Shinobi (3DS)

Game Review

Shinobi Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Darren Calvert

Shinobi returns for another slice of revenge

Given the current trend of rebooting classic video game franchises it seems long overdue that SEGA should reinvent fan-favourite Shinobi, for both veteran ninja warriors and younger ninjitsu newcomers to enjoy. Entrusted with this great responsibility is developer Griptonite Games, no stranger to developing for the 3DS with Green Lantern and Marvel Super Hero Squad already under its belt.

Rather than playing as Joe Musashi, the ninja protagonist of the classic 1987 Shinobi arcade and its successors on the Mega Drive, this time you’ll step into the nimble shoes of his dad Jiro, who taught him everything he knows. Jiro’s adventure starts out in feudal Japan in 1256, as the leader of the honourable Oboro clan. It’s a typical day defending your burning village from the despicable Zeed clan, but before you know it you’ve been sucked into a vortex and propelled to 2056 where Zeed has amassed a futuristic army of soldiers and genetically modified fiends for you to overcome on your path to victory. Of course.

The 3DS incarnation has most in common with Shinobi III on the Mega Drive, which had a similar futuristic setting, but think of this as much more of a reimagining of Shinobi rather than a remake. In addition to the usual long range kunai attacks and melee katana slices for dispatching your enemies there's much more emphasis on parrying and combos: to parry you have to press the R button at just the right moment before an attack, then you can unleash your fury with some button-bashing sword slices mixed with some throwing knives for good measure. The timing has to be spot-on, so practice makes perfect. If you're playing for points you'll need to master these techniques, as taking even one hit will cancel out your bonus multiplier, but more on that later.

The double jump from The Revenge of Shinobi is present as well as the ability to spray your enemies with a shower of kunai from the air. You can also wall-jump, do a cheeky slide under obstacles and even use a grappling chain to pull yourself up to certain ceilings, or more satisfyingly take down an airborne bad guy. Perhaps the most fun addition is the ability to sneak up on certain unaware foes and do a stealth kill; this is what being a ninja is all about, after all. With all these moves at Jiro's disposal it's a wonder that Griptonite didn’t also manage to cram in the dog from Shadow Dancer for good measure.

Earlier levels are very enjoyable, with secret areas to find, lots of variety and chances to break out the grapple hook and wall bounce while taking out the bad guys. The levels are quite long too, taking around 15 minutes to complete. The game is littered with inspiration from other Shinobi games, such as the brains exploding out of test tubes full of a green solution as found in Shinobi III and the threat of being sucked out of open doors on a cargo plane a la The Revenge of Shinobi.

Given the encouraging start you might assume that Griptonite has cracked what makes a Shinobi game so much fun to play, but the problems start to show around halfway through the game when the level designs become much less inspired. You'll find yourself dealing with countless cheap pit-holes and unintuitive platforming sections, and after a while it all gets very repetitive, as if the developers just ran out of ideas and gave up. As Shinobi III is so obviously the inspiration behind this game, it's a shame that towards the end it lacks the balance and thought that went into the consistently good level design of the 16-bit classic.

No self-respecting ninja would be without ninja magic to confound his enemies, and there are four types on offer here: Fire kills weaker baddies on the screen and gives you increased firepower; Earth makes you invincible for a short time, but depletes your life bar; Lightning gives a shield that allows you to take a few hits, useful when lots of spikes are about; and finally Water lets you jump higher and gives you faster-reloading throwing knives, this is probably the most useful magic of all.

Each stage also has an over-the-shoulder 3D action scene, such as riding a horse while jumping over felled trees and battling other equestrian ninjas. These sections feel tacked on; they don't add anything to the game other than another homage to Musashi action of old. The surfing section further on in the game is particularly weak, requiring you to use gyro controls to pilot Jiro over ramps and avoid rocks, but other than the obvious Shinobi III references it just isn't very much fun to play. There's also an uninspired 3D version of the original arcade game's ninja-shooting bonus round, unlocked by finding a bonus coin in each stage.

