One of the first titles released in America for the Genesis, The Revenge of Shinobi was one of the strongest Sega had to offer. The reigns of the series were handed to a completely different team than the arcade games, led by Noriyoshi Ohba, who would later direct the Streets of Rage series. In a departure from the rather straightforward arcade action of its predecessor, Revenge ditches the concept of saving hostages and introduces larger, more open levels (and eliminates the need to hold up-and-jump to leap to different levels). The result are levels and bosses that aren’t as tightly designed as before, but at the same time everything feels less rigid. Now Joe Musashi must trek through eight stages to eliminate the evil Neo Zeed terrorist organization. He also gets a life bar, although the amount of shurikens is limited in return.
Thankfully, power-up boxes are strewn throughout each stage, granting weapon power-ups and shuriken refills. Many of them are filled with bombs though, so it’s wise to be careful. One particularly cool move is a midair spinning somersault, which allows you to double-jump higher and throw a powerful barrage of shurikens at once. You also have a selection of four different ninja spells which you can use at any time, including a screen-clearing fire attack (Karyu), a lightning barrier (Ikazuchi), a high jump spell (Fushin), and a ninjitsu that will cause Joe to explode (Mijin), taking away one of his lives, but doing massive damage to everything on the screen. The latter is quite useful, because it also refills your health after using it, thereby skirting the level checkpoint you normally get sent back to when you die.
Otherwise the most valuable power-up, the POW icon, grants fiery shurikens, which deal twice as much damage and gives Joe a new sword with a longer range, which he also uses to protect himself against projectiles when walking forward. Take one hit and it’s gone, though. Keeping with its lineage, The Revenge of Shinobi is incredibly difficult, although Easy Mode grants nine lives.
While almost quaint now, the huge character sprites were remarkable for the time, especially compared to pretty much any NES game. Granted, the pacing is a little bit on the slow side, as Joe just kind of saunters through each stage, but the imaginative designs still hold up well. There are some spectacularly cool boss battles – one early battle is against a room of lasers controlled by a human brain that’s locked in a machine. Another is fought in a disco. Some other particularly memorable levels include an airborne jet plane (be careful not to get sucked out the doors) and battles against fake nuns, who throw off their habits to reveal psycho stripper ninja babes. The entire last level is a huge maze in a Japanese castle, and the final boss battle is a race against time – you fight an evil kabuki master while your fiance Naoko is trapped in a cage, threatened by the rock ceiling about to crush her if you’re not fast enough. Depending on how well you do there are two endings; rescuing your girl and getting the good ending is tough.
The Revenge of Shinobi is also renowned for its soundtrack, created by Yuzo Koshiro. While the music is possibly a bit overrated compared to Koshiro’s other works of the era, like Streets of Rage and Actraiser, there are a number of decent tunes, especially the boss battle “Terrible Beat“.
The designers were also clearly comic book fans. You not only fight against a muscleman who lobs cars at you and slowly turns green as he takes damage, but later bosses include a dinosaur that looks suspiciously like Godzilla, while the most controversial is a battle against famous super heroes Spider-Man and Batman. There are also regular enemies with military outfits and Rambo-style bandanas.
It seems that at some point the copyright holders stepped in and regulated. Even on the Genesis, alterations have been made at least twice. In the second version of the ROM, Batman and Rambo were changed: the former was replaced by a more bestial bat-monster, while the latter all had their heads shaved. The third version includes a copyright by Marvel, indicating that Spider-Man is an official cameo. The fourth version strips Godzilla of its skin, leaving only a skeleton and the internal organs. Unfortunately, it is impossible to distinguish the version by looking at the carts. The first, unaltered version seems to be rather rare, and may not even exist outside of Japan.
During the 1990s, The Revenge of Shinobi saw several more re-releases. Other than the budget Sega Classics release, it was stuck on the 4-in-1 Arcade Classics disc that came bundled with the Sega CD, and later packed in a 5-in-1 cartridge. It was also included on the Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1 for Dreamcast. The Sega Smash Pack release for Windows accidentally included a unfinished prototype of the game on the disc.
After the deal with Marvel ended, The Revenge of Shinobi was left out of many Sega compilations, until it was edited again for digital download on assorted platforms, which recolor the Spider-Man boss to be pink. These versions also change the digitized face on the title screen, since it was originally traced from a promo pic of the show Kage no Gundan, featuring Sonny Chiba.
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