Game Review

3D Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Much more than an Average Joe

In many ways, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master represents Sega at its very best. It boasts lush visuals, excellent music and a surprisingly versatile lead character, all wrapped up in a game which practically screams action and excitement. Launched at a time when the Mega Drive was really beginning to hit its stride, this action platformer is rightly considered to be one of the most engaging and entertaining games of its generation — even if many feel it sits in the shadow of the earlier Revenge of Shinobi.

Assuming the role of Joe Musashi — a skilled ninja who is the world's only hope of stopping the sinister organisation Neo Zeed — you must fight your way through seven levels of enemies using a combination of shuriken projectiles (these are finite in number and can be replenished by cracking open crates), close-quarters katana bladework and magical ninjutsu powers. These are all carried over from Revenge of Shinobi, but Musashi hasn't been idle since his last fight with Zeo Need. He can now sprint — a double tap on the directional pad executes this skill, which can be linked with a dashing sword attack — and perform an airborne kick to dispatch enemies directly below him. Another new talent is the ability to block incoming projectiles by holding down the attack button, and Musashi has clearly been playing some Ninja Gaiden as he can now wall-jump to gain access to high places.

Shinobi III may force you to run the gamut of genre clichés such as factories, top-secret military bases and urban cityscapes, but it still has its fair share of unique ideas. Round 2 begins with you riding a horse and fighting ninjas which emerge from a kite-like base in the distance, while Round 4 goes one better and puts Musashi's surfing skills to the test. Throughout all of the game's levels you're fighting against a wide selection of enemies which include robotic soldiers, mutant brains and hovering attack craft. It's as if Sega simply cracked open the bottle marked "common action game bad guys" and poured the entire contents into Shinobi III. No stone is left unturned — there's even a robot Godzilla in there, a knowing nod to a similar monster witnessed in Revenge of Shinobi.

The game's penchant for multiple layers of parallax scrolling means that it converts especially well to the 3DS. Almost every stage has a striking impression of depth to it, and M2 — the super-talented team which handled the conversion process — has done a typically fantastic job of porting the game to Nintendo's handheld. Shinobi III is such a fast-paced title that any discrepancies in the emulation would be immediately noticeable, but this plays just as well on the 3DS as it did on the Mega Drive / Genesis all those years ago.

Armed with a wider array of moves, our white-clad hero feels much more dynamic than he did in Revenge of Shinobi, but this has ramifications on the game's challenge. Shinobi III is slightly easier than its forerunner, which will either come as welcome news or a bitter blow, depending on your personal preference. At times, Revenge of Shinobi was almost sadistically tricky, so newcomers may well appreciate the fact that this sequel is a little less taxing.

Those of you who still crave a stern test can always make use of the Expert Ninja mode which has been added to the 3DS version. This feature makes use of the 3DS console's additional buttons, mapping shuriken to the right shoulder button and the guard to the left. Your standard attack therefore becomes the katana, and while this takes some getting used to, it means you can conserve your limited stock of projectiles more effectively. It's a shame that you're not allowed to map the guard command to the shoulder button when not using Expert Mode, however — this would have come in very handy, as having to hold the attack button down to execute the posture takes time and usually means you've been hit by something before the stance is achieved.

M2 has also included the usual raft of options here, such as picking between the International or Japanese editions of the game (Shinobi III is called The Super Shinobi II in Japan, just to confuse matters), applying a CRT-style filter to the screen to simulate playing it on an old-fashioned TV and remapping the buttons. You can also pick between the sound hardware of the Mark I Mega Drive or the Mark II — the former sounds better, but if you grew up with the newer model of the console, your nostalgia bone might appreciate the latter.

Speaking of which, Shinobi III's soundtrack is often unfairly overlooked due to the absence of Yuzo Koshiro, the man behind Revenge of Shinobi's ground-breaking music, as well as the tunes heard in the Streets of Rage series and Actraiser. The songs here certainly aren't as consistent, but there are some stand-out tunes — including Round 2's opening theme, which was recently used in the Seasonal Shrines course on Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.


