Shinobi (3DS) Review
When SEGA first announced that they were putting a new Shinobi game out for the Nintendo 3DS, I really didn’t know what to think. When it was made apparent that Griptonite Games was developing it, I was quite worried that it wouldn’t be up to par. Thankfully, Griptonite Games proved me very wrong and has developed not only a very decent 3DS game, but also a very competent follow-up to the Shinobi series that manages to capture the essence of the arcade series that graced our CRT televisions many years ago. And that’s something to really admire in today’s world of auto-saving checkpoints and hold-your-hand tutorials.
Shinobi follows the series stalwart, Joe Musashi, as he watches his own village get attacked by a rival ninja clan. Joe follows the clues and trails of the ninjas in order to seek revenge against those who attacked him—and that’s it, really. As you would expect in an action game like this one, the storyline isn’t particularly important nor is it that unique or fleshed out.
When the first promotional materials were released, I was pretty convinced that Shinobi was a normal Nintendo DS game that was eventually upgraded and modified for the 3DS. When you first jump into the action, it’s pretty clear that the game could use a little bit more work in the graphical department. The environments are well drawn but aren’t the smoothest nor the sharpest that they could be. Character models are well made but have very jagged-looking edges giving them this crude three-dimensional look that we saw during the early days of the original Nintendo DS’s launch. The game’s animations, however, look great during the cutscenes between missions, and give a level of Japanese authenticity to the game.
My initial apprehension for the game’s appearance was washed away however when I decided to turn the 3D slider to the absolute maximum it could go. Suddenly, the game came to life almost like a pop-up book. Leaves and branches were being torn down and thrown everywhere at varying depths, flames were burning and smoke was rising, explosions were going off in both the foreground and the background, and various structures were falling between planes to create a visually stunning three-dimensional feast for the eyes. Make no mistake—Shinobi does look a little bit rough at times, but the 3D effect is absolutely stunning and it’s great to see a third-party developer properly using them to their fullest potential.
At it’s core, Shinobi is an extremely traditional side-scrolling platformer, designed in very similar vein to the classic Shinobi series that released many years ago. The game employs a rather interesting kind of design, where precision is of the utmost importance to survival. What this essentially means is that the game rewards those who memorise its layouts, allowing players to swiftly run through a level, cutting down projectiles and enemies in their stead while also avoiding any obstacles possible. This kind of design works very well for this game—it’s meant to be about a ninja after all, and it perfectly captures that feel, but this also means that the game is extremely difficult. It would be hard for the player to get through a level without getting hit at least once.
The reason for this is that the game just throws so much at you, and it can be a little bit overwhelming for less experienced players. Expect to have to juggle yourself between moving platforms, enemies slashing at you on the ground, while other enemies make their best efforts to fill the air with projectiles. Mixing all these kinds of obstacles together provides a notable challenge, but if you do get through any of these hectic and intense moments, it has an incredibly rewarding feeling, and you’ll finish the level with more points too. The game does throw a few different scenarios at the player (including a horseback scenario and a car jumping one) though the difficulty does remain quite the same throughout the whole game—you will die, but most players will find great pay-off in discovering ways to at least make it less frequent.
Joe himself possesses quite an arsenal to deal with his enemies, consisting of blades, throwing weapons and a bevy of elemental spells, as well as some trusty utilities to assist in the traversal of levels. The sword itself controls great; players can slash to their heart’s content while also linking certain moves to pull off some rather stylish and nifty aerial combos. The spells themselves deal massive damage and provide some cool buffs to Joe himself. Should you be sneaky enough, Joe can even carry out a stealth attack in order to carry out an instant kill move.
One of the issues I found with Shinobi was the way the game tallies your in-game hours. Once we got through the adventure, the game claimed that we only played for six hours, but we were pretty sure that we played the game for a much longer time period. The reason? Of course, the game only “records” the time that the player makes it through the game without dying, which, as you would expect, happened quite a lot. So, despite having such a low play time, we estimate that we probably took anywhere between eight and ten hours to get through Joe’s latest quest, which is quite a sizable amount of time. The game does offer a great challenge too, so it’s not too easy to breeze through. Players can try to find bonus collectables in order to unlock some “nostalgic” extras, which is a nice touch as most of these coins are not in obvious areas and require a bit of deviation from the usual route.
In terms of the game’s soundtrack, it’s incredibly stereotypical—I would not be surprised if any player had heard the pieces that play during the levels before. Flutes and drums do a great job of adding this distinctive “Asian” flavour to the game’s action, and the very visceral sound effects give the weapons weight too.
Shinobi is a great platformer that surprised me for all the right reasons. The game offers a very compelling, well put together combat system that when combined with just the right amount of difficulty, provides an experience that is seldom seen in today’s video gaming industry. The graphics utilise 3D well, despite looking a bit rough in some places, the soundtrack is good and the presentation is top notch. I really commend SEGA for taking the guts to back such a project, and I hope this is an indicator of things to come. Appearances can deceive, for sure.