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After treating retro gaming fans to the delights of Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III from the Mega Drive / Genesis, it is only right that SEGA bring us back to basics and let us get our grubby mitts on the original arcade game from 1987 where this glorious franchise began. Considered to be SEGA’s emphatic answer to Namco’s excellent Rolling Thunder - which came out a year prior to this – Shinobi is still regarded as an all-time classic of the genre.

The plot is refreshing simple - a nasty criminal organisation named Zeed has kidnapped all of the Oboro clan’s kiddies in a move which even Gary Glitter would not approve of. As such it is up to our hero, Joe Musashi (or Shinobi Joe as he is known to his friends) to rescue the kiddies and kick some good-for-nothing ninja butt.

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If you are used to Shinobi Joe’s later adventures on the Mega Drive, the first thing you will notice about this game is that it is a lot more punishing. It hails from a time when gamers were made of sterner stuff and one-hit will result in instant death. If you want to perfect your ninja skills and “one-credit” this baby then you are going to have to invest a serious amount of time to memorise the enemy’s fixed patterns. Of course, that’s what old school coin-ops like this are all about and we personally wouldn’t have it any other way!

To aid you in your quest Shinobi Joe is supplied with a never-ending supply of shurikens and a sword for close up melee mutilation. If things get too messy then you even get some ninja magic to wipe out all the foes on-screen, but high-score chasers will do well not to use this in order to gain a mighty end-of-level bonus. Finally you can upgrade your shurikens to an UZI in each level which takes out more troublesome fiends with greater ease.

Shinobi Joe is quite a nimble chap and can quickly dart up to a balcony above should things get tricky on the ground. When ducking you can move and sneak up on baddies in a stealthy fashion too.

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There are five missions in total which each contain a variety of levels. Predictably each mission ends with a fiendish boss fight against the likes of a robo-samurai or even a helicopter! If you are skilled enough to get to the end of the final mission you will have to take on the mighty grandmaster Zeed, who happens to be a more than formidable opponent.

To break up the side-scrolling action, at the end of each mission there’s a bonus stage which gives you the chance to gain an extra life - but only if you can keep all those pesky ninjas at bay.

As you might expect the emulation is top notch on the Virtual Console and runs in smooth 60Hz (480i/480p). It’s faithful to the arcade completely, with the only difference being that the Spider-Man-like baddies on level 1-2 have been coloured in green and yellow, but then again we could have predicted this by the recent VC release of Revenge of Shinobi’s where SEGA made a few sneaky tweaks to avoid a bitch-slapping by Marvel. The Virtual Console Arcade version of the game allows you to adjust the amount of lives (from the default 3 up to 240!) and game difficulty to suit your skill level. You can even change the in-game text to Japanese if that floats your boat.

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Graphically, Shinobi still stands up to scrutiny for a game which is pushing more than 20 years of age. The colourful bitmapped environments do the job nicely and the game oozes character and charm throughout. The music is particularly memorable; if you played Shinobi much as a young whippersnapper then the catchy tunes will doubtlessly be etched into your mind for all time. Heck, there is even a cheeky bit of digitised speech such as “Welcome to bonus stage” thrown in for good measure too, which adds to the charm factor even more.


Shinobi is a classic slice of arcade goodness which has effortlessly stood the test of time. It’s not an easy game to master and requires lots of practice to complete using only one-credit. If you like quick-blast games where you compete with friends for the best high-score then this is the game for you. The controls are wonderfully responsive and the collision detection is perfect too, unlike many games of this era. Of course this type of game cannot be recommended to everyone, but for classic arcade lovers it doesn’t get much better than this. Go on, reveal your inner ninja and give Shinobi a try today!