Revenge of Shinobi
Box Shot
Revenge of Shinobi
Platform: Genesis
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Sega
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1989
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

If you look back at all of the titles that Nintendo had released when the NES first came out, there's two words to accurately describe most of the cartridges: cat piss. C'mon...Kung Fu? Clu Clu Land? URBAN CHAMPION? For a change of pace, four years later. Sega actually released a few decent titles near the launch of the Genesis. One of those games, Revenge of Shinobi, is still a classic to this day.

Joe Mushashi, hero of the Shinobi games, has donned his ninja gear to rid the world of Neo Zeed, the evil crime syndicate who's not only trying to take over the world, but also kidnapped a few people dear to Joe's heart. His journey will take him from the bamboo forests of Japan, across the sea to America (onboard on jet...just don't get sucked out the doors that open!), battle through a car factory (that's something you don't see too often in video games) and eventually to Neo Zeed's maze-like hideout for the final battle.

You can't exactly call it the sequel to the arcade hit's seems like it's "inspired" by its cousin and then the developers took the game in a whole other direction. While you'll undoubtedly recognize some of the elements, plenty has been changed to make it more suitable for the home market.

First off, the whole idea to rescuing captive kids has been done away with. Totally. The objective is just simply to get to the end of the level. Like the arcade original, your main weapon are throwing shurikens, but when you get close enough, you strike with sword slashes, karate kicks, and the like. But now there's a only have limited shurikens, so you have to conserve. There's an especially cool somersault move where Joe, your character, flips into the air and throws eight knives spiralling outward, but since your supply isn't limitless, you have to use this move with discretion. You can regain more shurikens and gain power-ups by destroying boxes consciously placed throughout the levels.

Also unlike the arcade game, Revenge of Shinobi takes a cue from it's Sega Master System counterpart and gives you a life meter. This is very dandy, because you'll definitely need it. But there's a flaw with this system. If you gain enough points, your life meter extends allowing you to take more hits. But if you run out of lives and continue, then the life meter shortens to the length it was at the beginning of the game. Given the fact that the later levels contain TONS of enemies, you REALLY need those extra life bars to survive.

Ninjitsu still exists, but it's more than just a flashy way to rid the screen of enemies. You have four magic powers: Ikazuchi, which will surround your with an inpenetrable lightning barrier; Kariu, which will call flame dragons to kill everyone on the screen; Fushin, to make Joe jump many times higher, and Mushin, to make Mushashi explode (only to be used in the most desperate of situations, since it kills you.) This little magic provides a little workaround though...instead of being sent back to the beginning of the levelwhen you die, you can simply cast Mushin to kill yourself and pick off where you left off, with a full life meter. Alas, you can only use one Ninjitsu per stage (except Mushin.)

Although setting the game to Easy will give you nine lives (and a handful of credits) don't expect any quick walk through this game. The enemies are certainly smarter than most generic bad guys in action games...they somersault, jump deftly and quickly, and attack when least expected. In fact, I'd go so far to say that the enemies attack TOO aggressively, especially since you have such a short life meter at the beginning of the game (and when you continue, as mentioned above.) The bosses border on the annoying side. While it's easy to figure out their pattern, they often take many hits before dying, and often take away obscene amounts of energy when they damage you. A perfect example is the third boss, which is nothing more than a cryogenically frozen brain that controls a system of lasers. All you have to do is dodge the beams and shoot the brain when it comes up...but since you have to damage it so many times, you REALLY start to wish that the battle will end soon. Still, at least you DO get plenty of chances to get through.

You certainly shouldn't expect much visually in a first generation Genesis title, but compared to the competetion of the time (pick any 8-bit NES game) and it easily blows it away...the large characters and detailed backgrounds help it stand out. For some reason, Revenge of Shinobi is regarded to have some of the best music in a Genesis video game, as it was done by video game music guru Yuzo Koshiro. But most of this went right over my head. While none of the tunes are BAD per say, only a few of them are really good (the boss theme and the stage 6, Chinatown tune.) I'm sure I'll receive complains on how I have no taste, but most of the appeal here eluded me (I much prefer Yuzo's work in the first two Streets of Rage games and Actraiser for the SNES.)

Given the furiousity that the enemies attack at, it's possible that you'll get frustrated at how slow Joe moves...seriously, for master of stealth, our hero isn't exactly the speediest chap around. Plus the enemy placement is maddening at times, and there isn't always a way to get around it without using Ninjitsu or getting hurt. Another complication is the somersault must be done perfectly (tap the C button at the apex of a jump) or else it will fail, sending Joe falling straight to the ground. In situations where you need high jumping, this quite frankly ain't cool. The somersault technique is also used to jump from the foreground to background (and vice versa) in a few levels. Fine, you say, what's so wrong with this? Well, if you just want to high jump over some enemies, you instead flip over the fence, sending you to the forefront of the screen, where a bottomless pit lies. Just fabulous.

Though the limits imposed on Joe's movements hurt the game a little bit and the general difficulty also makes it quite a bit on the difficult side, Revenge of Shinobi still provides plenty of old school fun.