System: Sony Playstation 2
Release: November, 2002
Sega is having some trouble as a third party developer. Some of its big franchises are easing nicely into their new homes on other consoles (Sonic on Gamecube or Crazy Taxi). But many of the niche games are selling poorly, and the Sport line was destroyed by EA this year.
Sega has released a bunch of niche type products in 2002, and it appears that trend is continuing with Shinobi. A sequel to the classic side scrolling ninja action games of the 80s and early 90s, Shinobi on PS2 has a fully 3D graphic environment and gameplay.
The gameplay in Shinobi is surprisingly simple. Basically Shinobi is dropped into 3D environments, and has to progress through linear levels defeating bad guys along the way until a boss is reached.
Even though the game is in 3D, much of the game is confined to narrow corridors. There are some wide open spaces, but for the most part the game takes place in confined spaces. In addition, there are not really options for the player to take, it’s just kill ninjas and then move on.
Controlling Hotsuma, the main character in Shinobi, is quite enjoyable. It seems like much of the development was spent on Hotsuma himself, because the actual motion and movements are tuned very well. The jumps and attacks respond incredibly well the controller. Out of everything in Shinobi, the magnificence of controlling Hotsuma is what will keep gamers playing during the extreme frustration.
As far as actual gameplay, Hotsuma has several abilities. Hotsuma can of course attack using his sword and throwing stars. The coolest gameplay is with the ninja stealth move, where Hotsuma can warp as a shadow from one point to another very quickly. It’s that move that can sometimes save the player from certain doom in a group of baddies.
While Hotsuma can randomly attack in 3D, there is also a lock on mode that target specific enemies, like in Zelda. However, in large groups, it is difficult to stay locked on and not incur tons of damage.
The boss battles in Shinobi are among the games’ highlights. Early on the bosses are pretty easy and can basically be wiped out with a special move, later the boss battles are epic in scope and size.
There is no real strategy or puzzle solving in Shinobi. All of the challenge is in fighting off the hordes of enemies, and with platforming elements. And sometimes things get hard. Very hard. Too hard. Only the most hardcore of gamer will stick with the frustration to see the end of Shinobi.
Shinobi is an interesting mixed bag, graphicswise. There are some awesome stylized cutscenes and movies that really give life to the story and characters. The overall art direction of Shinobi is probably the game’s highlight, as the ninjas have an old school and modern feel at once.
The characters in the Shinobi are fantastic. They animate fluidly and have a very cool artistic style that is consistent with the cut scenes as well. Hotsuma himself is the crown jewel of the graphics package, as he moves with grace and attacks swiftly.
However, the environments do not have the same attention to detail that the character models do. They are very generic, and have light amounts of textures, seeming sparse and unpopulated.
As a graphical experience, Shinobi just doesn’t hold up to other 3D action titles on PS2.
Much like the rest of the game, the soundtrack in Shinobi is a throwback to some of the soundtracks of older Sega games.
In terms of sound effects, Shinobi has a ton of great punch and kick sounds, explosions and grunts, and all of them fit the gameplay quite nicely.
Much like Contra, Shinobi is very much a game for the hardcore player. The game itself is incredibly hard, and is quite unforgiving. There are no checkpoints, so death late in a level will result in starting the entire level again from the beginning. Players weened on checkpoints and save points will get easily frustrated at having to play the same thing over and over again even after its been passed.
It’s a bit disappointing for longtime Sega fans to see a former franchise player like Shinobi relegated to a relatively simple game. While there is fun to be had in killing hordes of ninjas using your own ninja skills, some branched paths or more powerups or anything to spice things up would have been nice.
Fun Factor: 5