Friday Nov 11, 2011
Ninjas, Jet Skis, Saturns, Scarfs
In which ninjas ride jet skis, dubious patent claims are made, and a scarf is worn.
Following some clever Game Gear entries, the next major Shinobi to emerge swiftly from the shadows was Shinobi III, on the Mega Drive/Genesis. I’ll skim over this one, as I’ve written about it before, possibly several times – but the ninja-gist of this ninja title is the ninja-expansion on the core Shinobi (ninja) concepts: refining the difficult combat and platforming til it felt like an art; a painting of ninjas, made by ninjas, in the dark, because that’s how they ninja-roll.
Apologies for the cheap ninja jokes. There are more to come, though.
Also apologies for glossing over the Game Gear entries — I had a Game Gear, it was amazing, it ate batteries like a champ, I played a ton of Sonic and Chessmaster on it, and for some reason never had the Shinobi games. Here — to make up for it, a video of a Game Gear entry — Shinobi II: The Silent Fury.
Now that I’ve watched that I’m kind of mad I didn’t have this game on Game Gear. I’m going to go ahead and say that it looks like a brilliant platformer. Yuzo Koshiro also did the music for this one — his style is really distinctive enough that you can tell just by listening, but I looked it up to make sure — and having his awesome tunes on a portable system means in a way Sega actually invented the iPod. Let’s move on, now.
Good Things Start With “S”¹
So once upon a time there was the SEGA Saturn, which was actually a pretty marvelous little system. It kind of slipped between major generations of game consoles, and it kind of bridged the gap between graphical worlds, as well. This is the system that gave us Shinobi Legions, a platformer with live-action cut-scenes.
Graphically and stylistically the half video/half animated look has a kind of dated feel. That’s the worst you can say of it though, I think — the Saturn may have arrived at a transitional period in gaming, but it was still a marvelous system (with a really awesome controller, I would like to add). Shinobi Legions was likewise a tremendously solid platforming game; in a way one of the last of its kind as games turned to the Grand 3D and FPS Experiments. Also: Yes … this game had cut-scenes. With actors.
Let us move on from here – departing swiftly like some sort of martial-arts expert — leaving only the smoke bomb of this statement: The acting in this game was almost definitely as good as that of the Sega CD classic Night Trap. Look behind you! A ninja!
Wait I Forgot Something From Shadow Dancer
I forgot to mention: The criminal organization in Shadow Dancer is called “Union Lizard”. That feels like a happy accident of translation. Aside from a criminal organization, it is also the name of an industrial dance-core band I’m going to go start. And a skateboard/shoe company, and an alcoholic beverage (absinthe and cherry coke). Lastly: a derogatory term for a Teamsters thug.
Shadow Dancer might be my personal favorite of the bunch, or maybe I’m just partial to ninja dogs and decaying urban landscapes. Something about that deliberate setting – a post-invasion New York City – resonates with me. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled ninja-timeline.
A Magnificent Scarf
There are some interesting things about Shinobi on the Playstation 2. Wait, hold on – first, I did not ever play this game, either. I would like to play it, too, but my Playstation 3 at home is the new kind that only plays PS1 discs, Blue Ray, and PS3 discs – it only does almost everything except play the PS2 games I would like to play. I’ll definitely get to this one at some point but for now, here’s some video:
There’s a lot that is amazing about this game, particularly his long, flowing red scarf, the gorgeous way it translates Shinobi to 3D, his scarf, the insanely difficult combat, the fact that you get to be a ninja with a sword, and the red scarf worn by the ninja. From what I’ve read this is something of a flawed gem – worth playing, totally interesting at an interesting point in gaming history, great scarf; doesn’t totally come together the way something like God of War would in 2005, but absolutely has its fans. To be honest I would love to hear anyone’s take on it — did you like it, hate it, have mixed feelings .. Ninja-share those feelings!
Next was the 2004 game Nightshade, wherein you play a female Shinobi who takes the
Remember how there’s a scarf? Did I mention a scarf? That will become important later.
Follow the Flowing Scarf
Right now is when the scarf becomes important.
More than just a great visual trick in the second game, and aside from just being part of the past two games, it has become a franchise icon; a poetic representation of a sword slashing through the air as the ninja wielding it disappears — the scarf’s trail a tracer marking only their disappearance.
Wait, I was going somewhere with all this scarf nonsense: the new game! Coming out on the Nintendo 3DS. I am proud of this game and excited for it – it adheres most closely to the platform games from the console days, both in terms of pure elegant design and ninja-quick difficulty (and of course, the scarf is there, too). This is what I’m saying — game history means something to me, it’s what I grew up with, and now I work for that company I grew up with. Getting to see this game come out is a huge kick, and in my opinion, the new game does exactly what an update of a franchise like this should do — it speaks to the previous games & eras, while working hard at being its own game with its own style.
In truth, Joe Musashi – the patron sword-saint of the original – appears in only some of the franchise games; his son appears in other Genesis/Mega Drive entries, a whole slew of ninjas show up on the Game Gear versions, while still more from Musashi’s clan appear on the PS2 version and the Sega Saturn game. In a nice bit of retcon, it is Joe Musashi’s father who appears in the forthcoming 3DS title. But it isn’t about the individual ninja by name, even if Joe Musashi is the prototype. Shinobi, translated, means Ninja – whoever is worthy to hold the blade, wear the scarf, throw the shuriken, and platform out of the shadows, is worthy of the name.
One parting note: Both I and SEGA wish to thank Phil Theobald for his work on both the summaries and factoids which appear in Shinobi 3DS (and which I drew from for facts in this blog series, especially the bullet points in part one). Shinobi 3DS speaks to its past with a great selection of information on previous games for you to study & learn from in the game itself; thank you Mr. Theobald for your contributions!
1. Sega, Sonic, Space Harrier, Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Space Channel 5, Seaman, Segagaga, Shining Force, Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star, and of course, that one game people really like … what’s it called … right! Sports Talk Football. Oh! And Sewer Shark.
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