If you’re old like me then the name ‘Shinobi’ will no doubt conjure up memories of hours lost hurling kunai at enemy ninja on one of SEGA’s home consoles (yes, I know it also came out on other platforms). The games focused on side-scrolling platforming and combat, and had a reputation for being tougher than thrice-cooked beef. Now we have a new entry bearing the Shinobi name, and it’s on the 3DS.[drop2] The game sees you step into the shoes of Jiro Musashi, the leader of the Oboro clan and father of Joe Musashi, the hero of the first iteration of Shinobi. Fans will be pleased to hear that this newest game has kept the tried and tested side-scrolling formula, with a bit of 2.5D graphical trickery thrown in. You’ll also be scored at the end of each level, depending on quite a varied number of factors, and given a grade.
As one might expect, Jiro is a bit tasty when it comes to fighting. Attacks come in the form of up-close and personal, ranged, or magic. If you’re close to an enemy, you can launch a vicious repertoire of attacks with the katana blade. Avoiding taking damage will see the combo meter increase, thus earning a lot more points and allowing you to strike harder. If your timing is good you can also parry an enemy attack, in turn launching a deadly counter of your own.
To attack an enemy from afar you can launch a kunai (throwing blade) at them. As a nod to older titles, pressing the kunai button in the middle of a double jump will see several thrown out at once, in multiple directions. You need to be smart about this, however, as once used you have to wait for a period of time before the kunai can be used again.
Magic is generally used as a last resort. This is because the game penalises you for using it, docking points when it comes to the end of a level. It’s still handy though, especially with some of the larger enemy types.
So far so good, but Shinobi falls down in several areas. There is a lot of platforming involved in the game, but the whole mechanic never really feels up to the precision needed. Using the Circle Pad, which is selected by default, isn’t a great experience as moving and jumping feels spongy and unresponsive. Switching control to the D-pad improves things a lot, but jumping still lacks weight, making pixel perfect jumps a chore.
The game is also incredibly frustrating to progress through. Now I like a difficult game, in fact the difficulty of Shinobi is why it holds a dear place in my heart, but there’s a difference between ‘tough’ and ‘cheaply designed’. An example of this would be simply navigating between two different platforms. On the platform you’re trying to jump to is an enemy with a chain-gun standing right on the edge, and behind him an enemy with a mortar.
You jump up, you get hit by the chain-gun bullets, fall into a hole and die. However, you persist and this time try to double jump over the chain-gun, at which point the enemy with the mortar fires at you (the only place you can jump is in his line of fire) and you fall into a hole and die. This goes on until, by luck or skill, you manage to take out both enemies, at which point a third is revealed holding a bow and arrow and, guess what, you fall into a hole and die.[drop] The price for failure is also pretty steep. On normal difficulty you get five lives, and when they are up you must start the entire level again. These levels can be upwards of twenty minutes long, and you can feel every second as you tread over old ground, falling into holes and dying.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the variety was there, but halfway through the game it feels like the developers ran out of ideas, and you’re stuck disposing of familiar faces over and over again. This is a pity because the boss battles are actually pretty damn good, ranging from one on one duals to fighting a helicopter with just your sword.
Graphically the game also causes mixed emotions. The character models themselves look terrible, and we know the 3DS is capable of much more. Some of the backgrounds, however, look quite beautiful, as do the comic book style cutscenes. 3D is used well, with objects moving in and out of the level, as well as little details such as snow blowing across the screen.
For those who finish off the main campaign, you can use StreetPass to unlock challenge levels. These levels require you to get to the end without taking damage, as one hit kills instantly. If you don’t like using StreetPass, these levels can be unlocked using the 3DS coins accumulated by using the console as a pedometer.
- Nice combat.
- Good use of 3D.
- Some lovely backgrounds.
- Exciting boss battles.
- Unresponsive platforming mechanics.
- Cheap, frustrating gameplay.
- Having to re-do twenty minutes worth of a level isn’t fun.
I’m aware that some of the cons come across as me being a bit of a whining baby. However, if Shinobi was designed so that every death was your fault I would be more than happy to plough on, honing my skills.
As it stands though most deaths are caused by some cheap, annoying sequence of events like the one I described earlier, and when this is coupled with a control scheme that never feels right it drags a decent game down to something that feels totally average.