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The Revenge of Shinobi

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  3D6 Games Inc.
Publisher:  THQ
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Platform
ESRB:  Everyone
Accessories:  N/A
Date Posted:  3-4-03

Maybe it can all be chalked up to the fuzzy haze of fond, half-forgotten memories. Once upon a time, there was a trio of amusing platformers revolving around that cheesy standby of 1980’s pop culture, the ninja. These games, moreover, came out on some of the best systems of their day (respectively, the Sega Genesis, Master System, and Game Gear), only adding to their power, likeability and appeal. Oh, how times have changed. Anyone who’s ever tried to go back home again knows the dual edged blade of memory’s deceitfully rose colored glasses and the inexorable march of "progress" (arguments of regress, devolution and the law of entropy aside for the moment); but in all objectivity, The Revenge of Shinobi for the Game Boy Advance can only be looked at in the same light as the infamous Pitfall: the Mayan Adventure or the many attempts to upgrade Pac-Man and other Atari-era classics to newer systems. In other words (and being as generous as possible), in no way does Shinobi succeed in achieving the feel and playability of it’s predecessors. In fact, the game appears to represent a huge step backwards in virtual gaming (see what I mean about devolution and entropy?). In this age of microprocessors and Next-Gen gaming systems as powerful as computers, Shinobi is actually saddled with a password scheme rather than the battery saves common to portable gaming units for at least the past decade.

The controls are simplistic, but overly picky, which makes getting one’s footing somewhat difficult in earlier stages of the game. Something as simple as walking down stairs can be a real chore; in fact, this inability to return the same way one came turns out to be the most consistently difficult task throughout the entire game.

Earlier levels (the "bamboo swamp", the "forgotten cemetery") are pretty straightforward platformers, afflicted with the yin and yang blessing/curse of better graphics, but stilted, uninvolving gameplay (not unlike the "advances" gaming took in the move from NES to SNES). Getting down the stairs is the biggest fight you’ll face for a fair way into the game (I couldn’t even tell you the "trick" to doing this successfully – it’s as elusive as a gust of wind). Your "fights" with ninjas, ghosts, and assorted enemies are equally as interesting and challenging as smashing barrels and lights is (and you’ll be doing plenty of both). Some of the later levels throw in little "twists": the "forbidden city" level, for example, is a perfectly hideous knockoff of Millipede, where you operate a big hand with an apparently limitless supply of shuriken (throwing stars, for anyone who’s never sat through one of those crappy mid 80’s Sho Kosugi movies), moving it back and forth to hit the mini ninjas that gradually (but not quite gradually enough) sneak their way towards you. The level ends when one of them "gets you", and you get a cheesy freeze frame of one standing in front of you, or alternatively, when you successfully defeat them all. Whoopee, excitement. On top of all this, upon completion of the level, the developers actually have the unmitigated condescension and gall to inform you that you scored a "perfect". Gee, didn’t they just force you to kill all of them in order to complete the level?

The game operates in an excessively linear fashion, moving consistently from left to right and occasionally up or down, with little room to explore or to choose your own path to proceed through the game. There are some wholly extraneous power-ups and magic spells peppered throughout Shinobi to make it appear that there’s more to the game than there actually is, but don’t let that fool you. It’s still a basic hack and slash platformer: move forward, jump up, swing your sword, end of story.

Movement is strange, if generally uncomplicated. Shinobi shuffles from side to side in a rather foolish looking approximation of the karate "circle step", with accompanying tapping noises (I thought he was supposed to be a stealthy ninja, not Savion Glover), dispatching enemies who perish to the inevitable accompaniment of what appears to be a lift from a Biggie Smalls record (foes express their dying agonies to the tune of some repeated deep throated "uh! uh!'s). The incidental music is atmospheric but cheesy, somewhere between an episode of David Carradine’s Kung Fu and a fifth-rate Chuck Norris movie (the Octagon, anyone?); an uneasy blend of bad synthesizer noises intermingled with shakuhachi and koto to neither party’s benefit.

Overall, there’s really nothing here to write home about. The only thing saving Shinobi from being a complete disaster is its graphics (and music, despite the cheese factor) which are both appealing and pleasantly atmospheric. If you’re hard up for a Shinobi game, stick with one of the earlier versions (I recommend the identically named Genesis version), which are so far ahead of this mediocrity in terms of playability and amusement, it’s almost beyond belief. It’s sad when the biggest challenge a game has to offer is difficulty in getting down the stairs. I understand that living through one’s old age is just as challenging (and probably equally stimulating).

Highs:

  • Plenty of levels to play through (if you can stand the excitement, anyway)
  • Nice graphics
  • Genre appropriate, if clichéd soundtrack

Lows:

  • Overly linear gameplay, with little room to explore. This sort of thing gives the term "retro" a bad name.
  • Pretty bad controls. The toughest challenge they can throw at you is navigating your way back down the stairs?
  • Gets reeeeeeeeal boring. Fast.
  • Not much to the game, unless you find hours of entertainment value in walking in and out of houses ad nauseaum ala Battle of Olympus, or thrilling adventure in a one-button slashing marathon against intermittent and surprisingly weak enemies who don’t really fight back.

Final Verdict:

Fans of Sega’s Shinobi series, in all its prior incarnations (for the Master System, Genesis, and Game Gear) will find themselves sorely disappointed. Only the most desperate of gamers need apply.

Overall Score: 3.5

Additional Media:

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