Review – Shinobi (XBLA)
Classic ninja japes from Sega.
The arcade-perfect port of Sega’s 1987 arcade classic Shinobi that turned up on the Sega Megadrive Collection was probably the best thing about that whole package but, as with most of the games on there, it was a very no-thrills port with no online modes, achievements or leaderboards to speak of. However, Sega have released this, along with a glut of other Sega titles, onto Xbox Live Arcade this week for the rather bargainous price of 400 M$P. Sounds good so far, especially as this is one of Sega’s finest arcade titles and just edges out Namco’s Rolling Thunder as being the most fun you can have in a split-level, horizontal scroller.
The game sees you doing your ninjary duties as Joe Musashi, the agile star of the show, as he aims to take down a shadowy organisation, full of palette-swapped baddies, called Neo Zeed. This fine ninja fellow is armed with an infinite supply of shurikens and a powerful kick for close encounters and he runs along the five levels (each split into three or four sub-levels) luzzing his pointy stars into the face of bent coppers, bright blue ninjas and a host of oversized bosses whilst rescuing hostages and leaping up and down between the balconies, floors and cliffs that make up the various stages.
It’s the kind of game that you can learn to play within seconds of first firing it up but it will present a severely hefty challenge as you progress. The enemy patterns are fixed, so it’s going to be down to a mixture of skill and memory if you’re going to survive the game. To make things easier, your shurikens are quickly upgraded to an actual gun and you have one smart-bomb style ninja attack per stage that you can use if things get a bit hairy. Which it will. This game is hard. You’ll get through the first few stages with a little practice but the end levels are brutal. Unfairly so at times.
Here we go again with yet another journey back in time for some 8-bit era arcade japes. So what does that mean? Well how does extreme difficulty spikes, unfair and hugely unbalanced boss fights sound? Sure you can quick-save your way past any troubles but doing so renders the whole game rather pointless. Equally as pointless are the online leaderboards, surely some kind of ‘hardcore’ mode could have been implemented that disables the quicksaves to keep the players honest?
Ultimately the biggest problem I have with this game is that while it’s the best version of Shinobi, it’s not the best Shinobi game with both Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi 3 being far better games. For anyone left who still wants to play this game just get yourself a copy of the equally flawed Sega Megadrive Ultimate Collection because you can at least get some money back on your purchase when you inevitably lash it unlike the (admittedly cheap) 400 M$P you’ll never get back.
Secondary Score: 5/10
To sum up, it’s one of the great ’80s coin-ops and is positively dripping in classic gameplay, graphics and design and this is a flawless port. It’s also a missed opportunity. The achievements are fair enough with a couple of tougher-sounding ones if you fancy a challenge but, as with all the Sega XBLA titles, the game allows for quicksaving. Now this is actually a good idea for this game as it’s more or less impossible to beat without it (also, in what can only be described as cuntish behaviour, Sega allow credit-feeding until the final set of levels at which point death means a full restart).
Unfortunately, they’ve decided to allow quicksaved games to stand on the leaderboards which instantly invalidates that as a feature. Also, there is no online functionality at all. Now, Shinobi was never really that kind of game anyway but they have local multiplayer (1UP/2UP style) so why they couldn’t have done that online I’ll never know. So the only reason to get this over the Megadrive Collection is the ability to run it without a disc and for a smattering of easily gotten achievements.
Online multiplayer and a ‘no saving’ mode would have made this an essential purchase rather than what we have here which is a great game, poorly implemented. As such the points awarded below are for Sega’s work in the ’80s and not for Backbone’s thoughtless porting.