It may be slightly easier than Revenge of Shinobi and its soundtrack isn't quite as toe-tappingly brilliant, but Shinobi III is at least on par with Joe Musashi's previous adventure. In some respects it's arguably superior, offering better visuals and more variety thanks to its horse-riding and surfing stages. This is one of Sega's best 16-bit action titles and a very solid addition to M2's fantastic 3D Classics line, which is fast becoming a goldmine of vintage gaming on Nintendo's portable system.

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User Comments (50)



CanisWolfred said:

Sounds awesome, I can't wait to play it! I love this game, and I always wanted to see it in 3D.



GustavoMaciel said:

I hope M2 developers are aware of how much praise these games are getting in the west. Hope they're selling well, too. They need to keep those ports coming!



Hunter-D said:

I'm a complete SEGA newbie, so being able to experience some of these "classics" on my 3DS with 3D visuals is awesome!

Been keeping up with the reviews and they seem to be really good!

I plan to buy the entire lot and make my own SEGA memories!



Shiryu said:

Another fine and worthy addition to SEGA's 3D revival line-up. I really do hope they compile all of these when they thing they have enough games out on a single cart, id love to own all of these physically.



Damo said:

@Shiryu A physical collection would be amazing, I'd buy that in a heartbeat, even though I've got the download versions



Ralizah said:

One of the best action games ever made. Totally stoked this got re-released as a 3D Classic. The button remapping feature is very convenient.



Gustoff said:

I was going to get this day one, yesterday, but wanted to wait for a review. Don't know why I doubted that it would get at least an 8. Getting this when i get home today. I'll have to buy another $20 eShop card for next weeks SMB3 eShop title. My, my, my...



sinalefa said:


I started in the Dreamcast era, so I kinda feel like you. Love that Sega is porting what seems to be some of their best games, at a decent price.

Quite the difference when you compare it to 3D Classics: Urban Champion.



TruenoGT said:

@Gustoff I saw via a Nintendo e-mail that eShop cards are going 20% off at Best Buy again starting Sunday, so wait until then!



Kirk said:

This honestly looks really high quality and even more so when you consider how long ago it came out.

It's going to look great on 3DS and I also appreciate that they adapted the controls slightly to take advantage of the extra buttons and make things just a little bit more intuitive than in the original game.

Kudos to Sega for doing things right.



meltendo said:

Great review and I'm excited to pick this one up...Kudos to Sega and M2 for doing this for us.

As noted above...thanks Nintendo for ummm... Urban Champion.



DESS-M-8 said:

The score is right, maybe even 10/10 but the musical score for this game is amazing on on a par with streets of rage 2 and is done by the legendary yuzo koshiro.
Idaten and whirlwind are amongst some of the best video game music ever written.

Furthermore, every aspect of gameplay in this title overshadows revenge of Shinobi.
I downloaded this yesterday, completed it for probably te hundredth time since it's megadrive launch on my first play through an loved it as much as I did in the 90's.
The end screen taunting a "to be continued...." Tugging at my heart strings as 20 years later we still have never had Shinobi IV, or a sequel good enough to live up to the reputation of this pedigree.
A return of Joe Musashi, serenaded by Yuzo Koshiro, blended with the brutal and fluid mechanics of true Sega gameplay using today's hardware and finally bringing us Shinobi IV would be ASTOUNDING.
This game is gold, and THIS is the best ever version, now with the expert ninja control scheme giving you actual control between melee, block and shuriken. At £4.49 buy this game NOW, unless you have already; then well done.



MeWario said:

Such a great game! I was lucky enough to find it in a bargain bin only a few years ago (crazy right) and I love it. May have to double dip!



JuanitoShet said:

I have "Revenge of Shinobi" for the Genesis, but I can't play it anymore due to the video cord not working properly due to age anymore.

