Since Sega dropped out of the console hardware business, they’ve worked extensively to bring back several series titles that many presumed dead with the demise of the ill- fated Dreamcast. While new Sega games like Sonic Adventure Battle DX and Panzer Dragoon Orta were well-received and highly praised for the nostalgia they brought with them, Shinobi spurns newcomers. What sets Shinobi apart from other games is its insane, unreasonable, psychotic and over-the-top difficulty level. It isn’t that I’m opposed to a gaming challenge, but this particular series is infamous for its unforgiving trickiness. Anyway, whichever way you look at it, Shinobi’s ramped difficulty is the only major flaw in an otherwise thoroughly acceptable game.
The game opens directly after the city of Tokyo is ravaged by massive earthquakes. From the ensuing tectonic fissures, a giant tower appears that spawns millions of demons. To counter this new ungodly threat, a lone ninja named Hotsuma – sole survivor of the Oboro Clan – is dispatched to counter the attacking demonic hordes. While fighting his way through the legions of monsters, he comes across his long-dead brother, who was slain by Hotsuma himself for overall control of the Oboro Clan. He also meets with his deserter sister, who quit being a ninja after her brothers’ battle. So, he must fight his way through both past and present in order to save Japan from certain destruction.
Unfortunately, there are very few gamers ever likely to see Hotsuma through to the climax of his perilous adventure. Shinobi’s difficulty is so elevated that not many players are likely to make it even close to the game’s final boss (except all those Gameshark users?). To compound this, each mission is excessively long and does not offer in-mission save points. So, when our ninja protagonist falls into a bottomless pit a couple of hours after the outset of a level?well, he doesn’t pass ?Go’, he doesn’t ?Collect $200′ and the poor gamer duly loses two valuable hours of life. Shinobi has the old ?kill everyone and advance’ type of level setup. All the enemies attack in giant waves, and do critical amounts of damage to boot. Seriously, though, one regular enemy can wipe out half your health very easily. All of the enemies are also capable of blocking and countering your attacks, so to stand even a minute chance against each group, your attacks must be perfectly timed and completely precise, otherwise it will be slapped aside and Hotsuma will be effortlessly diced into stewing beef.
However, the difficulty (though a large gameplay barrier) is pretty much the game’s only setback. Hotsuma’s sword, the Akujiki, starts you off with a disadvantage, where it saps your health if its bloodlust isn’t satiated. Also, there is an incredible scarcity of healing items and a countless number of bottomless pits to set you back again and again and again. Despite that, the game is nicely paced, and the sword controls are well executed. Hotsuma also has the ability to create a shadow of himself, where he teleports a short distance away, leaving a copy of himself to divert enemy attacks. The clich?d prerequisite ninja skills are all present and accounted for, such as wall-running and elemental ninjutsu, which adds some interesting dimensions to combat. The levels are all satisfyingly realized, and unfold through various locations; so whether you’re running on walls in the streets, or dashing through an abandoned parking garage, there won’t be a feeling of d?j? vu?except for the constant death-related level restarts.
The game is pretty good looking, too. The in-game graphics are slick, with cool-looking enemies and ninja skills, which graphically makes the game pretty easy on the eyes (until they start falling out from the difficulty). There are also some beautifully rendered FMVs between levels, and they include some dramatic sword fighting moments, which stand eye-to-eye with the best of them. However, Shinobi’s voice acting isn’t particularly great, but then again it isn’t terrible, either. The FMVs are the only places where much dialogue takes place, and it sounds fairly similar to a dubbed samurai movie.
It’s somewhat sad that Shinobi’s gameplay had to be quite so difficult to interface with. This otherwise solid game is simply too relentlessly tough on the outside to be worth the journey of frustration to its creamy center. Because of the game’s difficulty, it just isn’t worth buying unless you are already a big Shinobi fan, or simply have a freakish amount of gaming patience. However, if you possess such an interest in this type of challenge, and a willingness to part with a small amount of your hard-earned money, then Shinobi will keep you occupied for at least a weekend or two.