This week I am reviewing a game that I have in my collection that occupies a unique cabinet sitting in my garage. I found it at a thrift store where it was actually a modified Frogger cabinet (with the coin mechs completely removed and a plexiglass panel in place and a completely different control panel that moves towards you) that had a Pyros marquee but a Shinobi board. Whoever used to own this made quite a few modifications several times but it was the first time I had a chance to play this game. Images courtesy KLOV.com minus the title screen image I took myself.
Shinobi by Sega (1987)
Before Shinobi hit arcades, ninjas were fairly rare characters to show up in video games. After it came along however, ninjas and video games can never seem to part ways. Shinobi saw a 3D remake come along not too long ago on the Playstation 2 but it is important to remember that the recent version of the game and the original are two very different games, in part because one is in 2D and the other in 3D and the difference in perspective changes the dynamics of the gameplay quite a bit. Top that off with different storylines and you will . The story goes as follows (from klov.com): “The Ninja children of the Iga clan were kidnapped by Zeed, a syndication of evil Ninjas and outlaws. Joe Musashi, a master of Ninjutsu amd other martial arts must penetrate single-handedly into the opponent’s territory on a mission to rescue the little ones and wipe out the villains.” i.e. kill everything that gets in your way, ninja-style but without any of the messy blood splattering that permeates many ninja games these days.
There are five missions to complete, each with three to five scenes where you will battle thugs, ninjas, soldiers and of course bosses. Your primary weapon consists of shurikens with your trusty katana ready to strike when you are right next to an enemy. While it would have been interesting to be able to unsheathe your katana with the ability to run around and strike with it at a whim, that would have changed the feel of the game to something fairly different. There are power-ups such as guns that you can pick up and to top it off you have a special ninja power that will usually clear out everything on the screen. What is nice about this power is that there are several different kinds that can be obtained throughout the game which makes it more interesting as you discover what it does. You also are awarded for using this power conservatively so keep in mind to not use it unless it is absolutely necessary, which is generally during tough boss battles. There are a variety of enemies you will face, from generic thugs, to several types of ninjas including one that looks like a failed Spiderman as well as bulky guys that wield large swords and one guy that looks a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with a bazooka of course. Part of the games charm is in the enemies you face as they keep it interesting. On top of that a few of the environments let you do unexpected things, such as jump behind a fence to fight on a different layer of the screen. Shinobi is definently a well-thought out title.
While going throughout the stages there are always several ‘little ones’ being held hostage at points throughout the level. To rescue them simply take down the bad guy camping around them, unbind the ropes holding them hostage by pressing attack when you are next to them . Pretty easy stuff. Now keep in mind that while you are a master ninja capable of delivering out massive amounts of death to all who oppose you, if the enemy manages to hit you once with anything you suddenly curl over and die. This one-hit kill approach automatically makes the game a challenge so expect to have plenty of tokens when you approach it. Also keep in mind that you cannot use any continues on the fifth level. I think they did that just to irritate the player, but it is possible to beat the game.
Between missions there is a fun bonus stage that pits you and your endless supply of shurikens against hoardes of angry ninjas trying to reach you for an unknown reason. What drives their senseless anger towards you is a mystery to me, but it’s a good excuse to mow nameless ninjas down that haunted you in your sleep when you were a child. Nevertheless they start out far away and will jump towards you until one of them finally reaches you. If one does you lose the round. If you take them all down you win a bunch of bonus points.
Shinobi’s graphics are pretty good for the time, I’ve never noticed any slowdown and there is very little flickering. In fact the game seems to be able to handle a good number of sprites on the screen and for a 2D game, that’s a good thing. Most of the levels are nicely detailed and this certainly blew away anything you could find on a game console at the time. The only thing I would complain about is that it doesn’t seem like a very colorful game.
The sound is in mono, I like the music tracks but the sounds don’t do it for me. When you die it sounds like someone set a spring off. Perhaps they were implying that you are an android? Ninja androids…just like in Robocop 3…but I digress again.
The control scheme isn’t too hard to get a hang of, although it caught me off guard at first since I thought that I would be able to use my katana more often. Katana-wielding desires aside, the game controls fine using the standard joystick and button configuration.
Overall, Shinobi is a fun game worth playing if you ever run into it at any arcade. While I don’t see anything that sets it dramtically apart from other games of it’s time, it can still be considered a classic, simply because of replay value and it created a character that has been able to withstand the tests of time. If you come across the opportunity to own this game, you won’t be disappointed.