(MD / Mega Drive)

The Revenge of Shinobi (MD / Mega Drive)

Game Review

The Revenge of Shinobi Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Joe Musashi returns in what is arguably the best ninja game ever

There’s a common assumption that a console’s best titles come towards the end of its lifespan. This is mainly because developers take time to get to grips with a new machine’s power and as a result you have to wait a couple of years before you see what each console is truly capable of.

With this in mind, it’s rather ironic that some of the 16-bit era’s greatest games were actually released when their respective platforms were young. Super Mario World on the SNES is a good example, as is the Game Boy's pack-in title Tetris. An equally valid case in point is The Revenge of Shinobi on the Mega Drive / Genesis (also known as The Super Shinobi in its native Japan), a game which hardcore Sega fans hold especially dear in their hearts even after all this time.

Launched in 1989 (less than a year after the Mega Drive’s Japanese debut) the game is a sequel to Sega’s hugely popular 1987 Shinobi arcade title. The player once again assumes the role of Joe Musashi as he attempts to thwart the nefarious plans of the shadowy criminal organization known as Neo Zeed, the successors of the equally naughty Zeed gang that caused so much trouble in the prequel.

The game is divided into 8 stages which are each split into 3 individual levels. Gone are the hostages that required rescuing in Shinobi; to complete each section, Joe merely has to reach the exit. The action isn’t confined to typically Japanese locations; while Joe has to battle his way through his fair share of Japanese temples and bamboo forests, he also finds himself in other more unusual environs, including a military base, an ‘80s style disco and even a vehicle-strewn freeway. The sheer variety displayed in the level design is one of the many things that contributes to the game’s overall appeal; you really don’t know what’s coming next.

Being a ninja, Joe relies on his shuriken (which can be thrown in the general direction of nasty-type enemies) and his katana (which is reserved for close-quarters combat and for those times when Joe’s stock of shuriken is depleted). Joe is a pretty sprightly fellow; he’s capable of performing double-jumps in mid-air which come in very handy when avoiding enemy projectiles. Executing a double-jump is trickier than you might expect as you have to get your timing absolutely spot-on and press the button at the apex of Joe’s jump. During this manoeuvre it’s also possible to spray your foes with multiple shuriken by pressing the attack button.

As you progress through each stage you’ll encounter crates which can be smashed to reveal bonus items. These range from additional shuriken (you have limited number although a crafty cheat can be used to gain an endless supply of these lethal weapons) to health packs (unlike the original Shinobi – which featured one-hit kills - Joe has a health bar).

You can also pick up a power symbol to enhance Joe’s attack ability. Once collected, Joe’s shuriken will gain even more kinetic energy which enables them to break through the defences of enemies which would ordinarily block them. In his powered-up state, Joe is also able to deflect certain on-coming projectiles. When gleefully hacking away at bonus crates one should always err on the side of caution, however; as well as containing tasty goodies some are booby-trapped with time bombs.

As well as his trusty shuriken and deadly ninja blade our pyjama-wearing hero also has access to four unique ‘Ninjutsu’ arts: Ikazuchi envelopes Joe in a lightening shield which will absorbs four enemy attacks; Karyu showers the screen with columns of flame; Fushin ensures that Joe can jump higher than normal and finally there’s Mijin, which is the most powerful spell in the game and results in Joe exploding and sacrificing one of his lives. These arts can only be used once per level, although it’s possible to pick up additional Ninjutsu icons from bonus crates. Mijin is the one exception to this rule as using it automatically grants Joe an additional Ninjutsu usage.

It would be remiss to talk about this classic game without touching upon the zany use of well-known fictional characters from other media. The first version of the game released in Japan featured numerous tongue-in-cheek references to a wide range of famous comic-book and movie stars. For example, there's an Incredible Hulk-style muscle man who turns green as he takes damage, only to turn into a Terminator-style robot when he's close to death. There's also a Spider-Man villain who clings to the ceiling and transforms into Batman when you've dished out enough punishment. In addition to these not-so-subtle homages, there's a massive Godzilla-like end of level boss and enemy soldiers that bear more than a passing resemblance to Rambo.

