As a kid, Shinobi is one of those games that I played over and over again. I even played this game every weekend for a whole summer at one point. Unlike a lot of Game Gear games, it was developed specifically for Sega’s handheld and is quite a bit different than its Sega Genesis counterpart. After all these years have passed, I get to play this game once again, but does Shinobi still hold that same magic? Quite frankly, I have to say yes; Shinobi still has that magic I adored when I was a kid.
Shinobi for the Game Gear is an interesting game because its story ties directly into the main gameplay mechanic; however, the game doesn’t do a good job of telling you that story. Thanks to Wikipedia, I am able to give you some minor details for the story. An evil force has arrived around the suburban area of Neo City, bringing with it terror and destruction. Once this news reaches Ninja Valley, four highly trained ninjutsu students are sent in to investigate, find and destroy the source of evil. All four students lose contact with the Oboro School of Shinobi and are assumed to be captured. It is up to master Ninja, Joe Musashi, to take on the task of rescuing his fellow Shinobi and destroying the dark forces for good.
At its core, Shinobi is a platformer, but it’s much more than that and this is where the story becomes important to the gameplay. Each of the four lost ninjas (Pink, Blue, Green and Yellow) is being held captive in the four stages available to you from the beginning. You get to pick which level you’d like to tackle, and in turn rescue the ninja from that level. Once you make it through the level and beat the boss, which is the colored ninja in question, they become playable.
Shinobi is a typical sidescrolling platformer with jumping and attacking, but each ninja has different abilities which add to the basic structure of the gameplay. Red Shinobi is the basic Shinobi and uses a sword to defeat enemies, Pink Shinobi throws bombs and can climb on ceilings, Yellow Shinobi can walk across water and throw charged shots at enemies, and so on. Each Shinobi also has their own special ability; Red’s ability can wipe out all the enemies on screen for example. Of course there are more, but without going into this too much, you can easily see that having this kind of variety adds a lot to the gameplay experience. Actually, this game’s structure could easily be compared to that of the Mega Man games.
Levels are nicely designed and include areas such as a waterfall, a harbor, a forest and even city traffic. Shinobi is hard and is designed to frustrate you. Enemy placement is sometimes downright mean, and boss patterns can be cruel. However, saving the right ninja and then using them in the correct stages will lower the difficulty; it also adds a small strategic element to the game.
4/5 D-Pads: Overall, Shinobi is a lot of fun with its challenge never becoming too overwhelming. I love the ability to play as multiple ninjas and feel it adds a unique element to the game. Its level structure is basic, but good, even if a little frustrating at times; however, having the right Ninja for the job makes things easier. The game also features a stellar soundtrack composed by chiptune master, Yuzo Koshiro, who is responsible for other great games such as the Streets of Rage series. My only complaint would be that the game isn’t exactly the prettiest, but it isn’t bad enough to detract from the experience.