reviews\ Nov 21, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Shinobi - PS2 - Review

After a long hiatus, ninja games are finally making their way back into our hearts and on our consoles.  With new titles from the Ninja Gaiden and Tenchu series, it’s turning into a great time to be a ninja fan.  The first of these ninja games released is Shinobi, marking the ninja’s first appearance since the Sega Saturn.  The game received a new 3D makeover, a new story, and a lift in the gameplay.  Also, I will say that this was the toughest game I’ve played in a long time.  However, after a long stream of fits and obscenities, I found Shinobi to be a great retelling of a beloved franchise.  The game has a few frustrating flaws, but all in all fans of the series should ultimately be satisfied.


The story of Shinobi follows Hotsuma, the leader of the Oboro ninja clan.  He became the leader of the clan by killing his brother in a duel to the death, something that haunts him to this day.  He has come into the possession of Akujiki, a sword that feeds on souls.  One day, a giant earthquake levels the city of Tokyo, and a huge, golden palace appears in the center of the city.  Soon after, a sorcerer appears and summons hell-spawn to attack the crippled city.  Hotsuma then must fight to uncover the mystery of the golden palace and deal with his haunting past.


Don’t expect stealthy ninja tactics a la Tenchu from this game; Shinobi is a straightforward hack-fest.  The gameplay is very linear- you kill a bunch of enemies and then you go ahead to fight more enemies.  While some would want a bit more depth from a ninja game, I think the arcade-style gameplay keeps the game close to its roots.  The game does throw in a bunch of cool ninja tricks to keep you interested.  As Hotsuma, you can run along walls, perform ninja dashes, and several other nice techniques.  Also, since your sword feeds on souls, you need to dispatch enemies quickly, or else your sword will begin to feed off of your life.  By dispatching foes quickly, you can perform a TATE, which gives you a cool little cutscene in which your enemies fall apart in a hewed mass of limbs and torsos.


As I said earlier, this game is extremely hard.  The combat system has you fighting up to eight enemies at once, and they attack you all at once, not one at a time like a Bruce Lee movie.  The game’s platforming elements are very hard also, requiring you to run along walls and make precise jumps or die.  The bosses on average are very difficult as well.  At one point, you have to fight a giant moth, dodge her fireballs and kill her goons, all the while hopping around on various platforms and trying not to fall off.


The graphical presentation is good overall.  Most of the environments look very nice and detailed, while some are a little plain.  The characters aren’t made up of very many polygons, but the designs are very cool.  The best part of the design is probably Hotsuma’s long, red scarf, which trails behind his every movement.  The game flows along very fluidly without a single hiccup in framerate.  The one bad thing about the game’s graphical presentation is the awful camera, which tends to get very erratic.  Oftentimes the camera will trap itself against a wall or an object and you won’t be able to see your character, and this tends to be extremely frustrating.


The sound is pretty good.  The game gives you the choice of English voices or Japanese voices, which is a nice touch.  The music is an eclectic mix of techno and traditional Japanese music, although it does have a nice old-school flair.


As far as many modern games go, Shinobi is one tough cookie.  Those with the patience to try and tame it will find cool, intense ninja action.  Although a bit on the linear side, Shinobi should please those eagerly awaiting the great ninja game revival.


Reviewer’s Scoring Details


Gameplay: 8.0
The gameplay is fairly simple and very linear.  You basically move forward, kill some enemies, and then move forward again.  The ninja moves are very cool, and the TATE is a very nice touch.


Graphics: 8.0
While the character models are pretty simple and some of the environmental textures can seem a little plain, the game has a great sense of style and the designs are spectacular.  However, the camera angles are awfully frustrating.


Sound: 8.0
The inclusion of both Japanese and English voices is great.  The techno/Japanese traditional music is also pretty good and doesn’t detract from the experience.


Difficulty: Very Hard
Don’t buy this game unless you have an extra 30 bucks, because after you throw your controller out of your window, you might need another one quick.  And while you’re at the store, pick up a wig since you tore all of your hair out.


Concept: 8.9
The story has a number of interesting plot twists, and the characters are well designed.  The game has an excellent sense of style and design.


Overall: 8.0
Shinobi is an extremely difficult, linear, yet well-polished game.  While it has its flaws, the game design is excellent, and the graphics are nice.  However, if you want sneaky ninja action, wait for Tenchu 3, because Shinobi is all action.  


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