Sega obviously got into a bit of hot water regarding these characters as it released several revised versions of the game which removed the offending sprites and switched them for different ones. By the time the final version came around, Batman had been replaced by a lookalike, Godzilla was nothing but a dino skeleton and the Rambo-soldiers had become generic grunts with bald heads. However, Spider-Man remained (thanks to the fact that Sega had licensed the character for Spider-Man Vs. The Kingpin, which was released shortly after on both the Mega Drive and Master System) and was even given a proper credit on the title screen. This Virtual Console offering is missing that all-important credit, but what has replaced Spidey as the level six boss? Ah, that would be telling!

Considering the age of this game and its status as a particular early release in the life of Sega’s 16-bit contender, the quality of the both the graphics and sound is nothing short of remarkable. Visually it’s a joy to behold, which well-animated sprites and superbly detailed levels. It could be argued that a little more colour wouldn’t have gone amiss but many fans prefer The Revenge of Shinobi’s grittier presentation to that of its sequel Shinobi III (Super Shinobi II in Japan), which adopted a more vibrant approach that didn’t please everyone.

Musically though, there can be no such misgivings. Yuzo Koshiro’s masterful soundtrack has gone down in history as a chip tune classic and is solid proof that the Mega Drive’s much-maligned sound hardware is capable of some truly breathtaking audio. Every single track is an instant classic; it’s a testament to their timeless quality that many of Koshiro’s Shinobi tunes have been performed in live concerts over the years.

Naturally all of these factors add up to an extraordinary game, but there’s one other reason for The Revenge of Shinobi’s high level of esteem: it’s actually a challenge to play. Many early Mega Drive / Genesis games were criticized for being far too easy and not offering convincing value for money. While The Revenge of Shinobi certainly isn’t frustrating, it does take some skill to complete it on the normal setting.


It may have taken quite some time to get here, but the Virtual Console release of The Revenge of Shinobi is an event which should be celebrated with considerable gusto. This is a game developed when Sega was firing on all cylinders both creatively and in gameplay terms, and is thoroughly deserving of being called a solid-gold classic. If you’ve experienced its charms previously then chances are you’ve already downloaded it; if you haven’t then you’re in a for a real treat.

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User Comments (42)



pixelman said:

Woah, is this out in US yet? Gah, why do you Europeans always get the good VC games first?



Kenny said:

Great review:-) this is the first of the 3 reviews on here im going to read today
EDIT ^^ CURSE YOU ^^ jkjkjk this happen yesterday with the football game also i cant get a 1st



Dazza said:

@pixelman No there is no saving in this game, but it will only take you about 45 mins to complete if you are good. If you need a break you can simulate a long pause on the Virtual Console with the game suspension feature of course.

Great review Damo, you summed it all up nicely as always. I'm gonna download this tonight and find out what has become of the level 6 Spidey/Batman boss you big tease!



blackknight77 said:

Good review Damo
This game is good although I still think I enjoyed part 3 more. Anyway this is a good addition to the VC library. Perhaps a certain arcade game will be next

For anyone who owned the Sega 6-pak on the Genesis we now have all games on the VC but one. The 6-pak included Sonic, SOR, Golden Axe, Columns, Revenge of Shinobi, and Super Hang-on. I wonder when Super Hang-on will make its VC debut.



Jazzem said:

Excellent review Damo

This is a superb game that I played back in the day, but could never get that far into due to its difficulty. I've really come to appreciate it in recent years, it's an incredibly well designed game. Its only gripe might be that it's a little too slow, otherwise it's a 16-bit classic!



Link79 said:

After playing Shinobi 3 for the first time when it came out on VC I'm definetely planning on getting this one. I don't see how it could possibly be as good though. Too bad those comic book bosses will likely have been changed for this release. Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi are about the best ninja games ever!



DDR_Paladin356 said:

I want this game! Hurry to america...aka nintendo, dont ignore this Gem, because it rules and it needs an american release!



Ristar42 said:

Back in the day could get to the final boss but one tough, great game.
Sorry to go on about this - but as a PAL gamer, 50hz hurts it (I'm assuming that is how it is presented, like everything else on the Megadrive), I just cant bring myself to play it all slowed down and slightly squashed...



