Sega's Ninja Series
Overview of Games
The first game in the Shinobi franchise was an arcade action adventure game developed by Sega in 1987. The game (called Shinobi) became a huge arcade success causing Sega to release ports for the Sega Master System, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and various home PC gaming formats. When the 16-bit console the Sega Genesis (also known as the Mega Drive in other regions) arrived, a sequel to Shinobi was one of the first games released for the console. The game was called Revenge of Shinobi. Released in 1989, Revenge of Shinobi was considered a perfect showcase for the power of the Sega Genesis. It featured graphics that was above any on the home consoles at the time, as well as, a memorable soundtrack that first introduced many gamers to the talents of video game music composer Yuzo Kishiro. The sequel was also known as Super Shinobi in Japan.
Sega, realizing they had a hit game series on their hands, decide to make a another sequel in the same year called Shadow Dancer.. Unlike Revenge of Shinobi, Shadow Dancer was a game released in the arcades. It would later get ported to the Sega Genesis. Sega continued to make Shinobi games for the Master System. In 1990, Sega released The Cyber Shinobi. The game was a sequel to the Master System's port of Shinobi. Sega's handheld called Game Gear would also see a Shinobi game. It's known to many as GG Shinobi. Years later in 1993, Sega released the direct sequel to Revenge of Shinobi. Called Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, Sega once again pushed the envelope in graphics and sound. The game featured many graphic effects that many people thought the Sega Genesis wasn't capable of producing. The gameplay was considered a lot more fluid as well. Because of these positives, Shinobi III is considered the best in the series of Genesis games.
Now an establish franchise, Sega made a sequel to Shinobi III for their new 32-bit console the Sega Saturn. Called Shinobi Legions, the game featured realistic 2D sprite characters and graphics, replacing the pixel like ones from the past. The game was also the only in the series to feature live video cut-scenes that looked like they were taken from an average Ninja movie in Japan. Shinobi Legions achieved moderated success for the would be ill fated console.
The next game in the Shinobi series didn't come until the Xbox, Gamecube, and Playstation 2 era in 2002. At this time, Sega was no longer making consoles as their last two big efforts (Saturn and Dreamcast) met with failure. The developers were now focused on making games for other consoles. Shinobi for the PS2 was a complete overhaul of the series. It featured a new main character, a new story, and a new gameplay system. The game was a commercial success for Sega. However, some gamers and critics complained about the game's very high difficultly. In 2004, Sega released the sequel to the PS2's version of Shinobi. The game was called Nightshade and is the first game in the series to star a female Shinobi. The game achieved some success, but many gamers and critics consider the game inferior to the first Shinobi for the PS2.
From the first game in the series to Shinobi III, the storyline focused on the heroic efforts of modern day Ninja, Joe Musashi of the Oboro Clan. Joe's clan was attacked and destroyed by the criminal organization called Neo Zeed. Musashi's mastered was killed and his girlfriend taken hostage. This sets up the adventures in the original Shinobi. Revenge of Shinobi's story takes place when Joe Musashi sets out to destroy the entire Neo Zeed empire. By the end of the game, it's believed Joe accomplished this task. However, Neo Zeed wasn't destroyed and they slowly began rebuilding their empire. Joe finds out and once again becomes the Shinobi to destroy the criminal empire for good. This sets up the events in Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Joe Musashi has side adventures fighting crime while going after Neo Zeed. Shadow Dancer is suppose to chronicle his side adventures along with his canine sidekick. In the Japanese version of the game, however, the Shinobi in Shadow Dancer is Musashi's son, not Joe himself.
In Shinobi Legions, Joe Musashi is replaced by a Shinobi named Sho. Sho isn't from the Oboro clan. His story isn't about stopping Neo Zeed either. The story in this game focuses on Sho and his older brother being trained by a Ninja Master. The older brother becomes corrupt with the knowledge of the ancient arts and sets out to create his own criminal empire. He also kidnaps the Master's daughter; forcing her to marry him. Sho sets out to stop his evil brother. The games story is told through live action cut-scenes between game levels.
The remake of Shinobi for the Playstation 2 once again features a new protagonist. This time the Shinobi is named Hotsuma and he's a decent of the Oburo Clan. Like Shinobi Legions the game begins with him fighting his brother for the right to lead the Ninja Clan. However, Hotsuma's main adventure puts him against an evil sorcerer named Hiruko who tries to take over a futuristic Japan. The sequel to the Playstation remake called Nightshade, stars a female Shinobi named Hibana. She's an agent in a secret government outfit sent to destroy the Nakatomi Organization. She's also set up to be the rival of Hotsuma.
In the early games, Shinobi featured 2D linear gameplay. The players job was to move left to right through the stages and enemies. The levels are separated into parts. After finishing each part, the player faced the level boss at the end. Shinobi also was the first of many games to pioneer the two layered level design. Instead of just going straight through the level, Shinobi allowed you to jump into the background and you could advance through the level that way. While going through the levels in the original Shinobi, the player had to save hostages. The Shinobi starts out with throwing stars and close martial art attacks. However, you could gain power ups that allowed the Shinobi to use a handgun and his katana. In all the 2D sequels to the original game, the gun was replaced by a more powerful version of throwing stars. The Shinobi could also use various types of Ninja magic. This ranged from calling forth lighting, to completely self-destructing. The self-destruct power up was the most damaging to enemies, but you wasted a life if used. In the 2002 remake of Shinobi, the gameplay was completely changed. The game was remade in 3D, and you controlled the Shinobi from a third-person perspective . The goal is to kill all the enemies in a certain section during the level to advance. At the end of each stage is a boss battle. One of the new gameplay features was the link kill. This allowed you to chain enemy kills in a certain amount of time. If done right, the game showed a quick ingame cut-scene of all the linked enemies dying. The Shinobi also used throwing stars, but unlike the 2D games, the stars are used more for strategy. The katana is the main weapon the Shinobi uses to make kills.