I don't think I've ever tried to force myself to love a game so much in my life as I have with Shinobi. I've wanted to love this game so much that, as I've played it, I've continually tried to overlook any of its faults or any of my frustrations with it. Now, perhaps some of this could be a result of my being such a fan of the series and having some personal attachments to itmaybe just a bit. But my real dilemmaand my real reason for wanting to love this game so muchis that, at its core, Shinobi is one of the best-playing games I've ever laid hands on. Strictly in terms of gameplay, it's a work of art. And it's because of this that I've had to continually ask myself, is it still OK to give a positive score to a game that you know is fundamentally flawed? Is it still OK to recommend a game that you know will ultimately frustrate players to no end? Those are the questions I've had to ask myself over and over the past few weeks, and as you read on, maybe you'll see why this has been on my mind.
There's no denying that Sega has done an admirable job bringing the Shinobi series into 3D. So many other 2D franchises have made the leap to 3D and have, in the process, lost everything that made them special in the first placenot so here. Shinobi plays just as fast as its 2D counterparts (faster, actually) and, as you may have read in this month's feature, remains completely focused on action. This time around, the emphasis is placed on Hatsuma's katana sword rather than his shurikens (you know, those deadly throwing knives ninjas like so much), but this makes perfect sense for the viewing perspective and is actually a welcome change for the franchise.
Shinobi is a really great-looking game, too. It's absolutely mesmerizing to watch a good player controlling Hotsumahe'll zoom every which way, perform incredible acrobatic feats and generally just do lots of badass moves. Plus, there's Hotsuma's incredible flowing scarf, which is so beautiful in motion. The game's actual graphics engine isn't quite as smooth as some might hope for (floors and objects tend to have a little bit of a jagged-edged look to them at times), but the overall crispness of the visuals seems to make up for this. The game's CG movies are also pretty good, and there are some definitely cool anime-inspired sequences that you'll see as you go through the game.
As I mentioned earlier, where this title really shines is in the gameplay department. Shinobi is just one of those games that you know feels good from the second you pick up the controller. Hotsuma is a cinch to control, and it's possible to pull off lots of incredible-looking attacks with the slightest ease. But it's not until you start pulling off lots of combos and acclimating yourself to Hotsuma's many moves that the game really starts to shine. It's a truly beautiful thing when you get to the point at which all of Hotsuma's moves and combos come naturally.
One of the neat things about Shinobi is that it teaches you a lot as you go. Levels and bosses are designed to constantly challenge you in new ways so that you'll have to master new moves and combinations. It's quite smart in the way it's all set up, especially since it never once has to actually spell things out for you. You learn on your own: If you pull off what the game wants you to, you'll make your life easy. If you don't, prepare for a tough time.
Unfortunately, Shinobi stumbles in its level and enemy designs. Not only are a lot of the level themes generic (rooftop level, fire level, water level, etc.), but so are the ways the levels are actually mapped out (run down a hallway to enter a room, fight the enemies, repeat). There's not much diversity to the environments within the levels, eitherin fact, it's not uncommon to see elements repeated as you go. Aside from bosses, most of the enemy designs aren't all that interesting. And enemies, too, are repeated way too often.
Then there's the game's difficulty. Plain and simply, it's too hard. Those of you looking for a good challenge may welcome this, but average gamers will simply find it too difficult for them. But even if you are a seasoned gamer, the game is still guaranteed to frustrate you. As you may have read in the feature, levels don't have checkpoints, so if you die right before the end of one, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. This sucks. Especially in levels that are filled with pits you can fall into. I can't begin to tell you how frustrated this game made mewere it not for the awesome gameplay, I simply would have given up.
And that, right there, is basically my dilemma with Shinobi: It's so fun to play and so incredibly frustrating, all at once. I want to recommend this game to people because it's one of the coolest games I've ever played
but can I recommend a game that lots of people may not be able to finish? Or may not even care to? Yes, I can, and yes, I will. Shinobi is great gamedespite being a flawed one. I've learned to love it, and perhaps you can too.