James said:

I played this game a lot when I was younger - it's easily my favourite Shinobi game, although I am a big fan of the original Master System version too.

Can't believe you scored this higher than Shadow Dancer, though...



Kawaiipikachu said:

You know the intreasting thing is with the Spidey removal that the Tectoy/AtGames pocket megadrive still got the Spidey credits at the bigining at the game but i never gotten far enouth in it to actally see Spidey himself .



Kobayashi said:

This game is overrated. Shinobi 1 (Arcade Version) is easily the best of this series.



cheese said:




James said:

@Dazza - good point! I meant "rated" not "scored" - Damo said it's the best ninja game ever, but I know how much he loves Shadow Dancer so I was surprised.



Dazza said:

@Prosody I love all 3 of the Shinobi games on the Mega Drive. They are all very different and each have their own individual merits. Personally I think Shinobi III is my favourite as I love using the double-tap dash move!

Damo's little Spidey secret is out now! lol




Chunky_Droid said:

I agree about the music, not many people could actually use the Genesis' audio capabilities properly, and had really crappy sounding audio, this however (and games like Sonic the Hedgehog) used it to its full advantage, and sound truly awesome.



RetroNL said:

@Pixelman: That is not entirely true, you people got Secret of Mana and Kirby 3 earlier (allthough I know Kirby 3 is import for us.)

Now for the game: I played this game as a kid and still have the cartridge, I allways loved the game for what it was. But a 9/10 is a bit over the hill, I should say an 8 - 8,5 although thats not possible so I go for an 8.
I am going to have this on VC for sure btw.



Yatesy said:

The Revenge of Shinobi is one of the greatest video games of all time, and thoroughly deserving of its 9/10 score. The review gets it bang with the music- it's second to none.



Metang said:

I think I had the original version (the one with Spiderman, Godzilla etc.) on my old Genesis, and I loved it. I lost it five years ago.

I completely agree with the score. Great review Damien!

This just has to come to the states!



b_willers said:

I really want to play this now, but I think I'll be getting the Megadrive collection on PS3 which has the third game so I'll settle for that.



SuperMarioFan1995 said:

@14: Ristar, seriously, I don't even think this is slowed down. I downloaded, played it then it wasn't slowed down. I'm afraid your quite wrong. 50hz is not bad. So why bother?



ICEknight said:

@redflicky- Yes, these games do run too slowly at 50Hz, a speed at which they weren't designed to run. If you haven't played them at 60Hz you just don't know what you're missing. They can make them run at 60Hz without any effort, so why not? (Also, continuous exposure to a 50Hz display does much more damage to your eyes, if you didn't know)

And since my previous post was deleted (lol forum censorship), I stand by my point that this site should inform people about any changes made to these games, be it a pink spiderman or anything noticeable. That's something that should differentiate these reviews from, say, Gamefaqs'.



JamieO said:

Just out of interest- Can everyone remember the route through the final labyrinth like level? I remember getting mucho frustration headaches traversing the maze on the original MD cart. Not to mention beating the hair whipping, final boss Zeed fella!



ICEknight said:

@32. redflicky said:
"To me it runs kinda ok."
Thing is, at 60Hz it runs as it was intended, not just "kinda ok". =|
Did I mention that there's no reason at all for them to lock this game at 50Hz, anyway? The reasons why they'd do it are still unknown.



Davva said:

This is one of my all time favourite Sega games, and i've still got the original MD cartridge. I'ts a pretty tough game, I only ever completed the game using the infinite shurikens cheat (I noticed the screenshots have been taken with the cheat running) - that labyrinth level, and then the final boss was really hard. I agree with the previous comments about the music, which was outstanding, and the graphics were amazing (by 1989 standards) with lots of variety and detail in the backgrounds of each level.



D00M said:

This is the best Shinobi out there, and that includes the arcade version. Shinobi III has it's moments (jet-powered surfboard) but never comes close. Took me a long time to finish it back in the day unlike #3 and I even recieved a medal for it, presented by the Queen herself.



SuperMarioFan1995 said:

All of you people on the Internet saying games run too slowly or avoid the game that is in 50Hz. I respect your opinions but I don't agree with them all.

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