Aside from some mini-bosses along the way, each level has an end boss that you'll need to master. There's plenty of variety here, with O-ren Ishii-style showdowns in the snow, a robotic shark and even a H-43 chopper (similar to the Black Turtle boss in Shinobi arcade) obstructing your path to victory. Each boss has a pattern you can learn to ensure success, but lesser ninjas should be able to muscle through with the use of ninpo and a lot of button bashing. In some boss fights you can trigger a QTE (quick-time event), such as reeling your foe in for a satisfying katana slash, which is a nice touch.

At the end of each level your performance is graded and rated: you'll be penalised for using ninja magic or dying, so try to keep that multiplier going and show some true ninja skills if you want to score big. If you're so inclined you can save your run and show it off to your friends later in the replay gallery.

To boost the longevity of the game there are some challenge maps which you can unlock with StreetPass. You get one map for free but can unlock others for 20 Play Coins each, or alternatively hit the streets and hope you chance upon someone else with StreetPass for Shinobi enabled so you can unlock them that way. These challenge maps require perfect skills to complete as it's one hit kills for you and enemies in a classic Shinobi style. Completionists will also be pleased to hear of the 60+ achievements to unlock throughout the game, opening up music and artwork.

The visuals are pretty decent and there are some nice 2.5D effects when going around corners. It would have been nice if sprite models were used in the game, but clearly polygons allow the developer much more flexibility. With the 3D slider cranked up, the stages really come to life with lots of nice background effects, especially on the early stages, and again Shinobi III was clearly the inspiration: action takes place on multiple levels, not just two planes like the classic Shinobi.

A special mention goes to the superb cut scenes which pop up throughout the game. The artwork is simply gorgeous, and although they have very few frames of animation they're very effective at telling the story. The music does the job nicely but never rivals the genius of Yuzo Koshiro’s compositions.


Griptonite has done a fine job of modernising the classic Shinobi franchise, making it enjoyable for seasoned retro gamers and newcomers alike. The emphasis on combos, parrying and high scores gives it depth and a reason to replay levels, but while it starts out strong with innovative level design it loses its way towards the end and becomes brutally punishing with cheap pit-falls.

If you take it for what it is, this isn't a bad game, and the fun of dashing through the earlier levels mostly outweighs the bad. Griptonite has certainly captured the spirit of Shinobi games in this release, but falls short of creating an all-time classic to revitalise the canon.

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User Comments (42)



Corbs said:

Can't wait to get this one this week. Haven't played a new Shinobi games in a good while. Bring it on! Great review @Dazza!



alLabouTandroiD said:

Ordered it yesterday (based on the two metacritic reviews there were so far). And while i didn't expect it would be kinda uninspired later in the game i still hope i'll have a great ol'school time with this baby.

Will be my first Shinobi game anyway so maybe i'll even have a better time with it than series' veterans



Link79 said:

Just as I suspected from the begining. Not quite as stellar as the Genesis titles but decent. I still may pick this up but Shinobi's grand return this is not.
Now how about someone attempt to bring Ninja Gaiden back to it's 2-D roots?
Hopefully with more success.



Karakato said:

I thought this would score low, but I'm happy to know that it fared well for you. I was interested from the start, but was put off due to some previews. I'm in need for a Ninja gaming fix after playing the Strider series years ago, so I'll be looking into getting this game later next year.




A game that represents my past brought into the modern age. I don't think I want to get it though. Sort of a game type I'd play back in the day if you know what I mean. Great revw and glad it turned out good.



pikku said:

I'm looking forward to this. I'll probably et it sometime after Christmas though, when I get a little extra cash



ThomasBW84 said:

Definitely a post-Christmas/budget buy for me. I loved playing the Mega Drive titles so it'll be nice to have a go at the latest version. Glad that they did a reasonable job, as I imagine it's tough taking on an old franchise like this.

The moment I see it discounted, or if I stumble across a mysterious golden wheelbarrow of cash, this will be going in the 3DS collection.



zeeroid said:

Man the graphics in this game are kind of atrocious. I really would have just preferred 2D artwork. Maybe projected in 3D, like the 3D classics series. I hope that "flexibility" it allowed paid off.



Wildfire said:

Well, I must say that I'm having a blast with this Shinobi! And despite not beeing as great as the genesis classics I'd still recomend it.



