It's not a stretch to say that younger gamers may not understand the impact Shinobi had on Sega. Lately the Shinobi series has had one disappointment after another, from the awful Saturn title to the mediocre PlayStation 2 resurrection. But twenty years ago Shinobi was one of Sega's greatest franchises. It spawned a number of amazing sequels, including Shinobi III, a game that is still regarded as one of the best 2D action games ever made. But not every old school Shinobi experience was great, and fans who want to go back and revisit the game that started it all may be in for a rude awakening.
This is Shinobi on the TurboGrafx-16, a port of the popular arcade game that started it all. This is in no way a bad game, but if you're the type that wants to go back through this 2D action game then you better be ready for a grueling experience. Shinobi is a very difficult game that is often unfair and will likely drive you up the wall. While cheap hits and unfair enemies were the norm back in the 1980s, Shinobi is on a level all its own. This game is so frustrating that you may wonder if it's actually worth going through. And as a fan of the series I hate to be the one that says, maybe it's not worth going through after all.
True to its arcade roots, Shinobi doesn't spend a lot of time on story. You play a ninja who throws out shurikens and is about to fight every bad guy you can imagine. This pretty much sums up the entire game, which is all you really need for a game of this type. While other ninja games were spending time with storylines (see: Ninja Gaiden), Shinobi didn't need any of that. It was content to just be a kick ass action game that had you fighting gang members, samurais and other ninjas. And did I mention that you also get to fight Spider-Man? Yeah, that's almost worth playing the game just to see that. Almost.
The storyline isn't the only thing that is practically non-existent; your ninja only has a few moves at his disposal. In fact, it might not even be a few. He can throw his ninja stars, he can crouch, he can jump and when he's in a bind he can bust out his special ninja magic. That's it. Outside of those moves he is on his own, which means that you won't have to deal with hand to hand combat or any acrobatic moves. Given the game's age (it was originally released in the arcades in 1987) the lack of moves wouldn't be too alarming, but the game play certainly feels a bit shallow by today's standards. Having said that, it's worth saying that these few moves are more than enough to get the job done ... if you're willing to memorize the levels and put up with a punishing difficulty.
There are a few things that make Shinobi feel a lot tougher than it needs to be. One problem I had with the game is that every time you die you will have to play the entire level over again. While the levels aren't especially long, it is a pain to have to fight your way through the entire level just to die at the end. It's also worth mentioning that the game doesn't want you to succeed. There are moments when you feel like you are home free just to have a bad guy jump on your head from out of nowhere. It's this kind of thing that seems unfair and will no doubt make you want to stop playing the game altogether.
And then there's the fact that a lot of the enemies are hard to kill. There are more than a few types of enemies that will block all of your attacks and require specific timing to kill them. This would be fine if you were only dealing with one or two enemies at once. But when you're going up against these enemies you'll find that more and more baddies enter the screen ultimately making it difficult for you to advance. This is especially true towards the end of the game where the difficulty goes from frustrating to downright impossible.
This TurboGrafx-16 port may have been released two years after the original arcade game, but don't expect any kind of graphical enhancements. The game looks very similar to the arcade game, which is probably a good thing in the long run. For what it's worth the TurboGrafx-16 port does look better than the 8-bit Sega Master System game.
To this day Shinobi is a fun game that is easy to love, but it's hard to recommend the game due to its unrealistic difficulty level and unforgiving enemies. There are better Shinobi games out there, even if none of them have been released in the past ten years. If you're looking for a great Shinobi game then check out the third installment on the Genesis (which was also released on the PSP and PS2 recently), it's best to leave this original game in the past where it belongs.