For the truly devoted, Shinobi is packed with classic ninja action sure to tickle your nostalgia. It can be an unforgiving trip though.
- Plays like a long-lost Sega Genesis game.
- Bonus levels and unlockable cheats extend replay value.
- Punishingly difficult.
- Long levels are poorly paced for a handheld game.
Shinobi 3DS Review:
In the late 80s and early 90s, there was only one ninja on the mind of Sega fans: Joe Musashi. The Shinobi games were the epitome of over-the-top action, fighting everything from brain beasts to Spider-Man. However, the series lay dormant through most of the 3D era before a questionably successful reboot on PS2 nearly a decade ago. Many fans feared that we had heard the last of Shinobi. But amid all the long forgotten franchises sitting in Sega’s vaults, someone at Sega remembered Shinobi. With the release of the Nintendo 3DS, Sega has handed Shinobi’s reins over to developer Griptonite, not to make a game, but to make a love letter to the series.
The Ninja’s Legacy
Shinobi on 3DS is positioned as a prequel to the original series, though how much thought was put into its story is questionable. You play as Jiro, father to the original Shinobi’s Joe Musashi, as he embarks on an eight level journey quite literally spanning time and space. Jiro begins in the year 1256 defending his ninja village from invading Zeed forces and is whisked in the very next level to the year 2056 fighting soldiers across rooftops and through elevator shafts.
It seems the developers simply picked cool set pieces without worrying about continuity, and in an odd way it actually works. I found myself fighting flying brain creatures one moment to riding on the back of a fighter jet followed immediately by an undersea battle with a giant mechanical shark. Then I was in space for some reason. It’s all utter nonsense, but it’s such an entertaining and constant bombardment that even the most stalwart continuity fanboys will throw up their arms in a combination of defeat and rollercoaster-like euphoria.
Easy Mode? What’s An Easy Mode?
Despite its polygonal graphics and 3D effects, Shinobi on the 3DS feels like a long lost entry in the series. All of the classic ninja moves are here, from sword slashes and kunai darts to wall jumping and elemental magic. It is a relic from a time when a ninja on a surfboard was the epitome of cool and games still gleefully employed a difficulty curve designed for popping quarters into arcade cabinets. You will die, a lot. Survival in Shinobi relies on your own ninja-like reflexes using the parry button. It’s hard to say that the difficulty is fair, with enemies launching projectiles from off-screen and the mercilessly short timing window for performing a parry. Good old fashioned trial and error is in full effect here, which will likely frustrate gamers who weren’t raised in arcades. But this also means by your fifth time playing the first level you’ll know every challenge inside and out, and be a better player for it.
This retro design philosophy also extends to the game’s save system, which is to say there isn’t one. There is an option to save so you can safely turn off the system between play sessions, but it’s a temporary file that is erased when it is loaded again. This wouldn’t be a noticeable issue if the game could be reasonably completed in a single sitting; however, levels are quite long for a handheld game, averaging anywhere between ten and twenty minutes to complete. And that is without taking into account restarting the level when Jiro’s lives inevitably run out. Even the beginner mode, which provides unlimited lives, can seem like an insurmountable feat in the later levels. Shinobi doesn’t play nice with the pick up and play style of gaming that is best suited to handhelds.
A Little Something Extra
One thing is abundantly clear: Sega and Griptonite have true affection for the Shinobi series. The game is absolutely packed with references to past games for fans to fawn over and a host of substantial extras. Griptonite has implemented an achievement system into Shinobi, but rather than awarding an arbitrary gamerscore the achievements will unlock concept art, alternate costumes, new weapons, and cheats like infinite magic. You know, all of the things that would be paid DLC if this were downloadable game on consoles.
In addition to the main game, Griptonite has also taken cues from Capcom’s Bionic Commando Rearmed by including a series of challenge rooms that can either be traded with friends via StreetPass or unlocked by spending 3DS play coins. These challenge rooms offer pure action-platforming challenges to hone your skills on levels that are, quite frankly, much more fun and thoughtfully designed than most of what is seen in the campaign.
For the truly devoted, Shinobi is packed with classic ninja action sure to tickle your nostalgia. It can be an unforgiving trip though, and many gamers simply will lack the patience and perseverance to see it through. There is a fine line between seeking out a challenge and masochism, and it’s a line Shinobi balances on as only a master ninja could.