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