Shinobi: Don’t Call It A Comeback…Seriously

Shinobi is the Playstation 2 title that brought the classic Sega series to the 3-D generation, along with a new hero and a new mission. Although the game looks great and is constantly keeping the player on his toes, overall it does not feel like the comeback the franchise deserves.

You play as Hotsuma, the last of the famous Oboro ninja clan, out to avenge the death of your brethren at the hands of the sorcerer Hiruko. To make matters worse, Hiruko has resurrected your clan and forced them to fight against you – and one of the zombies is your own brother, Moritsune! So yeah, the storyline is nothing too groundbreaking, but it gives you motivation and opens up the game to some interesting plot points and character interactions.

Shinobi introduces a couple of new mechanics to the action/platform genre. The main means of combat consists of doing Tates, which is where you kill a certain number of enemies within a certain span of time. Doing so activates a cut-scene that shows Hotsuma striking a pose while his victims split apart around him. It’s a very slick touch, especially when done during boss battles. However, the Tate is both a blessing and a curse since it makes offensive gameplay repetitive at times. Variation in gameplay comes from your defensive techniques. Hotsuma can utilize a stealth-dash, which is a quick teleport-type maneuver that leaves a shadow image of him in its wake. This can be used to confuse opponents, allowing you sneak around and strike while their guard is down. You can also cling to and run on certain walls, making it easier to get out of sticky situations.

While the gameplay elements sound fun, implementing them can be very frustrating. One big drawback is that your main weapon, a sword called Akujiki, drains your life, and the only way to replenish it is to kill enemies. I don’t think I need to say anything else about how irritating that gets. Another big problem is the camera. There are too many times when you’re getting struck by a projectile from off-screen, which means you have to throw kunai at something off-screen. Sometimes you’ll even dash somewhere off-screen. The worst part is that you can’t really stop long enough to adjust the camera because Akujiki is constantly eating away at you.

Something else in this game that is very shoddy is the targeting system. Many times you’ll be confronted by multiple enemies at once and you’ll make a beeline for the enemy in the middle. You’ll hit the target button…and you lock-on to the enemy to your far left. This can really throw you off, especially in the most crucial moments. It’s almost like the game is too fast for both the camera and some of the controls. Shinobi has a high difficulty level and these broken elements only make it harder.

Visually and stylistically, Shinobi succeeds. Hotsuma just oozes style in everything he does, whether it’s running, slashing or even standing still. His red scarf is especially mesmerizing as it trails along, following his every move. The stages are very sleek and well rendered, and are pretty diverse for an urban setting. There are lots of platforms to jump around on, giving the stages a more expansive feeling. The enemies and bosses have a good amount of variation and strategy surrounding them. Some you can attack head-on, others may try to block you and some others have only one weak spot that you have to get around to. The cut-scenes look very sharp, although the voice acting (in both the English and Japanese settings) can be a bit grating. The dialogue is pretty standard stuff, with the characters lining up buzzwords like “pain,” “suffering” and, of course, “REVENGE!!”

Shinobi maintains very little of the feel of its predecessors, but that could be something Sega intended to do. The game tries to recreate that manic feeling of the old arcade side-scroller by adding the life-draining sword, but it’s really counterproductive since it leads to rushed and therefore sloppy gameplay, which will undoubtedly lead to frustrated gamers. Rent this game (if possible) first and then buy it judging on how upset you get with it. If you’re looking for an action title that’s different from God of War and Onimusha, then you’ll probably want to check it out. However, don’t expect to recreate any old arcade memories.

Sega, 2002