|Dev: Griptonite Games|
|Release: November 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Blood, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
The ninja fad may have waned a bit since its peak a couple decades ago, but most of us who grew up during that era, donning martial arts outfits on Halloween and playing with toy katanas instead of toy guns, will remember the impact this craze had on video games. The classic Shinobi games produced during the "bit wars" between Nintendo and SEGA were heralded among fans for fast action and challenging gameplay blended with a totally off-the-wall story. The re-imagined game for the Nintendo 3DS, simply titled Shinobi, tries to emulate the same experience of its ancestry. For the most part, it succeeds. Yet because of this, it's simply not for the timid. Also, the overall package lacks continuity and cohesion, with some flaws stemming from a lack of polish.
The story opens to a scene that will probably bring about nostalgia for longtime fans, with a sharp-looking Jiro Musashi (father of Joe Musashi from early entries) meditating in his dojo. Suddenly, his rural Japanese village is attacked by Zeed, the recurrent enemy of the series. Racing through the 1256 AD village, Jiro attempts to push back the invaders. All seems pretty typical for a Shinobi title until Jiro gets pulled into a mysterious vortex. This is where developer Griptonite Games and SEGA start to slather on the surrealism, as the very next level takes us to a battle worn future, with the Zeed forces holding a strong grip on the world… I think. The problem is that despite the beautifully drawn comic book cutscenes, the story links are very disjointed, and even those who carefully follow every frame of the cinematics will start each level wondering why they are there.
With such liberal breaks from believability, the design can pretty much take whatever shape the developers choose. At one point you'll be platforming through a level you'd swear was from the war in Vietnam, and the next moment you're on an aircraft carrier, then later you're pummeling enemies off the wings of a fighter jet going at least Mach 3. The opening level and the few natural settings are the most visually compelling and exciting to travel through, with some of the more fabricated environments at least offering a variation with backdrops and environmental hazards. The latter stages of the game are completely cold and sterile, obviously to depict the setting, but still suffer for their lack of detail.
The one constant that remains from start to finish is the challenge the game thrusts upon you. There is no progression of skills to acquire, and from the get-go you'll be packed with all the tools and attacks in Jiro's repertoire. Basic moves consist of melee attacks with his katana or ranged attacks with a set number of kunai, which replenish after a few seconds. Jumps and double jumps are present, the latter of which can be used in conjunction with the attacks. Using your kunai while double-jumping will launch a spray of projectiles across the board, and with the katana Jiro can do a spin slam down onto foes. Most important, though, is the parry, which has a brief hold that cannot be sustained, making timing critical to avoid getting hit.
Enemies appear with relatively little notice and have differing attacks. Each one has a set pattern that must be exploited for success, and each level as a whole requires a great deal of memorization on the player's part. But we're not just talking about a one act play here. Considering the extreme length of each stage, it's more like a Shakespearean play, and just as complex. You can scale the difficulty level down to Beginner, but even then you'll find yourself replaying sections over and over thanks to a stray shuriken or poorly timed jump–you're simply granted unlimited lives. Higher difficulty levels make this luxury finite, with only a small supply of continues as well, making full completion a feat only the truly dedicated and adept will accomplish.
The scoring pairs with the challenge, and although a successful parry and enemy dispatch will grant you tens of thousands of points, they are just as quickly snatched away by a single hit. First-timers will likely walk away from a level with the scoreboard reading, "000,000,000" and the lowest rank of C.
If you're looking for a tonic to ease the pain, there are four different ninja magics at your disposal, each from a specific element with bonuses such as invulnerability for a short period or enhanced speed and stronger, armor-piercing attacks. However, you are penalized for using these table-turners, which shows in big red numbers as your final score is tallied. Thus, if you're just to trying to reach the credits to brag that you've beaten the game, then let the magic fly, but the ultimate score challenge requires these spells to stay in your pocket.