For a lot of players, Shadow Dancer is the sequel to Shinobi. Or maybe it was Revenge of Shinobi, also known as The Super Shinobi in Europe. It turns out that neither of these 16-bit classics is Shinobi 2. If you believe the title screen, then The Cyber Shinobi is the proper sequel to one of Sega's best arcade games.
This doesn't look like it started out as a Shinobi title. If you told me that somebody added the Shinobi name at the last second to sell more copies, I would have no problem buying into that crazy conspiracy theory. It plays nothing like the 8-bit masterpiece and is set so far into the future that it barely holds any continuity. This is nothing more than a generic side scrolling ninja game that just so happens to star the grandson of Joe Musashi ... who is also named Joe.
On paper The Cyber Shinobi sounds like every 8-bit ninja game. You walk from left to right hacking and slashing your way through countless bad guys and boss encounters. You start out in the middle of a large city, forced to fight through a large construction site. From there it's off to the harbor, a field, the jungle, a waterfall and finally to the enemy's secret hideout. All along the way you throw ninja stars, swing your sword and kill hundreds of similarly dressed baddies.
Unlike Shinobi, this Sega Master System exclusive forces players to kill all bad guys in an area before opening up the exit. That means that you'll take each stage a little at a time, fighting a bunch of bad guys in an enclosed location surrounded by invisible walls. This slows down the pacing as much as you would think, leading to exhaustion in the very first stage. It doesn't help that none of the weapons are satisfying and the enemies don't change enough to keep things lively.
The bosses are also weak, throwing pitiful versions of otherwise scary fights in your way. Yes, you get to fight a bulldozer, a helicopter and more, but none of these battles are memorable in any way. It's not that they're bad; they just aren't the kind of thing that will stick with you after you've completed the game. Without my notes in front of me, I doubt I would have remembered the completely forgettable bulldozer fight in the first level.
Even if you can get past the slow action and crummy weapons, you're still left with a game that chugs along with some of the worst animation I've ever seen. It's as if they needed to conserve memory and decided to eliminate 90% of the animations. Perhaps they should have taken one of the levels out, because the game is nearly unplayable at this frame rate.
The animation isn't the only presentation problem The Cyber Shinobi suffers from. The graphics are poor, even for 8-bit standards. There are only a handful of obstacles in the stages, all of which repeat ad nauseum. The music is also poor, unless they intended to make my ears bleed. Even the bosses are laughable. Instead of being this huge menacing beast, the bulldozer stands only a little taller than the hero. It's hard not to be disappointed with this game's ugly presentation after seeing how good the original Shinobi looked.
Of course, the real problem is that this feels nothing like any of the Shinobi games. Worse yet, it's never clear why the game is set so far in the future. With a name like The Cyber Shinobi, I expected futuristic power-ups and enemies that teleport around. But alas, that isn't the case. You don't even rescue kidnapped kids. This game is nothing but one disappointment after another. Maybe it's for the best this Sega action game never made its way to the United States.
At the end of the game I was left confused. If this is Shinobi 2, then what about Shadow Dancer and Revenge of Shinobi? In 1993, Sega released Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, so we know it has to be one of those games. I don't consider The Cyber Shinobi to be part of the official canon. After putting more time into the title, I barely consider it a real game.