Shinobi Cover
Platforms Nintendo 3DS
Genre Ostentatious Ninja Action
MtAMinutes to Action 3
Keep Playing? For a bit
Buy from Amazon

Nintendo takes a lot of crap for its reluctance to provide even rudimentary online features, and rightfully so. But I have to admit, I'm a big fan of the Virtual Console service on Wii and 3DS. The convenience of having Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all in the same tiny system was too much for me to ignore: I happily bought them all even while their systems and cartridges were mere feet away from my TV.

It's more rewarding, though, to discover classics that I missed out on as a kid. One such game was Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Though I owned a Genesis as a kid, all I ever played were Sonic games. Cutting through the excellent ninja sidescroller via the Wii's emulation service, I felt as though I'd rectified a childhood oversight.

Retro revivals are all the rage, and Shinobi's getting in on the action on 3DS. The new game is a prequel, simply called "Shinobi" in accordance with the entertainment industry's efforts to confound posterity by recycling the same titles over and over again. Judging from the low poly character models, I actually suspect Shinobi 3DS actually began development on Nintendo's last generation DS and was hastily upgraded. But hey, it's not the visuals that matter to me, it's the tough-but-fair sidescrolling action. Let's see if that's still intact.

Minute by Minute

00 - New Game, Normal difficulty. "Ninjitsu has no style. The secret is within you." An old guy and a ninja kneel in a dojo. They both have long, whispy red scarves that float off of their necks. Doesn't all that white and red make them really easy to see?

01 - The old ninja hands the young one a scroll. Apparently it's the tutorial scroll, because the game just dumped an extensive twenty page control scheme in my lap. This seems like a lot of stuff to remember for an action sidescroller...screw it, I'm just going to trust my ninja instincts.

02 - An animated cutscene...evil ninjas are attacking the village! Man, when are they going to make a game where you can be one of the evil ninjas, burning the hero's village? That sounds like fun.

03 - "1256 AD, JAPAN." I come out of the dojo and am immediately smacked in the face with a ninja star. Bright red numbers accompany this shame, denoting a score penalty. Guess this game is big on high scores.

04 - I parried a ninja star! My smug satisfaction deflates when I get hit immediately thereafter. Guess you have to parry each one with proper timing.

05 - I get points for slashing enemies with my katana, too. Only one slash is needed to fell them, but additional cuts before they fall over yield more points, I guess. There seems to be a combo gauge building in the corner, too.

06 - I climb up under a bridge and hang on the bottom, advancing hand-over-hand across the chasm below. Every ninja game leads me to believe that leaves are perpetually falling in Japan, and those red gates to Shinto shrines are everywhere. I've passed like eight of them already in Shinobi.

07 - An enemy with a chain sickle takes a few more hits to defeat than the entry-level ninjas. Busting up some crates yields health and other things that are probably more points.

08 - Cutscene: I've arrived in a dojo...the same one I left? There's an old guy there cutting down ninjas...the same old guy I left? Did I just go around in a big circle? I have no idea what's going on here. The narrator says some more philosophical nonsense and I hop on a horse.

09 - I'm on a horse, riding into the background at a rather awkward angle. Gotta dodge trees and kill horseback ninjas.

10 - Clip clop clip clop...bah, I hit a tree and died! Starting again on the horse...

Shinobi 3ds Horsey

11 - Still riding...this is getting kind of old by now, dodging the same trees and killing the same ninjas. The stereoscopic 3D helps, I guess, but a standard behind-the-back camera angle would be better.

12 - Back on-foot, dicing up some ninja scrubs. Not to say they're pushovers, I'm taking quite a beating and barely clinging to life.

13 - Oops, fell off a narrow platform. I'll blame that one on using analog controls for 2D platforming, but admittedly the 3DS's circle pad nub thing works okay.

14 - Hmm, this area has more tricky platforming. I'm wall jumping, double jumping, and ceiling-climbing through a small maze of woodwork, filled with dangerous spikes for some reason.

15 - It would be easier to get through here if I could see the spikes before dropping right onto them. Tricky, old-school platforming. More deaths. I think I have five lives remaining, which is surprisingly generous.

16 - Phew, finally through that deathtrap. A tough-looking enemy ahead with a spear guards a cave, shooting shockwaves across the ground. This is the same mini-boss from Shinobi 3! Yep, jump the shockwave, hit him while his guard is down.

17 - I head into the cave he was guarding. Inside is a raft: I cut its ties and the raft starts drifting. Ninjas leap out of the water to attack, of course they do.

18 - Hopping deftly across logs drifting down a waterfall. My sword is glowing, was it doing that before?

