Thursday Mar 15, 2012
This marks the return of portable SEGA classics into the present day: the Game Gear, introduced in 1990, was yet another salvo in the ever-raging console wars. These days, plumbers and Erinaceidae play nicely together on the same systems, even participating in various bi-annual sporting events … Yet it’s still a bit of a trip to see games from this very SEGA of systems appear on the Nintendo 3DS: and yet, considering the unique and clever titles that cropped up on the Game Gear, it’s certainly a very welcomed development, and a terrific fit for this unique marvel of a handheld system.
First out of the gate are these three titles, featuring a whole suite of ninjas, an old school RPG crawl & brawl, and also some classic Sonic action. Read on!
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble
First off, the ‘hog and his fox-friend: Showing up between Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic 3, Triple Trouble is also somewhere between those games in style and level-design: there’s a good deal level interaction, meaning more traps and gizmos, as well as some sly level-based storytelling (not to mention Knuckles and his favorite hobby of throwing a lever to send Sonic tumbling into the next level). It’s a fast & furious entry in the Sonic canon you may have missed, and you can now take this game with you, playing as Sonic or Tails on the road.
The Shinobi entry features a team of color-coded ninjas and music by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro. Smooth layout and clever level design mask an awesomely difficult game: rather than getting it’s difficulty from constantly bombarding you with enemies and traps (which would certainly have fluttered the Game Gear’s framerate), Game Gear Shinobi features lots of carefully laid out areas that require precision timing and quick thinking. Easy to throw yourself into, and difficult to master.
And despite my ardent fandom of all things Shinobi, Dragon Crystal is in many ways my favorite entry here. Following in the footsteps of Fatal Labyrinth and based on the sprawling roguelike games of yore, Dragon Crystal is a top-down RPG featuring a huge number of weapons and endless exploration. The game sees you awake in the middle of a dangerous forest — the only way out is through, and also, you begin your journey followed by a large, unhatched egg. If that doesn’t say adventure, I don’t know what does.
Dragon Crystal also features an element of old school RPGness that illuminates exactly what is meant by old school: namely, you will find rings and potions that do something, you know not what — the only way, as in real life, is to don or quaff these items, and see what happens. They may help, heal, or hinder, but regardless of the outcome, the game is both surprisingly deep and addictive.
All three games are available now in the Nintendo eShop — check them out and stay tuned for more, including the worldwide release of these titles.
Friday Dec 16, 2011
We have amazing fans. Seriously, we’re constantly surprised not only by your creativity and ingenuity, but also by how willing and excited you are to incorporate SEGA and our games into your special occasions, holidays, and celebrations.
The SEGA Community team is all getting ready for our holiday break, and you’ll see us posting a lot less for the next few weeks as we take time to be with our families, go on vacation, and just spend time relaxing. We’ll be back to posting regularly in January, and we’re excited for all that 2012 has to bring.
But for today, we stop to feature your SEGA and Sonic holiday decorations. Although my wish for a Sonic & friends menorah has sadly not come true again (someone, please… work on this for next year), you guys still have some great SEGA and Sonic love in your holidays. Here we go!
This Sonic figure was hand-made by Cara, (aka @bluesonikku) who has sent us her adorable creations for Sonic’s birthday the past 2 years. Unfortunately, both birthday scenes have been broken — the first by us (someone accidentally knocked it over), and the second by the postal service (it arrived in a billion pieces).
But luckily, she sent us a winter scene which arrived and remains intact. We took photos of it in our Green Hill Zone cube (yes, we still have it), and many people have been by to admire it. Personally, my favorite part are the two tiny hats keeping Sonic’s ears warm. Thanks again, Cara — we always enjoy seeing your work.
This photo of her videogame tree, which includes Sonic at the bottom left, was sent to us by @malorijones.
Sonic’s got a candy cane in this photo, sent to us by @amy_hedgehog.
Feliz Navidad, Super Sonic! Sent to us by @1122andy.
This Shinobi ornament comes to us from Mia.
Sonic in a Santa hat, along with a bunch of games, was sent to us by @cadubogik.
Jeremi on our Facebook page sent us this awesome tree.
This Sonic tree came to us from Esmeralda in Honduras!
More Sonic on trees, this one from Kristin.
Another holiday Shinobi, this one from Kori-Maru.
A cute Sonic tree topper from Luis in Portugal.
Who wouldn’t love to see all the SEGA gear under the tree? This was sent to us by Brandon in Wisconsin.
Kirsty in Wales sent us a photo of her pink tree, which has several Sonic characters in it. Can you find Espio?
More great Sonic and friends trees, this one from @xninplay.
Sonic sits atop the tree at Dan’s house in the UK.
This Sonic stocking is Jeremy’s. I admit that I’m sort of jealous!
Dave sent us this photo of his Sonic Christmas Tree Fairy that he got from Sonic the Comic (UK Edition) when he was 11 years old. It’s recently been rediscovered, and now sits atop the tree for his children to enjoy. Now *that’s* some true Sonic Generation-al sharing. +1 for nerd dad credentials!
Thanks for sending in your photos, and to everyone for bringing SEGA and Sonic into your homes this holiday season. You can see all the photos we got on our Flickr.
From our SEGA family to yours… Happy Holidays!
