Thursday, April 16, 2009

50 Great Arcade Games #9 - Shinobi

You simply can't go wrong with this one. The original Shinobi is definitely an arcade classic. There's so much to absorb in every playthrough and the attention to detail and smart game design is groundbreaking. It's no wonder the release of this game prompted a bunch of developers to release clones/similar-styled games. 

As the ninja Joe Musashi you fight through five levels to take down the leader of the criminal underworld known as Zeed. All of these levels are broken up into stages with a bossfight at the end. Your only weapons are your limitless shurikens, your karate, maybe a gun & a sword, and even some ninja magic. 

HOWEVER if you want to get the highest score possible you need to forget about your shurikens, gun, and magic. Cause at the end of every stage you're given huge bonuses for not using any of those things. The only way to not use a shuriken(since you only have one attack button) is to get as close as possible to an enemy. This is tricky business because they'll punch you, shoot you, stab you, and all those other nasty things(especially considering you can only get hit once). Figuring out the best way to take out everyone as well as doing it in the limited amount of time you have really makes the most of this game.

If that wasn't enough Sega devised a number of really interesting scoring techniques you're not likely to pick up on during regular play. Sure most of them won't affect your chances of survival(you've got enough problems as this is one of the harder arcade games) but they're certainly interesting. Even little things like how you choose to rescue hostages can lead to some large bonuses.

Though the stage variety comes up short compared to later console-only Shinobi games you'll hardly complain as all five levels feature crafty design and are a constant challenge. The bossfights take what you've learned in the stages and dresses them up to make some memorable fights. Bonus rounds between levels where you attempt to kill the ninjas before they get to you is a good source for 1ups as well as points. This all helps to further round out the package, constantly forcing you to keep your guard up.

The sequel Shadow Dancer adds an interesting concept(a ninja dog!) but for the most part the game is just like the original as you'll recognize many of the mechanics at work. It's a good game but just not quite as good as the original. It's also in my opinion a fair bit easier.


So okay you read the last update where I mentioned Time Crisis 3 and now you're thinking: "First he faults Time Crisis 3 for having multiple weapons though only one is perfectly suited for scoring but then he praises Shinobi for having the same? What a hypocrite."

I'll go ahead and point out the difference right now. In TC3 your handgun while it doesn't have the pure destructive force of the rocket, the ammo clip and rapid fire of the machinegun, or the large area that the shotgun covers, it still has a decent enough clip and can handle any situation even if you have nothing else to turn to.

What exactly is Joe's close-range attack good for? Close range and that's about it. In fact you actually have to go out of your way and make the game harder just to guarantee you'll be able to punch/sword certain enemies. If you screw up you're likely to throw a shuriken which'll cost you serious points or worse you'll get killed since there is really no room for error. In essence you switch from shuriken to close-range to make Shinobi much harder and you switch from machinegun/shotgun/rocket to handgun to make Time Crisis 3 normal difficulty. 

So how exactly does one go about making Shinobi harder? Well take this into consideration. There's a guy with a gun standing behind a crate firing away. With a shuriken you can take him out either while he's reloading or even when he's shooting(provided you remember to duck or jump out of the way as well). A punch, kick, or sword? Well now you'll have to work your way around him(though thanks to the multiple plane system this is usually not that hard) and take him down from there. This is a simple scenario but obviously one can expect they'll get more complicated as the game progresses(especially when enemy ninjas are introduced).

Thankfully Shinobi introduces a very important design decision in that simply bumping into enemies won't kill you(just don't bump into their weapons and attacks). Instead you'll be knocked harmlessly away(or not so harmlessly if you happen to be standing next to a pit) along with the foe, allowing you a chance to strike. Rolling Thunder has somewhat similar gameplay but touching a foe instantly drains half of the player's life away(while a bullet or other weapon will take it all). This is all well and good until one realizes that they could be killed from enemies walking in through doorways and other needlessly frustrating issues. I bring this up because Rolling Thunder came out in 1986 while Shinobi hit in 1987. It's entirely possible Sega noted the issue in enemies running into the player and devised this design. I think it worked out quite well in that a number of action games that followed Shinobi use similar designs in their handling of the player colliding with enemies. I'm not sure if I would call it groundbreaking (though I'll be the first to point out any action game worth their salt requires that the player can not be killed or even damaged by running into an enemy) but it did inspire other developers in the arcades to follow the same route(especially since a number of them put out clones of Shinobi). 

It should also be noted that not using magic or shurikens to gain the most points is a mainstay of the Shinobi series(even the console-exclusive titles do this..except Shinobi PS2 I believe). Also while titles like Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi 3 added health meters one can still get a substantial amount of bonus points for not getting hit at all. 

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