19 - Still platforming, wall-jumping, katana-ing...Collected a ninja scroll, what does it do? Maybe I should have actually read that tutorial after all.

20 - I parried a ninja star in mid-air, ho yeah. It's the little things that just make you feel like a badass.

Shinobi 3ds Uppercut

21 - Another shockwave spear enemy...this time the shockwave returns to him like a boomerang. Again, this guy is ripped right out of Shinobi 3. Good thing, too, or I probably wouldn't have known to hit and run between his attacks.

22 - I've climbed up higher in the cavern, where it must be colder because icicles hang from the ceiling. Steel spikes, too. I have to double jump low under the spikes, then throw a grappling hook to the ceiling and climb. It's not easy.

23 - Outside the cave now, there seems to be a snowy forest atop this mountain. What seem to be crates full of health actually have lit bombs inside. Damn dirty ninja tricks.

24 - Jumping up through this mountainside, with ninjas guarding each narrow foothold on the precipice. They aimlessly toss ninja stars most of the time, but when I try to jump in and strike, they tend to attack before I get the chance.

25 - I think I've fought my way to the top of the mountain now. I head into another cave near the peak.

26 - Hmm...dead people in the snow. They look like they froze to death, some of them standing up.

27 - A woman in a white robe appears. "Yuki Onna." She shoots icicles at me. That's rude. Seriously.

28 - She has some kind of ice shield around her, but wanes during her attacks. She's not especially dangerous, I can jump right over her and swipe at her back. After hitting her a couple times, a QTE prompt triggers a special attack with the grappling hook. Rinse, repeat, and she's dead in the snow.

29 - "The unstoppable collide. Only one shall survive." Man, this narrator is the only exposition I'm getting from the game, and nothing he says is relevant to the plot. My dude finishes off the snow lady in a cutscene, and a firefly lands on his katana. The game takes this time to show me my shameful ranking and lets me know that I unlocked achievements through my successes (Finish off the boss in under two minutes) and my defeats (Fall to your death). Neat.

30 - "The future is unknown. The past is done. There is only now." Now I'm in a jungle, and a helicopter is in the distance. Wait, a helicopter? Japan had helicopters in 1256 AD? Now I'm tied up in the helicopter, surrounded by troops...a firefly lands on my sword, apparently enraging me. I kill everyone in the helicopter except for one soldier...a woman? He or she parachutes away. I turn off my 3DS, baffled.

Shinobi 3ds ice Lady

My Thoughts

- What the hell is this game about? I'm used to nonsense in ninja video games, but this is Shyamalan-level craziness. Is feudal Japan separated from modern civilization only by a forest or something?

- Way to drop that extensive control list in my lap right away, Shinobi. It's not like the game mechanics are that hard to figure out, but seeing everything at once before the action even started was intimidating and clumsy.

- Once I got the hang of things, I started to enjoy Shinobi's katana and kunai clanging. Not unlike the immediate XP gains in a Call of Duty match, there's an extra bit of instant gratification in every parried ninja star (and a small token of shame in every blow taken). Both melee and ranged options seem suitable for almost any encounter, and each has its own set of options. Kunai reserves recharge automatically, so you can throw them in quick succession (and even expend the whole lot in a jumping fan-spread of blades) and then wait for the numbers to build back up, or you can pace yourself to make sure there's always a knife in your bag. The sword's three-hit combo, uppercut leap, and sweeping swipe seem unnecessary for now, but I can see them coming into play later as combo-builders.

- Speaking of the combo system, it seems to make your weapons more powerful as it builds. My kunai definitely got stronger as I dispatched more enemies and avoided damage, anyway. That said, I'm not sure I like how piling hits onto an already dead enemy is the surest method of combo building. It's flashy, but it also slows things down a bit, making each enemy a sandbag to juggle rather than a threat to toss aside. I can see the chase for a stage-long combo being incentive for replay, though.

- The widescreen, zoomed-in camera can make the more vertical platforming of Shinobi feel kind of cheap. I'll blame at least one or two of my deaths on the frequent inability to see what dangers lie below the screen boundaries.

- As you can probably tell from the screenshots, Shinobi's visuals aren't exactly pushing the 3DS's limits. The hard-edged art style and smooth animations keep it somewhat respectable, though. It looks better than these horrid screenshots would have you believe, but not much better.

Would I keep playing? For a bit. Shinobi seems to be a capable sidescrolling action game thus far, but it lacks a compelling hook that sticks in my mind when I put the game down.

In 3D? Probably not. The 3D effect shoots back the scrolling backgrounds, but has little more effect than that. The game doesn't seem like it would suffer without a stereoscopic view. The animated cutscenes are in 2D anyway.

Shinobi 3ds Kunai