I ask should great games be brought back for a new generation to enjoy? This is something I asked myself once more when inserting Shinobi for the first time. Surely it is best to leave one of the finest Sega games ever alone in peace? I still have mixed thoughts after completing the latest Shinobi adventure, but read on please.
Many will be unaware of the greatness of Shinobi and the story that followed the deadly ninja – death and destruction wherever he walked. It is good that no one really needs to appreciate his background to enjoy this latest version. For all the praise of Dante and Devil May Cry you should realise he is a poor imitation of the original avenger. One thing Shinobi was famous for was the difficulty as it was easier to give up, than continue. Hardship is something that I like but if retained, would it scare away players, as did Maximo? Meeting an old friend may seem appealing however you soon realise that they have changed, and you have grown. Nothing is forever.
For now we find ourselves in a barren Tokyo, ruined by a terrible earthquake and cursed with demons who hunt what little life remains. I prefer this version of Tokyo as the current modern day variety contains far more demons if you know where to look. Once more everything rests on your shoulders, you are Hotsuma, the leader of the Oboro clan, and only you can solve the riddle. Sega has given a lavish restoration to Shinobi and the introduction, plus subsequent sequences are wonderfully atmospheric. He may only rely on ancient weapons, skills and knowledge but this is one man you would not mess with.
As with so many games, things have been sacrificised to ensure a stable speed and inclusion of numerous opponents. This is not a stunning game on a graphical level (bland textures, empty levels) yet it contains far more than shallow visual splendour: playability. The historical emphasis and character designs are lavish and remove any doubts over the development put into this title. The soundtrack took me back a few years, it is unoriginal but gets the job, just.
Thanks to the inclusion of a ninja styled stealth dash technique, Hotsuma is supremely controllable and dextrous. Just like Mario’s water pack (as seen in Mario Sunshine) this inclusion opens up whole new possibilities. Primarily its function it to purely aid stealth and remaining undetected however it is fun to practice and see what purposes it offers elsewhere. Certainly you can catch foes by surprise by quickly appearing in a flash of light, before dispatching them ninja style. Sneaking up on an opponent and pulling off a master kill is as rewarding here as it is in Splinter Cell or Hitman 2. Master this function and then your progress will be easier than before.
I know many who have despaired whilst playing Shinobi because it does contain many features of the original games. Today those who fail to rise to the challenge do not appreciate such things as difficulty and skill. Yes in many games you can reach the end by purely hacking away, bashing the same buttons over and over again. Not in Shinobi my friend. Here you will die a thousand deaths if you do not master weapons such as the deadly shuriken or the Akujiki sword. If you die then you start again from the beginning of the level, apart from boss encounters. Your enemies are endless in number and come in various forms of the undead or demons. The staple enemy is the demon ninjas who reminded me of those seen in Ninja Assault. Initially these are nothing more than training dummies for your growing list of skills however further on they begin to flourish, and prove more worthy opponents. In such cases it is not the predictable AI which proves difficulty, but rather the number of enemies on screen at once. Apart from these mercenaries you also have to contend with foul devil dogs and demons themselves. No matter what you face it is essential that you ignore the lock on function, unless it is only one opponent. As with Zelda the lock on function does have its uses but it tends to limit you to frontal attacks, without it you can attack from a variety of angles and achieve more success. Shinobi has a fantastic combat system, one that indeed allows a great deal of flexibility.
The difficulty is not solely based on fighting, as the Shinobi games were full of incredible jumps that required superhuman concentration. These are back, and in force may I add. Not only do you have to contend with straightforward jumps as seen in other games, but also because you are able to double jump and use walls, it is very difficult. Frustrating? Yes certainly, however the emphasis is on skill (co-ordination, judgement) rather than blind leaps of faith. The camera does add to the frustration level, as it is on these sections that it shows it weakness.
As a Shinobi fan I am well versed in linear levels, and again these feature heavily in this version. Whether you love or loathe such rigorous level designs it is entirely a matter of choice, and no developer could hope to satisfy each and every one of us. As the action is constant and the story well scripted you tend to forget the single route, instead focusing on actually reaching the end. This for some will be their greatest challenge on the Playstation 2. For those that manage to reach the end, be prepared for some marvellous extras which help emphasise your achievement and allow you to scream “I completed Shinobi!”