Back in the heady days of the 90’s console wars, Sega and Nintendo were in fierce competition for domination of the console market. This inevitably led to attempts by both sides to have the best of each kind of genre. Both too had a ninja series, with Nintendo having Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series while Sega developed their own, Shinobi. The first game in the series, predates the Ninja Gaiden series and was originally released in arcades before being released on consoles.
Shinobi III – Return of the Ninja Master is the final game in the series released for the Mega Drive and, confusingly, is the fourth game in the series (not counting ports and spinoffs) so I guess Sega couldn’t count back then?
Players reprise the role of master Shinobi Joe Muashi who once again is fighting the evil forces of the criminal organisation Neo Zeed to prevent them from destroying the world and other such related badness.
His journey takes him through a variety of locations, from a forest, ninja fortress, bio weapons facility and a hovering gunship, as well as having some pretty awesome levels in between them on horseback or a jet powered surfboard. Many enemies stand in his way, including ninjas, robots monsters and a mecha-Godzilla.
The previous game in the series, Revenge of the Shinobi, was noted for its incredible difficulty level and on release Shinobi III received some criticism for being much easier. Which isn’t to say that it’s a particularly easy game – I died a whole bunch of times on some bosses and a crazy amount on the last level – but is considered to be easy in comparison to its predecessor.
Joe has a wide range of moves, and can throw shurikens, attack with his sword, slide, dash and perform aerial kicks, which were new for this game. He’s also very agile, and can scale walls by jumping from side to side as well as hanging from ceilings.
Finally, he also has a selection of ninja magic powers that can make him briefly invincible, attack enemies with columns of fire or allow him to die and regenerate during a battle, preventing you from having to start the area again at the loss of a life.
The particular version of the game that I’ve played recently is the Nintendo 3DS port of the game, released as part of the Sega 3D Classics series. The game has been fully remade from the ground up by developer M2 who worked on the entire line, and contains the original gameplay intact as well as the ability to choose between different versions of the game such as the international or Japanese versions, custom control schemes and save state functionality. Visually the game looks very similar to the original release, but with the 3DS’ 3D effect used to create increased depth in the backgrounds.
Controls are generally good though I did find sometimes that I couldn’t seem to time a double jump quite right, I’m not sure if that was me messing the timing up (though I usually managed it, so I don’t think so) or if the game wasn’t detecting the input correctly. I don’t have a copy of the original release of the game to hand to determine if this is true of just the 3DS version or has been present from the beginning.
The sprite art in the game is mostly great, some of the regular enemies are pretty bland and repetitive but are made up for by some of the awesome bosses, and the levels mostly look really good too.
Despite it’s reputation as the ‘easy one’, I still found that Shinobi III puts up a decent challenge, is pretty good fun if you don’t mind dying a lot.