Wednesday Nov 09, 2011
A Ninja Casts Ninja Sequel Magic
In which suddenly a bunch of ninjas appear!
Ninjas do a lot of things, which the internet has taken pains to chronicle. One thing they do very well is to return: springing from the Shadows to continue their stories and avenge deaths and look cool, when you least expect them. To wit: there have been 11 games in the Shinobi franchise, not counting the various versions of each game for different platforms.
Shinobi first returned in 1989 to Arcades as Shadow Dancer, which made it to the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991 (more on that below). The first Shinobi game on the Genesis/Mega Drive was The Revenge of Shinobi.
Revenge of Shinobi pulls together a lot of what forged the Sega of the 90s. The platforming was extremely challenging but in an organic way (you always felt in control, and like the difficulty was part of the game instead of fighting the controls), the power ups were fun, but – more than anything – the game had a sly sense of humor and a silly streak, something that extended to Sega’s entire 90s attitude, especially if you saw any of the commercials from that decade.
Shinobi games are stories of revenge and betrayal — but there was also a goofy streak running through this game.
This is the game that, in its original incarnation, had Batman, Spider-Man, the Terminator,
Some were look-alike replicas (the one that definitely wasn’t Godzilla was in a later version replaced by a cyborg dinosaur monster, just in case there was any confusion). Some — like Spider-Man — were actually licensed from Marvel (although when the game was re-released he had to be replaced with a re-colored look-alike). Likewise, Batman in later versions was changed to — and this is a best guess — this guy.
The other big thing to mention: this was also a launch title¹ for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive. While Altered Beast (the much-touted launch title) was a big, bold arcade translation, and certainly retains a core of arcade fun, Revenge was built specifically for the system and holds up as well as anything in the genre.
The presentation here was also pretty stellar. The entire build-up to the
The game’s music was done by the indomitable, inimitable Yuzo Koshiro. All you need to know is that he did the Streets of Rage II music, but he has done a ton more, and his Revenge of Shinobi music is a terrific debut for the Genesis, and definitely a preview of what was to come. Here, listen!
Lest you think I am all sunshine and ninja-rainbows about these games, I will offer up some criticism: As a launch title, Revenge of Shinobi suffered from one of the Genesis’ few (only?) real faults, having a rather flat color palette, along with some flickering frame rate. This is just something the Genesis had to deal with, though of course later on there were mesmerizing and colorful. Revenge didn’t have a huge palette to work with but it definitely fit into the mood of the game.
Sorry — that’s the best I could do for criticism. I love Shinobi.
The One With The Dog
That 1989 arcade game Shadow Dancer made it to Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990 – Shadow Dancer, or as you may remember it, the one with the dog. To quote Joystiq from a 2008 review, the game “answers the question of what could possibly be cooler than a ninja stalking around a gritty urban landscape: that ninja’s dog.” In case you are wondering: Yes, dogs enjoy a similar status in Japan as in the West, and are (not surprisingly) admired for their loyalty. I couldn’t think of Yamato (the dog) without thinking of a kind of heart-wrenching story of a famous dog in Japanese history.
The game uses your canine companion to marvelous effect – a quick charge-and-release of the B-button and he will attack the nearest enemy. This still requires timing to make good use of, and if he happens to be “defeated”, he returns as a pup, returning to full strength shortly thereafter. If you learn to pay attention you’ll also notice that he will turn and alert you to enemies about to sneak in, and you can learn to use him in a surprisingly organic way.
It’s a clever mechanic that the game integrates well into its puzzles: for Shinobi games, “puzzle” meant sussing out ways to defeat the knots of enemies camped out in each screen. It’s tremendously fun and finds the right balance of being challenging on the console while remaining immensely “learnable” — teaching you the true way of the ninja. And his dog.
Stay tuned! There is one more ninja-part to the
1. Nit-pick: Technically it was not a “launch” title, but it debuted in December of 1989, four months after the U.S. launch of the Genesis, and before the X-Mas season. Let’s call it a launch title.
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