I'll get this sometime down the line. Sounds great. :B



DESS-M-8 said:

Playing this shows you that revenge of Shinobi wasn't hard, it's just the control mechanics were archaic, sluggish and ultimately a boring game to play. Most people that like this game are the ones that were brainwashed by it as they HAD to play it as they were stuck with MegaGames II till the next Christmas.
Revenge of Shinobi = 6/10
Shinobi III = it doesn't have the subtitle Ninja Master for no reason. This game rocks,



Spoony_Tech said:

Ok I'm not a Saga fan much at all. However these releases are at least getting my attention. I could really use some demos of these games to help push me over the top! Otherwise I have my eye on a couple.



Giygas_95 said:

Love me some ninja action. I'd never played this or the NES Ninja Gaiden games before I got my 3DS, but they're all solid games. Honestly though, this is more fun to me because there's more of a variety of moves you can pull off, and there aren't any stupid instant respawning enemies. Those are very annoying.

@Hunter-D Same here, I'm a SEGA newbie, but these games are amazing! My favorites so far are Super Hang On, Galaxy Force II, and Shinobi III.



BinaryFragger said:

Kudos to M2 and Sega, they've done a great job. I picked up all 8 of their 3D classics and I hope more are on the way.



unrandomsam said:

Ninja Spirit I think is the best game like this.

What makes the Megadrive 1 better than the Megadrive 2 for sound (I thought they were both different clones where as the Megatech used the real Yamaha chips. (I have tested a real Sonic Cart on a switchless Megadrive / The Android Sonic 1 port / NTSC Wii Sonic 1 VC / 3DS Sonic 1 and the only one giving a good approximation is the Android version of Sonic 1.



fluggy said:

Great game... Always did slightly prefer Revenge of Shinobi for the boss fights and locations. Still, this will look great in 3d. Will prob pick it up.



sdelfin said:

@unrandomsam there are many revisions of both model one and model two. Early model two systems(and late first models) have a poorly designed audio circuit, apparently. Later revisions fix the audio quality but have a PSG volume issue. The late revisions of the system that have the smaller PCB have the best sound of the second model, probably comparable to the majority of first models. Many systems, including some of the model two systems have Yamaha YM2612 chips in them.



sdelfin said:

I love this game. I just played it last year. I was lucky as I missed the game when it first released but bought it used a couple of years later from a friend when he wanted some cash for new games for either Super Nintendo or Saturn. Really fun action platformer with quite a lot of moves available for such a game. Amazing how many options they crammed into this release. The option for audio is quite surprising. There are several revisions of the model two with different sound output. I wonder which one they used.



SparkOfSpirit said:

I would personally give this a 10/10. Such an excellent action platformer with top notch level and enemy design and fun advanced techniques to pull off. The 3D is also perfect in bringing out the many layers in the fantastic backgrounds.

If you have a 3DS, you really need to play this.



Garo said:

I actually prefer Shinobi III's soundtrack. Idaten, Solitary and Whirlwind beat any track from Revenge.

The 3D version is awesome. Expert Ninja mode makes this play more like the mechanically superior Shinobi 3DS, which is a huge deal. Blocking feels more natural and it's fun to rely on close combat more. This really makes me wish for a new Shinobi game.



alvieao said:

Of all the Genesis games I owned as a kid, Shinobi III should've been in my collection. It wasn't until I finally played that game on Wii VC back in 2007, to which I enjoyed every moment of it. Fast forward to 2013, where Sega and M2 brought out a brilliant conversion of that 1993 Genesis classic. Most of Nintendo's efforts were forgettable besides Kid Icarus and Kirby's Adventure, but Sega and M2 put a lot more effort into their 3D Classics range.

The 3D visuals look fantastic as always, while playing the game in Expert Ninja mode changes everything. It's even better using the sword and shuriken attacks and guarding separately, with the controls resembling the recent 3DS Shinobi title by Griptonite Games. All said and done, M2 delivered a fantastic 3D Classics version of this awesome entry in Sega's Shinobi series. It's the legendary white ninja Joe Musashi in his finest adventure... in 3D!