Friday Dec 02, 2011
Shinobi is available now on the Nintendo 3DS. To help celebrate, we’re proud to present part three of our video series for the game. Titled “Unlock the Secrets”, the trailer offers a look at some of the achievements in the game, as well as unlockable concept art, characters, challenge maps and more. Producer Stephen Frost and myself return once again to discuss the replayability in Shinobi, the 3DS Street Pass feature and how the game rewards both hardcore and new players.
We hope everyone is enjoying Shinobi and taking the time to unlock all of the Street Pass maps! I’d love to see some playthrough videos of folks that really kick ass in these, so if any pop up, please please post them in the comments below.
Tuesday Nov 22, 2011
In this new behind-the-scenes video on the making of Shinobi for Nintendo 3DS, you’ll hear from the game’s producer and the SEGA blog’s own Julian! Learn about scoring and gameplay, and see Julian not wearing a hoodie!
Wednesday Nov 16, 2011
Our newest trailer up today for the now released Shinobi on the Nintendo 3DS goes into a deeper dive than our previous updates. The trailer is more of a behind the scenes, a look back at working on the product, and a more detailed look at the elements that brought the game from an idea, to an actual physical release. First up is History, which discusses what it means to be a Shinobi title, rather than just a ninja hack and slash, and how you go about modernizing the game while still keeping the core mechanics and classic appeal.
Like I said – detailed, but not exactly avoiding the tough questions about building a Shinobi game for the modern gamer either. So what do you think? If you’ve played the game, we certainly want to hear from you! We’ve seen a lot of strong feedback from those on other forums who have picked the game up and am loving it, look for a review update soon!
Tuesday Nov 15, 2011
Today is Shinobi launch day here in North America and our lucky European folks have had Shinobi for a few days already! We have a new launch trailer detailing some of the 3D focused gameplay, including some of the tougher level sections that you’ll be encountering in the game! Keen eyes may spot some secrets too, but you’ll have to view it for yourself to catch them…
If you’ve caught our recent updates, you’ll already be pretty familiar with the game. For those that aren’t, Shinobi returns as a full featured title for the Nintendo 3DS. The campaign will challenge you, introducing some new tactics and abilities. Don’t get scared purists, they’ve added a push-to-block parry that enables you to block everything in the game, providing you can time it correctly. Easier at first, then building and building into some intense challenges. There’s plenty more including
One-hit-one-death Street Pass maps that unlock through proximity to other ninjas in training.
We’re really excited to see the game release and can’t wait to see the feedback from fans. Also, for those that have the game – I want gameplay videos of the Challenge / Street Pass maps, get uploading and post them here!
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.
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.
Monday Nov 07, 2011
Shinobi, Swinging Swords Like—
In which Joe Musashi saves hostages and teaches a generation the art of jumping with great precision.
So — let’s talk about SEGA’s history. Let’s talk about arcade games.
SEGA was, first and foremost, a company bred in the arcades, with a history that dates back a mind-boggling seventy years, to 1940 (when they made coin-operated games for servicemen overseas). These were mostly “coin operated amusements,” arcades pre-electronics — all of that is just the past, of course, and the past is prelude: the SEGA that I grew up with made its name in the 1980s with games coaxed masterfully from games like Hang-On and After Burner.
Talk to anyone who played games in the 1980s – games were hard then. I know everyone says this — us increasingly old gamers, with kids all over our lawns, who remember putting quarters into machines in dark rooms that smelled like cola and sweat — but it’s important to understand. This was for a reason: these early games were bred in the arcade, where games had to balance being fun and being challenging. If they were too easy the games didn’t collect enough quarters; if they weren’t fun, people didn’t play.
Enter Shinobi: In 1987 SEGA released this side-scrolling platformer. It stood out for two reasons:
1. It had ninjas.
Built for SEGA’s “System 16” arcade board, the original game had bright graphics, smooth animation, and a killer soundtrack. Controlling a ninja in a video game is about, you know, feeling like a ninja — which means whatever the difficulty, having controls precise enough to make you feel like you are making skill-based decisions as you fight off waves of terrorists, helicopters, and advancing walls made out of some sort of cybernetic spinning Shiva thing.
Some other fun facts from the original game:
I had the Master System version of the game, and it was hard – I recall beating it once, maybe twice, and there were no cheat codes (or if there were, I never learned them). I got pretty good at it – but when I ventured to try the arcade version, it absolutely defeated me. For one thing, the arcade version subscribes to the “we take your money” theory of gaming – one hit and you died. No life bars for you, young ninja!
I finally played further into the arcade version thanks to the Ultimate Genesis Collection – save points and unlimited virtual quarters helped a lot. It’s as demanding a platformer as has ever been made and the emotional payoff for fighting through a difficult series of enemies and jumps is pretty huge.
So why this discussion of arcades and platforming and difficulty? I’ve been playing the new Shinobi — oh yeah there’s a new Shinobi coming out did we tell you?— and it draws from all of these things. There’s a ton of throwback nods to old-school Shinobi goodness, including the break-your-controller difficulty of the bonus stages (tossing ninja stars at ninjas as they do ninja flips at your ninja, ninja-like), as well as the all-time classic, ‘bald-guys-with-pony-tails who throw some sort of boomerang thing at you.’ Just like in Feudal Japan.
More than anything – the new Shinobi is incredibly challenging. You can play it on its more “toned-down” settings, which is fun for sure — but you can also approach it at that ninja-level of difficulty which demands perfection. In my opinion, it speaks not just to my own sense of nostalgia, but to arcade history – that balance of fun & difficulty which is why a generation of us grew up as gamers in the first place.
Stay Ninja-tuned — there is more to come this week!
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