By Shane Bettenhausen
Score:7.5 (out of 10)
Sega's age-old ninja series jumps back from retirement to ensnare a new legion of fans with its slashing swords, flying shuriken and sizzling ninja magic. Old-school Shinobi vets hoping to control their old pal Joe Mushashi (star of all previous installments) might be taken abackthe hero here is Hotsuma, the only surviving member of the Oboro Clan. Don't worry, though; he's even cooler than ol' Joe. Hotsuma can run on walls, dash around at lightning speed and wipe out a whole gaggle of foes at one time with his "Tate" (pronounced tah-tay) attack.
In this age of adventure and stealth games, Shinobi surprises with pure, unadulterated action. No sneaking around corners or solving silly puzzles to slow down the pace. Here, you venture through 16 levels of jumping, dodging and extremely bloody killing. Each stage concludes with a tough boss character (usually one of your undead former friends), and slaying him requires some serious ninjitsu skills. It's classic, white-knuckle gameplay, and it's hellishly hard. The difficulty level escalates early on, reaching insane levels by the game's end. Sadly, the challenge isn't entirely fair. All three reviewers found the sluggish camera system to be a real pain in the heat of action, and many levels dish out one-hit deaths too frequently. Perseverance and patience pay off, though, as the game includes some juicy unlockable goodies (including secret playable characters) for players who collect all of the hidden tokens scattered throughout the levels.
Thinking back on the 15 hours I spent with Shinobi, a flood of wildly contrasting memories fills my head. The good times surface first, like all those times I pulled off a perfect Tate attack to slaughter a screen-full of enemies in an exploding orgy of blood. (Take that, damned ninja dogs! Now you're just a pile of bloody limbs!) The perfect, razor-sharp controls made manipulating Hotsuma a treat. And I never tired of watching the silky-smooth animation of his scarf and dashing shadoweverything he does just looks phenomenally cool. Finally, I wax nostalgic about the tense, nerve-wracking boss encounters that populate Shinobi. Each of the 16 stages ends with a dramatic, unique boss fight that offers an unbelievable challenge. Thinking about the bosses, however, reminds me of the game's nagging problems, which combine to kick it down a few notches. This adventure will probably be too hard for most gamers. Shinobi games have a history of harrowing difficulty, but between the lack of mid-level checkpoints and the countless one-hit falling deaths, you'll be replaying these stages over and over. Also, the levels tend to get awfully repetitive, recycling the same simple layouts as you face waves of identical enemies. Finally, the clunky camera system left me frustrated and annoyed. Thankfully, none of these problems completely spoil the fun, so Shinobi still succeeds at delivering visceral, rewarding ninja action.
By James Mielke
Score:7.5 (out of 10)
I'm a fan of classic game franchises making a comeback, so the return of Shinobi is a welcome one. Hotsuma is the supermodel of video-game action heroeslean, stylish and meanand he fights as good as he looks. Unleashing his bag of lethal ninja moves is a snap once you've acclimated to the controls. But the game stumbles in its lackluster level design and repetitive combat (run down hallway, enter big room, fight bad guys, repeat). Combine the highly demanding camera system with the fact that the second half of the game is intensely hard, and I'd recommend that only the most dedicated gamers take the plunge.
By Che Chou
Score:7 (out of 10)
All you would-be ninjas itching to pick up Shinobi this month, be warned: This game is hellaciously hard. So much so that I can't even think of the words to describe how difficult Shinobi becomes halfway through. Don't get me wrongthe game is a thrilling little slash-and-dash affair that employs an innovative (and skillful) combo system, but it's hard to feel like a bad-ass ninja when you're constantly plunging down bottomless pits to your death. I'd like to sit down with whoever designed the later levels (especially the ones without floors), and give them a piece of my mind (or a piece of my fist). Casual and easily frustrated gamers need not apply.