Magicpegasus said:

you guys, we have to buy these games. maybe somebody will pay attention and release even more awesomeness. M2 is doing an amazing job with something that i would probably buy even if they just did the bare minimum...and maybe N will notice the sales and do something better with their 3d classics lineup.



Smug43 said:

Already bought this.. it's worth every penny and then some!!! I might be in the minority, but I would LOVE an Alien Syndrome in the same vein as this except would prefer it to be the arcade version like some of these Sega 3D remakes are... however for shinobi 3, the non arcade version is better.. not sure I can say the same about altered beast..



Dpishere said:

Though I have never played this game, this review is almost making me want to remedy that ASAP!



Knuckles said:

Wow, so many SEGA newbies. Wow, I feel old growing up on a Genesis now. I also knew which of the 3D SEGA Classics would be good and which wouldn't, only being wrong on Galaxy Force 2 because I thought it was the Genesis version not the Arcade version.



BAGBOY said:

I was doubting whether or not download these M2 versions after they announced sonic 1, altered beast and streets of rage because all of them are masterpieces and I was tempted to download them but I didn't due to the fact that you couldn't see the 3D in action in any of the trailers; it wasn't until I saw this review and I just couldn't believe my eyes, shinobi 3, the best genesis game is now portable and IN FREAKING 3D?????!!!! I just had to witness this myself. This is it, the perfect game running on a perfect emulation, with the perfect options, also with perfect controls once more in perfect 3D.




andrea987 said:

Excellent review, Damien, I wasn't too interested in this one, you made it a must buy for me!



dres said:

Fantastic 2d action platformer, and just a must play. This is one of my favourite games, and the best Ninja game together with Ninja Gaiden.

M2 has done a really good job here. This is the best version of the game.



drexegar said:

@Kirk Actually in the original if you plug in a 6 button controller you can unlock the mode, but not many people knew about it. So on the wii and other version you can do it as well but Unless you found out about the code lol.



dres said:

I think that the review is a bit off, when calling Expert Ninja mode a "stern test". The game is much easier and also better in this mode.

I think Expert Ninja mode is the preferred way to play the game, as you are much more in control. I wonder why M2 didn't make this the default way of playing the game, with an option to switch it off? Just as they did with the spin dash in Sonic 1.

In Expert Ninja mode this game is a 10/10 in my book. Really a 16-bit masterpiece.



khululy said:

This game inspired me to be a ninja!!!
Wich ofcourse never happend....
@dres you mean... a ninjamasterpiece!!!



BlackStar9000 said:

@CanisWolfred Indeed, I played this game so many times on my genesis (no megadrive for me) and I loved it, so much more action packed than the older games and the game got better once you learned what you could really pull off with skill, I truly want more games like this one, Mark of Ninja comes to mind,



DanielHPoetry said:

BUY THIS GAME!!! I had this as a kid and it was one of my favorite titles, along with Sonic and Streets of Rage. I already have all of these on the PS3 Genesis collection and on my iPad, but I don't mind repurchasing them. The 3D effect is amazing. It brings a whole new perspective to the games. Never tried Ecco The Dolphin though, maybe I'll finally give that a shot...been contemplating that one since the 90s Lol



FireHorsePrime said:

Your reviews of the Sega 3D Classics are brilliant. I have Sonic and Ecco and will be getting Galaxy Force II or Shinobi soon. Haven't decided yet which I will spend my money on, but you've helped me narrow down the choices considerably, if, I don't just buy them all. I just hope M2 and Sega do not stop here, like Nintendo did with their 3D NES Classics which hasn't seen a new release in years.



MC808 said:

@unrandomsam Glad to see someone acknowledge the greatness of Ninja Spirit. As good as this game is, and it's VERY good, Ninja Spirit is just incredible. Being on the TG16 drastically limited how much exposure that game got, which is a real shame.



Yoshis95 said:

with releases like this, i hope they will eventually release Rocket Knight Adventures

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