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Shinobi Review

Go Back To The Shadows, Musashi
by Bryan Vore on Dec 02, 2011 at 11:30 AM
Reviewed on 3DS
Publisher Sega
Developer Griptonite Games
Rating Teen

Shinobi sounds like my sort of game – it’s based on the classic ninja franchise and plays like a 2D action plaformer despite the 3D look. But thanks to some questionable design decisions the fun degrades over the course of the journey to the point that I just wanted to get the game over with.

The first warning sign came when I ran out of lives on the first boss and had to start over from the beginning of the 15-minute level while playing on normal difficulty. If you’re going to play Shinobi, bump the difficulty down to beginner, which grants infinite lives. You still get pushed back to checkpoints and have to beat bosses in the span of one life, so it’s not a mindless cakewalk. The infinite lives simply lessen the incredible frustration caused by the plentiful instant death pits. Even if you’re crazy hardcore, I still recommend scouting all the levels out in beginner before you turn up the difficulty.

Thanks to an overly zoomed in camera and extremely dark levels, the cheap deaths increase in frequency the further you get into the game. Oftentimes your only option is to jumping into the unknown, which frequently results in death. Shinobi also has a useless stealth mechanic where occasionally an enemy is facing the wrong way and you walk up to them and press X for a kill. For all the challenge in this game, it’s strange that stealth kills are simply handed to you on a platter.

Combat is pretty standard overall; hero Jiro Musashi (father of Joe) slashes away with his katana, throws daggers, and conjures ninja magic for temporary powers. All this is in retaliation for an attack on his dojo in feudal Japan times before an odd time warp sends him to what looks like a generic Tokyo 20XX. The differentiating factor is the parry system. To get anywhere in Shinobi you must learn to tap the right shoulder button whenever an attack is incoming. You can’t just hold down block and stay safe. While you’re slashing up one enemy you constantly have to watch out for projectiles and other melee attacks. It’s very fast and satisfying once you get the hang of things, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Every successful strike, parry, and kill adds to your level points and increases your grade while any screw-up at all subtracts. Nailing a high score and plenty of other activities are all tied to in-game achievements and unlockables (like a golden axe!). This and several bonus maps should keep those who choose to invest in this game busy for a while.

I should have had fun fighting a mecha-shark in a waterfall and slicing up mercs on top of a flying jet, but thanks to its cruel difficulty and overall lack of excitement, Shinobi falls flat. I have a taste for demanding difficulty as long as the content is compelling. As it stands, I don’t want to go back into this world, let alone learn all the tricks to perfect the levels on harder difficulties.

Create an old school action platformer with new polygonal graphics
Outside of a few interesting set pieces, the game lacks distinct environments or characters. Later stages are especially dark, making it tough to see what the hell you’re supposed to be doing
Voice acting dispenses mostly fortune cookie wisdom
Switch the imprecise circle pad controls to the d-pad immediately in the options menu
The balance of punishment versus fun is tilted too far in the former’s direction

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