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Shinobi Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1988 Also On: NES

Every system has a few games to give it character. The NES had the legendary Super Mario Bros. series, amongst others. The Sega Master System had some different attempts at creating different titles that captured some sort of unique “Sega” feel to them that stood apart from the rest. Some of these titles appeared early on and were based off of the company’s earlier arcade games. A few should have never been considered, others translated considerably to the home screen. Shinobi was one of the games that was converted near perfectly, and without a doubt one of the best early titles for the SMS.

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Excellent graphical conversion; nice job, it almost looks just like it did in the arcade. A nice variety of colors with some interesting backgrounds and a number of enemies to contend with. All of the animations are fluid and the overall organization is perfect. The title screen looks so much like the arcade that if it were blinking “insert coin” instead of “press start button,” I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference during the game proper.

The music is translated well too. I can’t remember if the main theme changes in the arcade, but it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s fitting with an “eastern” flair to it, and though repeated doesn’t get old. The boss music is fitting too, with attempts to create traditional “eastern” instrumentation. The sound effects are well placed, though when you die they sure selected an odd one. Since it’s the same as the arcade, however, I won’t score lower. Nice “ting” sounds when weapons strike and lots of fireworks. Great job.

The gameplay here is pretty straightforward. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a basic platformer. You walk around, attack, pick up power-ups, get points, kill bosses and then take on the final boss. Sound simple? Well get ready, because this game is tough. There are five missions and fifteen rounds in total. Each one has about four parts each, but the first level only has three and I believe one has five. Regardless, you have stages before the bosses and then you go at the big guys.

Within each level are hostages you can rescue, if you want. It’s not required, but this is where you’ll get your power-ups. You can get weapon upgrades, including your close range weapon. If you’re closer to enemies, you’ll use a close range attack. They tend to be more powerful than long distance attacks, though not at first because you only kick and punch. Your shuriken can be upgraded to a gun eventually, but if you die, remember that you lose all power-ups except for your ninja magic.

Ninja magic can be only picked up during the bonus rounds. These are accessed if you save the correct hostage. You can’t exactly tell which is which, but one of them on every first level of each stage will give you access. During the bonus level, you throw shurikens straight ahead and take out ninjas jumping on platforms towards you. If you stop all of them from reaching your position, you’ll be awarded a different type of ninja magic. If you watch, there’s also a blue ninja that gives you better stuff if you can hit him. All the magic pretty interesting and useful, and you can hold up to four. They are freeze, invincibility, eight clones that fight for you, the ability to fly, lightning and tornado. Pretty obvious what they do and a really cool aspect of this game. These aren’t the real titles, just what they do.

Shinobi is definitely not the kind of game you can just run through in a single sitting. You have to take your time and learn enemy attack patterns to get to the end. A continue feature would have been nice, though there is a secret level select you can use in pretty much the same way. The bosses aren’t very easy either. The first one is pretty simple, the second can be rough if you don’t know what to do, the third is just insane and well thought out, the fourth is pretty hard if you don’t know where to hit him and the final boss will give you quite a ride. Overall, excellent gameplay with plenty of difficulty and things to do. The only problem I really had with it was the lack of continues. With a game of this type, I really wish they had them.

I’ll definitely come back to this game in the future, I have been playing for the past week as I’ve been reviewing games. It’s got plenty of difficulty for even the most hardcore gamers and never seems to get old. Everything was presented well, the only problem I had was lack of continues. Aside from this it’s just excellent, and even that aspect isn’t even really a problem to me, just something to make note of. Also, it isn’t that short of a game, it will take you at least an hour to run straight through it, provided you don’t die too many times. At first, look to be playing this for days or weeks until you finish it.

Shinobi was one of the early greats for the Master System. I’ve recently been reviewing what most fans consider to be the SMS “Top Ten” for this website and this is almost always in everyone’s list. It’s an excellent game and deserves all the attention it gets. It is without a doubt the best conversion of the arcade classic you’ll ever set your eyes on, so much better than the awful NES version by Tengen. Great job Sega, too bad you didn’t make more like this.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 10
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.6
Written by Stan Review Guide