Hey, remember when games were hard? I’m talking about an era where you didn’t have the benefit of unlimited ammunition, and the idea of infinite lives was an iota in someone’s weak side of the brain. With the exception of Ninja Gaiden, we don’t really get an idea of what that time was like anymore, though leave it to another ninja to bring it oozing back to the surface. That’s exactly what happens with Shinobi for the Nintendo 3DS.
Produced by Griptonite Games and released by the good ol’ development team at Sega, Shinobi delivers exactly what it needs to on the 3DS – plenty of teeth-grinding, difficult action coupled with gorgeous 3D visuals. The plot is nothing new – Joe Musashi sets forth to slice and dice evildoers while on a crusade to do what’s right, using whatever ninja tools are in his arsenal – but it’s the side-scrolling stuff that’s important here. You’ll easily be reminded of some of Joe’s greatest adventures on the Genesis, including Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. That’s when you know you’ve done a reboot right.
Along with side-scrolling segments where you’ll use your sword and throwing blades, deflect incoming attacks, and occasionally using a grappling spear to grab ledges above, you’ll also deal with cool little 3D segments. These include a car chase that will have you leaping from car to car while missiles fly into the screen, and a classic horse riding sequence where your steed will have to act as dexterously as you do. There’s also some occasional puzzle solving in certain parts of each level, such as making your way down a super-spiked structure without taking too many hits to your life bar.
In addition to his weapons and defensive moves, Joe once again enables the power of ninja magic, with various types to choose from. Once a stage, he can unleash it, devastating everyone on screen (or, at the very least, damaging a boss) and then proceeding on his merry killing way. It’s good to see Griptonite hasn’t forgotten about the importance of ninja magic.
You’ll need it, too, because Shinobi is a beast. We’re talking the kind of difficulty setting that’ll throw you off guard if you aren’t prepared for it. The first couple of stages are deceptively easy, but as the game picks up, you’ll be testing your very limits for survival. If you were the type of person who cursed the existence of the Ninja Gaiden series, perhaps you should stick with something better suited to your game skill level – like Nintendogs.
The controls are spot on, as Joe’s maneuvers handle perfectly. So, if you do screw up, it’s something you did, not the developer. We especially like being able to do a somersault ninja star throw like in the old days, though it is kind of a cheat that they refill shortly after using them. Hey, you need every advantage you can get. The riding sequences are cool, too, though the isometric 3D view takes a mild bit of getting used to.
The graphics are nice for 3DS standards. There are times when things look a bit fuzzy, and we’re mildly disappointed that the anime-style cinemas don’t show in 3D, but everything else, from the eye-popping environments to the varied enemies, look fantastic. The music is equally impressive, with an array of techno-style tunes that sound like they came straight from Joe’s murder-tinged mind. Sound effects are minor, but, hey, it’s the blood spilling that counts.
Along with the main game – which will take you a few hours to get through – you can unlock additional ninja challenge missions, either through bumping into folks via Streetpass or using Play Coins earned over the course of the game. These are actually just as difficult as the later missions in the game, so make sure you’ve got your patience level built up before tackling them. One hit, and you’re toast.
To be honest, if a ninja stars in a game, you’re bound to have your hands full just trying to get through it alive. That’s pretty much a rule of thumb – from what we learned through Ninja Gaiden, anyway. Shinobi runs in a similar way, with plenty of exciting action to take in, provided you have the skills to keep up. If you do, you’ll be promptly rewarded between the pinpoint controls and luscious visuals. Those Miller Lite ads put it best – “Man up!”