Shinobi is a game out of its time.

That’s not just a reflection of the game’s plot which moves us from an ancient feudal Japan with Ninjas and Samurai to a post apocalyptic Neo Zeed future, it’s also reflected in the game’s mechanics. In terms of what the game it reminds me most of is the Shinobi that was ported to the Game Gear back in the day, where you had to have pixel perfect jumps, learn your enemy attack patterns and conserve your health bar like an old age pensioner conserving heat during the cold snap.

The problem is, that this is a modern game in polygons and 3D and even with the slider turned down so your gaming experience is on a flat plain, it’s very hard to replicate the precision that pixels provide. Also, there are no lives. This is great; it means that you don’t have to do the old school thing of starting the game all the way at the start again when you get beaten by the boss, and your karai knives regenerate so you don’t have to find a risky power up box… but then it robs the game of the challenge. You can just go through the game and try as many times as you like, which tends to lend itself to frustration as you will play until you get stuck. This is where the real frustration sets in.

Rather than old school difficulty, Sega have now introduced a scoring system. You get 1000 points for every hit you make on an opponent, but you lose 10,000 every time your opponent hits you, and it also seems you lose quarter of a million points every time you use one of the four magics that get given to you from the beginning.  At the end of the levels I played, I ended up with zero points… and a C+ rating. I hadn’t been playing badly, but I hadn’t memorized the level the way I used to with games like the Game Gear Shinobi.  I could go through to try and get an A or an S score, but I really can’t be bothered. Games aren’t like when I was a kid and I’d buy a game  and that would be it for about three months. These days I have a stack of games to play, a stack of games that are sitting on the pile beneath Skyrim. So I’m not going to devote the time that Shinobi needs… and in this day and age I’m not sure who would.

Another issue is that you get all your abilities at the beginning, so I just ended up using the somersault sword attack all the time, although if it had been more like the Game Gear Shinobi where you freed other ninjas with abilities on the way, then it would have been more satisfying.  It’s kind of annoying when a 20 year old handheld game does it better than the new 3DS version.

The game is solid, fun, there are some nice 3D sections and nice nods to previous games (the bomb in the power up, the highway section), there’s some cool anime sections, but nothing close to the Revenge of Shinobi disco dance, Batman (Devilman?), Spiderman, Hulk and Godzilla bosses. Playing this reminded me more of a game that you would play on your smartphone rather than an A title for a modern handheld. In fact, between this and Samurai Vengeance II, I would choose the madfinger game every time. OK, you could say the top down and side on fighter are apples and oranges, but it shows you what can be done in the genre… and it’s about a fifteenth of the price.







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