What is it about Ninjas? From the Teenage Mutant Turtle variety to the Kawasaki kind, the very word itself conjures up images of something cool, fast and dangerous. So it was inevitable that video game developers would seize upon the public fascination with the covert assassins of feudal Japan and spew forth a glut of Ninja themed games.
One of the first was the Sega arcade classic Shinobi (a Japanese term for Ninja), which was released in 1987 and made its way to various home consoles soon after. At the time it was considered ground breaking by some for its introduction of several new mechanics to traditional platform games (intelligent enemy AI, multiple layers within a level, etc) and was a huge hit.
So when the Mega Drive was released in 1989, it was almost inevitable that Sega would make the sequel to Shinobi one of its first big titles. Revenge of Shinobi (or Super Shinobi, as it’s known in Japan) took everything that was great about the original and expanded upon it to create what was easily one of the best games of the then fledgling 16 – bit era.
The awesome opening titles set the tone for what’s to come, as Joe Musashi (for you are he, the titular Shinobi) fends off shuriken with his samurai sword. You are off on a deadly mission to save the beautiful Naoko from the evil Neo Zeed crime syndicate, armed with your trusty sword, your throwing knives and your mystical ninja magic!
Like its predecessor, Revenge of Shinobi is your archetypal action platformer. You traverse each level taking down members of the vicious Neo Zeed army using the attack button, which will either activate your throwing knives or sword, depending on your proximity to the enemy. But watch out, your knives are limited and must be used wisely (although extra knives are plentiful and can be found by breaking open the boxes dotted around each level – watch out for the bombs though!). One of the most useful moves at your disposal is the double jump attack, which enables you to send an arc of knives hurtling towards the enemy. That double jump will also help you reach some of the more awkward to reach places in the game.
You also have your trusty ninja magic, which can be used only once per life or per level and will usually clear the screen of enemies, the exception being in a boss fight where it will usually only cause a few hits at most.
Speaking of boss fights, one of the things Revenge of Shinobi is notorious for is its inclusion of several very famous pop culture characters of the time. At various points in the game you will come up against the following: Spider-Man, Batman, The Terminator, Rambo, Godzilla…. How on earth Sega ever thought they would get away with this without obtaining permission is a mystery, and after several ‘cease and desist’ orders, later versions of the game had these characters altered to avoid copyright infringement. (Interesting side note, some later revisions of the game actually included an officially licensed Spider-Man, owing to Sega obtaining the licence from Marvel for their Amazing Spider-Man Vs. The Kingpin game).
The graphics, although not mind blowing, looked good at the time, and it’s important to remember also that this was a very early 16-bit release, so the lack of detail and 8-bit feel of some of the backgrounds can be forgiven. The title screen still looks great though! The animation and sprites all do their job, but it’s the music and gameplay that really give RoS its lasting appeal. It’s fun, frantic, action packed and can be as easy or hard as you make it depending on the settings you select from the options screen. The legendary Yuzo Koshiro composed the soundtrack and just like his work on the Streets of Rage series, the tunes are instantly memorable, and fit the tone of the game perfectly.
Revenge of Shinobi remains one of the most fondly remembered and well regarded games ever released for the Mega Drive and deservedly so. If you’ve never played it, check it out, you won’t regret it.