I must admit to never playing Shinobi much in the Arcades. I was first introduced to it when it was converted to my Amstrad CPC, and I have
to say that I liked it a lot, although this was helped by the fact that it was one of the few Amstrad games to have half decent scrolling!
I later came across the arcade cabinet lurking in the back alcoves of a few holiday arcades, along with the obligatory broken
StarWars sit-in cabinet (vectors "bent" or wrong colour in places, fire buttons knackered, burn marks where "youffs" have stubbed out their
illicit cigarettes inside, etc etc). I occasionally threw a few coins in, but never really got into it. Perhaps this is a good thing as
it means my review won't be affected by the warm tummy feeling of nostalgia.
OK then, it seems to me that Shinobi was something of a classic judging by the number of my mates who swear by it. I originally only
downloaded it for one said mate, but since trying it, it has become a firm favourite of mine too. Shinobi was the first "ninja scroller", and
prompted a whole swarm of cash-ins and rip-offs (Dragon Ninja, Shadow Dancer, anyone remember Saboteur?).
Shinobi casts you a ninja who traverses a sideways scrolling landscape despatching the usual unending supply of ninja fodder: Thugs, thugs
with Samurai swords, thugs with guns, ninja thugs, spidermen thugs(?) etc etc. The object of all this isn't too clear as I only have the
Japanese roms! However, I'm sure I'm not missing too much. There seem to be a few kidnapped young women sitting around which you can rescue
and there are lots of thugs to kick. What else is needed?
First impressions are not particularly awe inspiring. Fairly average graphics with some extremely bland tile based backgrounds (especially the
later levels). Few sprites on screen at once, and plodding gameplay. However, you soon realise that the graphics do their job perfectly well, and
at least keep the display nice and clean, with enemies and bullets easily distinguishable from any background clutter. You soon substitute "stealthy"
for "plodding" and thank your lucky stars that there aren't more enemies on screen at once, 'cus Shinobi is HARD!
Yessiree, none of your namby health bars with medic packs every 5 seconds for our hero. One hit and he's a gonna! To be honest, you can
take a couple of hits from the very basic baddies, but anyone above "mindless disposable thug" level will kill you quicker than a beef sandwich.
Thus the gameplay escapes the usual "run around kicking everyone" syndrome, and instead demands a far more stealthy approach if you want to
stay alive for any length of time. Your ninja also has a number of ninja magic type smart bombs to help out when things get too fraught
I think it is the more thoughtful aspect which makes Shinobi succeed. Things like the fact that you can't shoot a sword welding thug, but must
instead incite him to throw it in order to give you a clean shot. When you have someone brandishing a gun standing behind him too, things get
very tricky indeed, and some thought is needed to get past. Many of my favourite arcade games have lost their appeal when emulated simply because
of the ability to add another credit. It takes away the panic induced adrenaline you used to get having just inserted your last 10p and being a hair's
breadth from finishing the game. Shinobi doesn't suffer from this however, due to it's non-existent restart points! That's right, you have to finish
the whole level in one go. In fact, even when you die you are kicked back to the start again. Many will find this extremely frustrating, but it
certainly adds to the game's lifetime!
You aren't going to be wowed by amazing graphics or set pieces. Later levels just throw greater numbers of the same baddies at you, and the
end of level bosses are hardly noticeable. But Shinobi has smooth scrolling, nicely balanced, clean gameplay, some great understated tunes, a fun
bonus game, and enough difficulty to keep you going for weeks.
Shinobi plays perfectly and silky smooth under MAME32 on my PIII 500. On my dad's P200 it runs like a one legged dog.
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