Dazza said:

@zeeroid - the graphics are definitely not atrocious, sure they are not using sprites like the Mega Drive games but that's to be expected really. My only gripe with the visuals is that the backgrounds look a bit pixelated on some levels, but that's not really a big deal.



WaveBoy said:

I can't get over the cheesy cookie cutter art direction and graphics. It's a complete step back from the Genesis Shinobi's, even creatively speaking. Even Shinobi's design on the Box Art is wicked awful. It's like Shinobi got handed over to some bargin bin developer(I'm probably wrong but eh) Who's this Griptonite anyways?



LordTendoboy said:

Sega couldn't develop this themselves? They had to outsource it to some obscure 3rd-party developer?

Good thing most Sonic games are still developed in-house. Most of the ones made by Dimps have been mediocre. Though if it wasn't for the influence of Sonic Rush, the 3D Sonic games would be nowhere near as fun.

And those graphics are terrible. They look like cardboard cut-outs laid on top of bland, textureless backgrounds.



Oregano said:

It honestly looks like a DS game. No joke. This game would be unacceptable as a PSP launch game and it's just a slap in the face in 2011 on the 3DS. I'm not even sure how it can be argued. Everything is low poly, with low res textures and tons of jaggies, no lighting(circle shadows) or any attempts to use the advances features of the Pica GPU. (correct me if I'm wrong) It's only 30fps as well.

At least it sounds like it nails the gameplay. It's a good jumping off point if they want to continue the franchise but with Gryptonite being purchased by Glu and the apparently poor production values they probably won't get the chance.

Did that sound overly mean/critical?



zeeroid said:

@Dazza: It could be just the blown-up screenshot effect that's screwing with my impressions. Just... the texture and all stink of N64 graphics to me.

I don't really mind if the game is fun, but it's certainly not going to be winning me over with its awesome visuals alone.



ecco6t9 said:

Picking this one up since I have left over Gamestop credit. Secondly hopefully it encourages more 3DS revivals from Sega.

Secondly Griptonite did better work on GBA games.



Ras said:

Load up the latest Nintendo 3D Show (or the one right before it) to see how it actually looks on your 3DS. I guess if the later levels are not as good, it got pushed out the door too soon.

I always wished Sega would mash up Streets of Rage and Shinobi: Streets gameplay with Musashi as a selectable.



GARF13LD said:

I almost bought this when I went into Gamestation for my pre-ordered copy of Cave Story only to be told it can only be ordered online, but for £30 I like many others would rather wait for a price drop before I get it.

I will probably pick this up with Crush 3D or Sonic Generations as a double Sega purchase.



Henmii said:

Not a bad review, but since it's only a 7 I think I'll skip it. I still want to buy a bunch of games this year, and this one seems not good enough. Maybe in the future if it gets cheaper!



JamieO said:

I have been looking forward to reading this one, I think that the Shinobi series is fantastic, even if it was tainted a bit by the GBA game, and I know that @Dazza is a big fan of classic Shinobi games. Just to get an idea of Daz's Shinobi appreciation, read his reviews of the original arcade Shinobi, plus Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master and Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi. Basically he understands the specific gameplay intricacies of SEGA's vintage ninja-'em-ups.

Therefore, there is a credence that comes across when reading his comparison to previous titles, whether that is in regard to Shinobi III's setting or the implementation of Revenge of Shinobi's slightly awkward double-jump shuriken spray. I like the idea of a nostalgic nod to the cargo plane, as well as the brains in the glass cases sections from the Mega Drive games.

It sounds as though this new 3DS Shinobi fares very well, although it is a bit disappointing that it does not maintain a consistent quality throughout the gameplay, because as the review points out the retro games had memorable stages from start to finish. However, it looks like Griptonite have updated the core gameplay authentically, even if I will miss the Mijin magic from the 16-bit games, largely because I would self-explode my way out of trouble as a tactic for progression. Ha, ha.

3DS Shinobi has definitely sliced its way onto my radar after reading this review, the fact that it has captured the spirit of the retro games is the most important thing for me.

Good job Griptonite and cracking review Mr Calvert. It sounds as though a few Joe Musashi fans will happily take control of daddy Jiro for a double jumpin' spin ...hopefully not across precarious logs plummeting down a waterfall though!



