Kill with skill in Sega's hardcore (and we mean HARDCORE) ninja adventure.
Shinobi's more than just tough. It's brutal. It's at times unfair, and it'll take you behind the old woodshed and unmercifully beat you into submission.
Need perspective? Try Ghosts'n Goblins, and even that barely approaches Shinobi on Very Hard.
It's important we stress just how difficult this game is, because quite a few consumers (and possibly reviewers) will knock points off for it being cheap and/or poorly designed. We certainly cannot fault them for thinking this way, especially when even the boxes containing life saving turkey legs come booby-trapped. You also unlock achievements for screwing up.
To that end, Shinobi will push your video game skills to the limit, but therein lay the charm. Sega and Griptonite designed it in such a way that, admittedly, you'll get knocked on your ass quite a bit, almost at every turn, but you'll get back up, change strategy and push a little further ahead.
That, ultimately, is the biggest reward, that wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Initially, the game's enemies will turn ninja, Jiro, to ribbons with spinning sword slashes and kunai attacks. Later, you'll fall into some spikes, or get incinerated by an intimidating mini boss that unleashes a fireball each time his weapon strikes the ground.
Death ensues. You run out of continues, forced to start over from the beginning of a 15-20 minute level. Patience wears thin. You squeeze the 3DS, feeling the plastic buckle while caught within your sweaty grip.
Then, all of a sudden, you run through that same level like a true ninja master, your brain working overtime to recognize sneak attacks and enemy patterns. You avoid the spikes. You dodge the kunai. More importantly, you handle that fire boss, well, like a boss.
Point being, Shinobi requires much trial and error, but it's beatable so long as you learn from an infinite number of mistakes and adapt.
Take the parry system, for example. Most games let you press and hold a button to block attacks, so right away (and instinctively), you'll hit the R button to deflect everything, only to realize it doesn't work that way. The parry button does, in fact, parry. Each press blocks for less than a second, forcing you to time everything. The reward? Sending some unsuspecting fool flying across the stage, where he explodes into a flock of crows (the only way to die) or a bunch of bones.
Perform well, and you receive a high score and letter grade at the conclusion of the level, but beware. Taking damage, dying and even using ninja magic reduces the overall score. Again, there's no easy way out. Well, unless you choose to play on Beginner, which grants infinite lives and reduced enemy damage, but you'd have to be some sort of ninja dog to go that route.
Is Shinobi perfect? Of course not. We could've done without the horse/vehicle riding missions (particularly one that uses the gyroscope), as they feel tacked on. Some later levels, meanwhile, don't wow as much as the first, which takes place in a stereotypical but still impressive burning village.
On top of that, the graphics are at times stylish, other times ugly. Again, that burning village looks sweet, and the developers added plenty of little touches that add personality to the game. The second board, on the other hand, is mostly dark and devoid of detail. Ultimately, the entire package begs the question, 3DS is capable of more, right?
That aside, the game as a whole is just fine, and the semi animated 2D cut scenes look gorgeous. We also think quite highly of the glasses free 3D. While not as innovative as Super Mario 3D Land, the designers took advantage of the tech to make things tumble into the foreground. More importantly, it doesn't hurt our eyes too much.
At the start of this review, we mentioned achievements, clearly one of the game's greatest assets. There are well over 60 to unlock, in addition to artwork, music, challenge missions (accessed via play coins or locating other Shinobi users in the wild via StreetPass) and other fun things to enjoy. Definitely surprising to see this much packed into a handheld game.
On that note, and despite a handful of issues, Shinobi's one of the better 3DS games. The presentation, challenging play and hidden items combine to form one of the coolest ninja romps we've played, perfectly suited for the hardcore crowd in desperate search of a challenge amidst easier fare. Just don't expect a cakewalk.
Review copy provided by Sega.
What's Hot: Insanely challenging, wealth of unlockables, solid use of 3D, gorgeous cut scenes, dramatic ninja music, tons of achievements.
What's Not: Some unimpressive graphics, later levels don't feel as properly balanced as the first.