Written by Cyril Lachel on 11/28/2002 for PS2  
More On: Shinobi
At first glance, Sega’s new Shinobi doesn’t resemble the games of its namesake. It looks like all the other 3D ninja games of late, be it Tenchu or the upcoming Ninja Gaiden. But there’s something different about this Shinobi, something that sets it apart. Not only is it faithful to its action roots, but also manages to remain fun, even if it is marred by a number of problems.

Shinobi has always been about pure action, and in many ways this new updated version takes over right where the others left off. Instead of worrying about sneaking around, and generally being stealthy, this Shinobi is more about kicking butt and taking names.

This is not one of those games where you earn a lot of extra power-ups, collect different items, and master new skills. In fact, this is the opposite of that. Hotsuma, the hero in this Shinobi outing, has all of the moves, skills, and items he needs from the very beginning.

No action game would be complete without the impressive arsenal of attacks. While Hotsuma’s list of unique moves isn’t very long, all of them are extremely useful, and not in just one or two circumstances, but throughout the game. Hotsuma can, for example, run horizontally on the walls with the greatest of ease, this enables you to shoot shurikens down at your enemy, or even just get away.

The shurikens themselves play an important role in this game, as they stun an enemy for a few moments. This will allow you to get the upper hand in a close battle, and even allow you to escape, if you are in a pinch.

Hotsuma is also able to dash (or side step) extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that it is invisible to the human eye. All you are able to see is a flash of light move from where you started to where you end up; it also leaves the outline of your body to confuse the enemies. This dash is by far the most useful tool in the entire game, and can be used on land or while you are jumping.

True to its roots, this new Shinobi offers a few different forms of ninjustsu (ninja magic) that can be used to get you out of a jam. Though you are limited to only three different forms of magic, each is useful in its own way. The Ka’en magic, for example, looks like you dropped napalm right in the middle of the screen, effectively ridding your surroundings of enemies. There is a defensive magic, Raijin, which tosses a shield around for a short amount of time. The final magic, Kamaitachi, is a long distance magic that uses your sword to thrust waves at whatever is blocking your path.

New to Shinobi is the addition of a cursed sword, Akujiki. This sword desires to eat the souls of the fallen, leading you to look around for enemies to kill just to feed its ferocious appetite. If the sword goes too long between feedings, it’ll start consuming your soul, which I don’t think I need to remind you, is not a good thing. This element may not be very original (didn’t I see this in Onimusha?), but it manages to keeps the pace up, and certainly gives you the feeling that there is no time to rest.
While this Shinobi has you fighting in 3D, the areas are extremely contained; similar to the way they were in the side scrolling originals. The game is fairly straight forward, and there is never any question where you need to go, since there is never more than one route. From one section of the level to the next, you must either defeat all of the enemies, or destroy the floating gate locks, in order to continue your adventure through the level.

The game is woven together by the inclusion of a brief story. The game takes place after the capital city has been completely destroyed by an unknown force. Making things worse, the clan that once looked up to Hotsuma as their leader, now is dead set on taking him out. This means that Hotsuma is needed to save the city, see who’s behind this, and let his clansmen rest in peace.

The story, while entertaining, is there to do little more than move you from one area to the next without anybody questioning why. It’s not a very deep plot, and you probably won’t be discussing it with your friends after the game is over, but it does what it’s supposed to do, and is in the tradition of so many outlandish Japanese samurai films.

The game is split up in to seven levels, each with two areas and two bosses. Each of the environments is based on different parts of the city, from urban areas to tranquil wooden areas, to everything in between. Some of the more impressive levels feature earthquake destruction and an entire city on fire, others, however, just look like your every day run of the mill run down city, or worse, industrial locales.

The backgrounds have a tendency of not being very alive, as they often just sit there motionless. There isn’t a lot to interact with, either. This wasn’t a big deal when I was focused on fighting oncoming enemies, but between battles I found the levels to lack that certain amount of detail so common in games these days.

The graphics are impressive, for the most part. Some of the effects, especially the animation of Hotsuma’s extremely long, red scarf, are absolutely mind blowing. Others, though, are just down right ugly. The destruction of the buildings looks good at first, but as you continue through the level you find yourself seeing the same texture time and again. This doesn’t really get in the way, but does make the finished product look a little rushed.

Thankfully the game play takes over where the graphics leave off. Not only does Hotsuma look good moving around and performing these acrobatic feats, but also does them with very little frustration to the user. The camera is seldom a problem, and even when it refuses to auto adjust, it is easy to correct the problem manually.
If you disable the group of enemies quickly enough, the game will go into something of a cinema called a Tate. These short clips stop Hotsuma’s pose, no matter where he is (even in the air), and show the enemies fall to pieces, literally. When the camera works properly, this is a humorous, and often entertaining moment in the game. However, so often the camera does not cooperate as it should, and the effect is lost.

Fighting is a breeze with the targeting system. Unlike the targeting system found in most games, once an enemy is taken care of, the game instantly targets the next closest character. This saves you from having to constantly push the lock-on button, and will take away some of the headaches commonly found in other such games.

Even though the control is extremely precise, the game does tend to be on the unforgiving side. To offset the fact that you have unlimited continues, Sega has decided to give you only one chance through each level. That means if you die, you aren’t going to start from the middle of the level. Oh no, you are going to start all the way back at the beginning of the stage. And considering that some levels are seven or more minutes long, this defines the word “frustrating”.

It’s this problem that has me the most perplexed about this new Shinobi. There’s a lot to like about this game, it’s incredibly easy to pick up and play, it’s action packed, it’s fun to watch … but it’s just so damn hard! It’s the kind of difficult that will make even the most patient, calm, mellow game player violent, hot tempered, and hostile towards the world.

A great deal of the games hardness comes from its fourteen bosses. Some of them are nothing more than fighting another human, but many of them involve epic battles between you and monstrously large foes. Everything from a huge moth, to a giant spider, to hybrids of snakes and foxes and whatnot, this game is packed with at least half dozen bosses you’ll have a hard time getting out of your mind. Problem is, a lot of them are unflinchingly hard, and can really ruin your day.

A lot of the old school Shinobi fans may be a little turned off by the changes the series has taken. For one thing, the games protaganist is no longer Joe Musashi, but rather a character that offers no resemblance what so ever. Of course, Sega has included Joe in this game, as an extra, but it’s just not the same. The game also doesn’t feature some of elements that made the series great, like riding on a horse, or climbing up walls (not just hanging and running on them).

The game rewards, almost demands, precision on the game players part. You will have to play each level multiple times before you come anywhere close to beating this, let alone finding the hidden goodies, or seeing all there is to see. This won’t be for everybody, but for those dedicated enough to play through this adventure they will find a wonderful experience with a great deal to offer.

Having some trouble with your pajam-err Ninja outfit? Then check out Prima Games' excellent strategy guide to get you back in the game. They promise they won't make fun of you, unless you wear Captain Kangaroo undies, then no one can save you.
This new Shinobi gets a few things right, but manages to be dogged down by an insanely high difficulty level and lack of depth. Oddly enough, what Shinobi gets right easily outweighs it’s faults, and still manages to be a worthwhile action game.

Rating: 7.9 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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