WolfRamHeart said:

@Dazza: I was on the fence about this game but your review sold me on it. I love the older Shinobi games so I think that I will enjoy this one as well. I'll definitely pick it up when I have some extra cash. Very nice review.



Dazza said:

@JamieO - thanks for the kind comments chief, always appreciated. BTW logs also plummet down a waterfall to test out ninja skillz in this reboot too!



JamieO said:

@Dazza In that case, I look forward to dying. I will then try again. And die again. All in the interest of classic gaming nostalgia. Hooray!



shinobi88 said:

I owned Revenge of Shinobi when it was originally released. And I kept playing it off and on until my nephew broke my Genesis a couple years ago. Do you know how many times I beat that game? ZERO. Never beat Revenge.

While Shinobi 3 improved over Revenge in terms of graphics and available moves, it PALED in comparison in terms of level design and challenge. My 1st experience w/ Shinobi 3 was on the Wii VC and I got to the final boss on my 1st or 2nd playthrough. I have played Revenge hundreds of times and only gotten to the final boss a few times.

Shinobi wasn't meant to be a casual game just meant to show off ninja abilities. Revenge was built around near-impossible platforming sequences and vicious (not cheap) enemy placement. Many long years I've waited for a game to truly return the series to its roots.

7 out of 10 is currently the lowest score for this game on Metacritic. Any one who uses their noggin should realize you NEVER judge a game based on one review. I'm not saying never to listen to Nintendo Life reviews. Nor am I saying they are innacurate as Nintendo Power reviews. I'm just saying take every review w/ a grain of sult.

The nearly flawless Contra 4 showed that the ceiling for a retro-styled remake of a classic franchise is about 83% So Shinobi's current Meta-score of 75% shows this is nearly as good a remake as you can get. Btw, for all who don't know Griptonite, they have a big cult following for DS classic action games like Web of Shadows and Assassin's Creed 2.



shinobi88 said:

A couple other things I need to clear up from my previous post. I really like reading the Nintendo Life reviews. They go a lot more in-depth than most sites. The thing I don't trust is the scores.

And it sounded like I was bashing Shinobi 3 in my previous post. I think 3 is great. The levels are amazing to look at. Specially the flying brains level. It's just not as good as Revenge, which is a candidate for best side-scroller of all-time. You're doubting me? Let's look at the bosses: Spider-Man, Dracula, Terminator, and a T-Rex.

Challenge is the best part of this game to me. When you breeze through a game, you're pretty much done when it's over. But when you have to battle tooth and nail to land a jump while dodgin daggers or beat a tenacious boss, that's something that stays w/ you for a long time. Beat this game, and you are truly a ninja MASTER



shinobi88 said:

For anyone overly concerned about the difficulty, there is an Easy setting which gives you unlimited lives.

HOPEfully this sells well enough to inspire SEGA to similarly re-create Streets of Rage, Vectorman, Golden Axe, Toejam & Earl, Earthworm Jim, and Comix Zone. Or at least a couple of those...



NeoShinobi said:

Well obviously this wasn't going to be as good as the Genesis games, who expected it would be?

Either way, I'll be getting this once I get a 3DS, whenever that will be.



brandonbwii said:

I was really hoping this would be a modern classic. New school meets old school in the best possible way, similar in quality to NSMB and Sonic Rush series. Oh well.



Dazza said:

@shinobi88 - I agree that the Mega Drive Shinobi games were a challenge to complete, especially Revenge of Shinobi. But I always found them fair, they required skill but never felt like a chore to play through. I just didn't enjoy the later levels much due to uninspired level design. It's a shame really as I felt the early levels started out quite strong.



JamieO said:

@shinobi88 You are clearly passionate about the Shinobi franchise and retro games in general, the thing is I can assure you that the Nlife team shares your passion. I have met some of the team in person and they have quality knowledge and an unending enthusiasm for classic games. For example, I have noted above that Daz has a broad appreciation of the Shinobi franchise. You also mention WayForward's Contra 4, and I absolutely adored that game, it was very well received by Nlife in @Damo's 9/10 review of it.

