The best Shinobi game in years, that fails to live up to Genesis era greatness.
Shinobi (3D) is a good game. It is one of the best 2D style platformers on the 3DS. I'd give it 3.5 stars if it were possible.
If you can beat Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi blindfolded, play this game on beginner. It isn’t enough to have the reflexes that apply to the old 2D games. That could be due to 2 reasons: one, the responsiveness is far lesser with polygons rather than pixels, and two, the levels are simply too long. It makes sense in the style of a “modern” game to have longer levels, if you look at an action game like Bayonetta, but this game’s greatest flaw is that it tries to tie that one element to a style of game that never suited that style. I played the Shinobi games after their time; I had a Genesis, but it was one of few Sega franchises that I did not play some iteration of. The way the Genesis Shinobi games were designed then were immaculate, they aged very well. Due to the short form levels, the action and the progression never comes to a crawl. You never wonder “is this level almost over yet?” as you do with the 3DS game. Sure you get mid-level surprises like an After Burner tribute that only compliment this level design, but that certainly does not outweigh the negatives attached. There are never enough lives or checkpoints to accommodate this structure in the normal & above difficulties, on top of their boring, overplayed and non-complimentary nature in regards to the portable format.
As this review is so retrospective, I can say since this game came out that other games have been doomed with this same problem on the 3DS. “Retro”-styled games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate and Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate, besides having too many subtitles, also act as if the combat and sprawling 2D worlds of the games they were trying to emulate were not good enough - and are FAR worse in those aspects as a result. At least Shinobi 3D tries to emulate what worked about the target games’ movement and combat, so having played and beat those games, there is a lot more to respect about Shinobi 3D in comparison.
It is clear that the folks at Griptonite made this game with a reverence to Shinobi and Sega’s past. Included is a history of the Shinobi games, even acknowledging complete turds such as the Master System’s The Cyber Shinobi and the GBA’s THQ-published Revenge of Shinobi. You can unlock the original arcade game Joe Musashi costume (in free play), the lore is deeply respected/referenced in the main story. Also in free play, you can unlock a Golden Axe and Viking helmet for some rad Gilius Thunderhead cosplay. The aforementioned After Burner section that plays the theme music from After Burner.
The 3D effect is poorly implemented. As a launch title, it should be forgiven, as the graphics serve well enough otherwise. The art style is well drawn during cutscenes, and the textures seem filtered in a way that effectively hide the ugliness typical of non-2D third party titles on the system.
If you're looking to see what Shinobi is all about, play the Revenge of Shinobi (first revision if you can find it), Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, or Shinobi 3. Maybe the arcade versions of Shadow Dancer and Shinobi + the Master System version. The Game Gear games are pretty good! I can't recommend Shinobi for PS2 or Nightshade because I have yet to have the opportunity to experience them for myself. Once you've had a decent fill of those games, I would recommend giving this one a shot. This is one of Sega's greatest franchises with unrecognized potential (that I hope may be realized yet), and if you have enough patience for it, I have faith that this statement won't sound so pretentious.