to go back through each stage in the “Free Play” mode to try again for higher scores. Since the game demands perfection for such rewards, there is a lot of trial-and-error involved. This means that you’ll spend a lot of time trying the same irritating parts countless times, but again, that sense of reward is almost impossible to pass up. Fortunately, when it comes to “Extras”, Shinobi comes through with a surprising amount of content.

Again, keep in mind that I purchased Shinobi for a pretty low price – less than half of the original MSRP, so my judgment is largely reflected on the “bargain” factor. Nonetheless, Shinobi offers quite a bit of content that extends well beyond the 8- to 10-hour Story Mode. If you choose to tackle the stages on harder difficulty settings, you’ll have to start a New Game – but you can go back any time and play the easier settings in Free Play, regardless. There are also “Challenge Maps” that can be unlocked with the StreetPass functions of the 3DS, or by using some of the Play Coins you’ve collected by walking around with the console in your pocket.

Shinobi - Boss fight
The boss fights are far from the only challenges in this game

Moving on, Shinobi is one of the first 3DS games to prominently feature in-game “Achievements”, which certainly add a lot fo the replay value – particularly if you typically enjoy seeking out all of them. Though many of them require you to be very skilled at the game, there are plenty that almost seem like a “mark of shame” – for instance, the Achievement for using magic scrolls 150 times essentially scolds you for resorting to those abilities so many times.

Ultimately, if you enjoy challenging games – particularly those “old-school” throwbacks or reboots that imitate the game design or fundamentals seen in 8- and 16-bit classics – you will find a lot to like about Shinobi. Fans of the series will definitely appreciate how much the gameplay reflects upon the Shinobi titles from the Sega Genesis. Anyone seeking a solid action title will find it; as well as the flashy visual style, the cheesy-yet-nostalgic techno-rock soundtrack, and the satisfyingly deep amount of bonus content.

Button-mashers beware; the sense of reward that keeps you playing through this game will only come if you really master it – fans of the Shinobi games are familiar with this concept, but the punishing difficulty will likely turn away many of the casual gamers who aren’t as familiar with the relentless challenge of NES/Genesis-era titles. If that doesn’t scare you away, I fully recommend checking out Shinobi for the 3DS – the “enjoyable frustration” will keep you coming back for more punishment for quite some time.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 7.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 8 out of 10
Written by Cliff Bakehorn Write a User Review