You said that you like the depth of a Nlife review, but you do not always agree with the score. I think that this is a good position to be in, because I find that it is the specific word analysis of a review that is the most important thing in convincing me if a game will be suitable to my gaming preferences. I actually read @Dazza's Shinobi 3DS review and I wanted to buy it more, I didn't realise how respectful it was to the classic Shinobi games. Also take into account that 7/10 is a good score, I see this review as recommending the game to Shinobi fans.

In regard to the difficulty balance of the Mega Drive Shinobi games, I was persistent enough to complete Super Shinobi, although there are measures that you can take to make that game easier (the infinite shurikens cheat and using the Mijin magic to explode when your energy is low, to continue from the same spot). As Daz says, the Mega Drive games were hard, but managed to be fair and well balanced. There were difficulty spikes like the maze at the end of Super Shinobi, but the final levels were memorable and just as strong as the early levels.

I just wonder if Griptonite would have benefited from a longer development period. If they have created fun and well designed early levels for Shinobi 3DS, perhaps they just needed more time to tighten up the level design for the later stages. It is just a thought.



BulbasaurusRex said:

@15 Dimps' Sonic games have their issues, but they've been doing a better job than Sonic Team. The HD version of Sonic Generations is the first good Sonic game Sonic Team has developed since Sonic Adventure 2.



ninigou said:

I wouldn't give this game a score more than 7.

the psone era graphic is bearable, whereas the level design starting from level 5 is so horrible and relying way too heavily on cheap death,

the difficulty setting is so unbalanced, easy is way too easy but normal (with only 5 lives) is almost impossible in later levels (Im starting to wonder has any of the reviewers who gave it more than 7 actually finished the game on normal difficulty).

the early <Shinobi Series> is hard, but on the condition that each level won't last more than 7 minutes.
here in <Shinobi 3DS>, you have to struggle to stay alive for more than 25 minutes with only 5 lives accompanied by unbalanced level design and countless 1 hit death pitfalls.



GARF13LD said:

I currently have this out from LoveFilm and have to say I am enjoying it a lot. I too remember how difficult the original Shinobi games were, I watched my cousin play Revenge of Shinobi to death without ever finishing it (the girl running back and fourth in the cage being one of my long standing gaming memories).

I am currently playing the 3DS version on easy and I have died numerous times due to some of the platforming elements, I really like the boss designs, the only downside to me is the silly surfing level seemed pointless and things kind of got blurry when trying to use the gyro controls to steer the surf board.

Overall I would recommend it to fans of Shinobi, I will pick this up for sure when it gets a price drop, also the cut scenes in this game have such a nostalgic feel to them, reminds me of the cartoon M.A.S.K for some reason.



Tate24 said:

i got this game for only 11.00 pound at game and ive got to say it is really hard. But well worth the effort!!! love all the unlockable content and streetpass challange levels to makes feel like true ninja:p also like the replays so you marvel when you final beat level lol Am doing story mode on normal and just got pass blood jungle and am now on the aircraft carrier:) "Its nightmare" lol



alvieao said:

Just got the 3DS Shinobi game not long ago, and I'm enjoying it despite being very difficult. The graphics aren't as good as the Genesis titles, but it's decent enough. True to Shinobi fashion, the gameplay is excellent and it takes practice to master every stage for higher scores and ranks. The bosses are also fantastic, including the H-43 Chopper (another homage to Black Turtle in Shinobi arcade) and that huge robotic shark.

I don't mind Griptonite using Shinobi III as their model, but if only the developers were given more time to polish the somewhat unfair stage designs. While I enjoyed the nods to the Genesis games like the horse riding and surfing segments, they felt tacked on and weren't as fun. Conversely, it's awesome seeing cameos and shout-outs to other classic Sega games in some stages.

As far as replayability and content goes, I love the amount of unlockables that Griptonite packed into for this Shinobi game. There's even achievements to unlock costumes, weapons, challenge stages and the obligatory music and artwork for each level. The 3DS game didn't quite top the Genesis classics, but Sega and Griptonite delivered an fantastic entry in the Shinobi series. A shame it was their last game prior to being acquired by another company...

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