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Shinobi
Review By:  Steve Carlin
Developer:  Overworks
Publisher:  Sega
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  2-27-03

Ninjas are awesome. You canít deny it. If youíre like me and most of the general male population, you wasted many hours of your youth pretending to be a ninja or a Power Ranger or whatever. Remember the Power Rangers movie when they went all martial arts? Yeah, good movie. Ninjas rule. Probably the damn coolest thing next to pirates. Arr!

Anyways, the point is that I love ninjas. Who wouldnít want to be quicker than a blink of an eye, and wield a sword that can cut straight through paper? While Shinobi wonít turn you into an instant black belt, it helps to immerse you in a world of your childhood dreams. Hoo-hah!

So when I got Shinobi for Christmas, you can imagine that the first thing I did after opening everything else was pop that baby in. I turned on my PS2 and was immediately wowed by the title theme (chock full of instruments that give it that Japanese zing), and was then treated by a very impressive cinema. The scene does a good job of setting up the story, explaining how Hotsuma (the main character of the game) got to where he is as leader of the Oboro clan, and the current conflict taking place in the city of Tokyo. After that I watched him dive out of a helicopter, thrust his sword through a skyscraper to slow his fall (I love this guy), and land on the concrete road. Hotsuma looked behind him and saw two undead ninjas ready for battle.

Let the fun begin. *cue Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting*

I press and hold R1 to lock onto one of my antagonists as I dash up to him. He swings, so I press circle to jump and dodge. I land, press triangle to chuck a shuriken and paralyze him. I then follow by double-tapping square to play some slice Ďn dice. Iím still holding R1, so I immediately lock-on to his accomplice. This one is cake: I approach him, and quickly tap left while pressing X. This makes Hotsuma pull a stealth dash around him, disappearing and reappearing behind the evildoer. Shwing! Didnít even see it coming. The controls are that simple. With the lock-on function, you donít have to worry at all about where youíre swinging because youíll constantly be looking at your target. If you feel like switching targets, simply press R2. Canít see in front of you? Press L1 to center your camera. L2 is reserved for ninjutsu, a special type of ninja magic that can be used in three different ways. Temporary invincibility, a shockwave charged sword, or explosion of fire: pick your punishment. The camera can sometimes get annoying, but the controls in this game are perfect.

Did I mention that this guy can run on walls? Iím loviní it!

I soon learned that the key to the combat system of Shinobi lied in my ability to perform a Tate kill (pronounced TAH-tay). Whenever youíre encountered by a group of enemies, icons equal to the amount of enemies confronting you appear at the top of the screen. Every time you kill one of your enemies, one of the icons lights up in a ball of flame, and the enemy will be frozen in his position. You only have a limited amount of time to kill the rest of the enemies before the first one finally collapses into a pile of limbs. If you manage to kill all of them theyíll all die simultaneously and youíll occasionally be treated to a nice blood splattering cut-scene. You can even pull this off on bosses, so go and impress your friends as you take out that gigantic spider in one hit. The reward for pulling off a Tate? Supreme self-satisfaction.

Have you played and completed any Contra? Is Metroid your idea of a relaxation game? Do you complain about how Final Fantasy isnít the way it used to be? Do you sit on your porch and spit at ten-year-olds? If you answered yes to any of the first three questions, then Shinobi is for you. If you answered yes to the last question, then Iím coming over and kicking your ass for the saliva you got in my eye.

This game is hard. Very hard. The first few stages arenít that bad, and do a good job of easing you into it. Once you get used to it, they decide to throw everything at you. When youíve got three knife-wielding dogs and two shielded ninjas staring you down, you better be ready to pull of some tricky moves. You will die. A lot. I have thrown my controller at the television screen many times in fits of rage. If you are not a patient gamer, then stay far, far away from this game. And you know what scares me? This game has a hard mode. %#@$!

Now this is all good. I love a good challenge. Thereís nothing better than the feeling you get after dominating the final boss of one of the hardest game youíve ever played. However, the guys at Overworks paired up insane difficulty with the worst possible characteristic: repetitiveness. Holy crap, is this game tedious. One stage consists of the same plain, recycled backgrounds, with the same enemies popping up, only in different combinations. Youíll then progress to the next stage to find a new set of backgrounds and enemies, except now these are recycled over and over. Every place looks the same. Itís ridiculous. Now factor this in with the fact that youíll probably die twenty-some times in each stage. It absolutely kills the game.

A few things save Shinobiís tediousness from sending to the dump with all the rest of the crap. Like I said, its combat system is wonderful and addictive. Nothingís more satisfying than pulling off a Tate on ten enemies. Also, you get graded for your performance in each stage, ranging from A to C. The grades depends upon how fast you completed it, how many enemies you killed, how many hits it took to kill the final boss (a one-hit kill can be done using Tate), etc. There are artifacts hidden throughout each stage, too. Could getting straight Aís and all thirty artifacts unlock some hidden goodies? Who knows? Overworks also attempted to integrate a storyline into the game, but failed miserably. There is no story at all in the actual gameplay, so all of it is told through the cinema scenes. It does a terrible job of pulling the gamer in. Honestly, I donít know what the heck is going on. It doesnít really matter, though, since Shinobi isnít exactly a game made for a story. Itís made for the action, where it succeeds brilliantly.

HIGHS:

  • Beautiful controls
  • Insanely difficult
  • MmmÖ TateÖ
  • Hidden goodies?
  • Ninjas! Woo!

LOWS:

  • Ludicrous repetition
  • Camera can be annoying at times
  • Terrible storyline
  • Ö Thereís a hard mode? Hold me.

FINAL VERDICT:

Shinobi was a blastÖ for the first thirty minutes. After that, the game slowly started to decay. When you see the same things over and over, itís hard not to get bored. If Overworks took a little more time to spice this game up, it could have been so much more. Itís still fun, despite its flaws, but Iím not sure if it was worth the fifty bucks I slapped down for it. Itís definitely worth a rental, though. Check it outóyou might just think itís worthy of a purchase.

Overall Score: 6.8

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