Shadow Dancer
Box Shot
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
Platform: Genesis
Publisher: Sega
Designer: Sega
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Published Date 1990
Reviewed by: Kurt Kalata

I remember a time back in fifth grade when I went bowling ever Monday with my school. At the time, Street Fighter 2 had just come out and everyone said "Screw bowling! Let's play this!" Well, right beside that Street Fighter 2 machine was the Sega classic Shinobi. As much as everyone hated it (one hit kills, mostly) I took a liking to it. Sure, I loved SF2 also, but I think I appreciated this game much more than everyone else. I liked it quite a bit more than the Sega Master System version...in addition to the life meter and silly ninjitsu earning, it just didn't have the feel of the arcades game. It was too slow in comparison.

And Revenge of Shinobi just took in the series in a whole other direction. Since it was a home-only game, it was designed as such. Longer levels, kept the life meter, a choice of ninjitsu, different level structure. Shadow Dancer is the only true arcade Shinobi to make it to the home platforms. While the style is noteably different (and I betcha some won't like it) it's still a fabulous arcade translation.

After defeating the evil Neo Zeed corporation back in Revenge of Shinobi, Joe Mushashi retired with his friend Kato. Unfortunately, as it happened, Kato was killed when trying to rescue some kids. Not only that, but a new terrorist group known as Union Lizard (sounds like a kind of demonic pet store) is taking over New York City. It's up to Joe to not only take vengeance but also save the city from a band of overgrown reptiles!

That little bit about the death of Kato wasn't just to add emotion to the story. Kato had a nice little puppy named Yamato. This puppy grew into a big bad dog, and joins Joe on his adventure. And what does this dog exactly DO, you ask? Well, by holding down the fire button and releasing after a few seconds, Yamato will run forward and disable a nearby enemy for a few seconds. Then you can move in and kill the bad guy. This is a pretty innovative idea, and works very well.

Since it is based off the arcade game, the levels and gameplay are a bit different from other home Shinobi games. They aren't horribly large, but the object is to rescue all of the hostages (many who give power-ups like points, 1-ups, or more powerful weapons). Your main weapon are unlimited shurikens, but you can use your sword when close to an enemy. Additionally, you have ninjistsu to use once in every level, just killing everyone on the screen.

Also, you can only take one hit. However, you only really die if you get hit by a deadly weapon (sword, bullet, fire, whatever.) If any enemy simply bumps into you, you just get pushed back. No harm done. Much of the game requires that you wait in safety until an enemy is vulnerable, then attack (this is where Yamato can be very helpful.) Most of the time, this means ducking under a box under the enemy has to stop and reload his gun while you jump over and attack. Swift and deadly...fun too. It's not very hard, but rookies will probably get frustrated off the bat.

Shadow Dancer has some fairly good graphics. Although you'll never get blown over by them (that fire effect in the first level's getting old), amazingly, they compare very favorably to the arcade game. Nicely detailed, well animated, large characters. Fighting with the Statue of Liberty up close in the background is rather impressive. Except for the first level music, the audio isn't exactly bad...it's just not great either. Plus the noise when you use ninjitsu resembles that of a broken vacuum cleaner. Not good. And the game controls like a beaut. The only thing I'm concerned about is that people may forget that you need to press Up + Jump to jump up a vertical level, as attempting to jump normally on a platform won't work.

While it's a different pace from post other games, that's what Shadow Dancer was intended to be. Pretty much a translation of the arcade gameplay. And as a result, it's a bit short...five levels total, being made of two short sub-areas and a boss. But the difficulty select and no-shuriken mode add to the challenge for long time fans. Shadow Dancer is one of those Genesis classics you should definitely get your hands one.