Shinobi Review

December 12, 2011

Despite being a franchise that developed a considerable following throughout the 1990s, we haven't seen an original Shinobi title since 2003, when it appeared under the name of Nightshade. Now some eight years later, and with the arrival of the Nintendo 3DS, Sega decided the time was right to bring this franchise back into the spotlight. And so sees the release of the fourth title in the franchise to receive the name Shinobi, only this time it's in 3D.

Unlike many of the previous games, the protagonist is no longer Joe Musashi, but Jiro Musashi, his father. The story takes place in the past, but as Jiro tries to protect himself from some seriously powerful magic, he gets inadvertently transported into the future – a future where he bad guys won. From here, he attempts to set the record straight, by bringing down the Zeed.

The story is a little bit confusing due to its delivery. While the cutscenes that take place during levels are pretty cool, they don't do a fantastic job of conveying what is actually going on and you may be left with many questions once you complete the game. Still, it's not all bad, as while it's nice there is a story, this game is all about the action.

Shinobi 3DS goes back to the series' roots by opting to return to 2D, well 2.5D. This means it's primarily a side-scrolling affair, and it's also a rather unforgiving one at that.

As a ninja, you have varying levels of movement and attacks. These range from numerous combos with your sword, the throwing of kunai and various jumps, dodges, ducks and parries.

Despite having a simple premise, the amount of things you can do is rather impressive. Depending on your situation, you'll be able to do different things and you can combine many of the different elements to make a free-flowing path of destruction through the game's levels.

If there's one thing the game makes a core focus, it's precision. And this can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. In the previous 2D Shinobi titles, you were able to sustain a block, but in Shinobi 3DS, you can only parry. The good thing here is that you can literally parry at any time – no matter what you're doing. If you're half way through a sword combo, but there's an incoming shuriken… parry. If you're flying through the air with a bazooka missile coming at you… parry. If you've just parried something and something else happens, you've guessed it, you can parry. The developers also introduced a nice touch whereby, if something has multiple attacks, it'll parry all of them as long as you parry the first one.

The downside is, that the parry time needs to be rather accurate and quick. You can have so many things being thrown at you at the same time, and it's possible to parry them all, but you have to be thinking about parrying, jumping, throwing kunai and attacking all at the same time – it can be a bit demanding. There's nothing wrong with that though, and it's good that games are still being made that test the old reflexes, but modern gamers might find it a bit punishing unless you opt for the easier difficulty levels.

Aside from the core gameplay, there are also some platforming elements, which aren't so great and some on-rails sections which see you having to either move or arbitrarily block objects. They help to break up the action well, but they can become a bit cumbersome after a while, purely because they just go on for so long. It's a shame, but they do pay tribute to the older games, which had similar stages, but in a 2D format.

Ironically, these 3D side-stages are the ones that feel the most graphically inferior, yet they've clearly been designed to try and showcase the Nintendo 3DS. The 2D levels look great and suit the game, especially when there are a ton of different things going on. The stark contrast with the cutscenes may detract for some, but they do have a striking feel to them and they help to convey the tense scenes that are taking place.

In terms of the duration of the experience, there are plenty of levels and if you complete them all first time, they'll take you around 15-20 minutes each – but that's unlikely. Due to the whole time travel element, their style differs greatly as does the array of enemies you'll face. It's great to see and although it does get a bit wacky sometimes, it offers a nice amount of variety. We'll just forget about the annoying maze level that makes an unwelcome return.

Aside from the main story, the game has various accomplishments that you'll achieve as you play through the game and there are also some StreetPass challenges, which will test your ninja skills to the max.

Shinobi 3DS is a solid re-imagination for this franchise and it shows that older-styled games do still have a place on the big systems if developed correctly. Sure, there are still some annoyances thrown in there, like the unnecessarily long 3D on-rails levels, the annoying platforming elements and the return of the maze level. But there's plenty of good in there too. It's a challenging game, but in a good way and if you enjoyed the old Shinobi titles, you won't be disappointed.

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