Ahhh Shinobi! A game that demands skill, determination and a host of replacement control pads.
Shinobi will always have a soft spot in my heart as its the first game I ever owned on my Sega Master System. One Christmas i asked for the Shinobi LCD handheld device and my brother a Golden Axe version (these were all the rage at the time). Opening our presents we finally got down to the last few and saw two rectangle shaped presents laying on the floor by the tree. Yes I thought, it has to be our LCD games, the presents were about the same size, so it must be them surely. Both myself and my brother eagerly waited patiently until we were handed the last two rectangle shaped presents. As i was concentrating on opening my own present i didn’t realise the look on my brothers face (he was always faster than me opening presents…..hmm and actually this year…nothing has changed 🙂 ) I unwrapped my present and saw it was a Sega Master System version of Shinobi! Double checking with my brother and now noticing his face, he had unwrapped the Master System version of Golden Axe. Without putting two and two together and at the same time trying not to let my parents show I was a little upset, I “pointed out” that they had accidentally bought the wrong present as these games were for a console….one which we didn’t own. My parents faces changed in a way i’ll never forget, instead of a look of disappointed instead their faces turned to amusement. Both my parents walked over to the sofa, lifted up the sitting cushion part of the sofa and pulled out a Sega Master System console. We had both been sitting there “most of the year” i might add, no doubt watching Teenage Mutant Hero (boooo) Turtles cartoons. So Shinobi has always been a favourite of mine both in memory and the game itself. So in Part 1 of this trilogy of articles I am going to focus on Shinobi for the Sega Master System and Arcade version.
Shinobi – by Sega 1987
Joe fighting the first stage boss Ken Oh on Master System
Joe fighting Ken Oh on the arcade version
Shinobi is a scrolling platform game where the hero Joe Musashi’s mission is to destroy a bunch of evil gang bosses, rescuing hostages along the way to the ultimate final boss battle. Shinobi was released in the arcade first, which is still the best version of the game to play (you can find it on PSN or XBOX Live) but the Sega Master System version is also an excellent port and worth picking it up to play or add to your collection. Shinobi was ported onto other home devices and maybe “Stevenger” (aka Mr Spectrum) might be able to fill in here on a ZX Spectrum version of the game.
Shinobi is split into five missions with a boss battle at the end of each. Each mission is split into stages which are shown with a map progression screen between each stage. The Sega Master System port of the game is very close to the original arcade version but does have some differences due to the limitation of the system and cartridge size. In the arcade version of the game, you must rescue the hostages in order to finish the stage but the Master System version allows this to be an optional objective. If you do collect hostages, you can then upgrade your standard shurikens and close range weapons. Collecting hostages will also refill your health meter and allow you to access the bonus stage in which your goal is to destroy all of the ninja’s to gain a Ninjitsu ability. You can have up to four magic abilities at once if you save them up. These get used in other Shinobi games and I will focus more on them in future articles.
Joe moves across the screen from left to right, throwing shurikens, jumping over obstacles and using close range weapons when needed. The screen in most parts is split into a top and bottom layer, meaning Joe can jump up and drop down when a hostage is placed in a difficult to get to area. This can sometimes cause confusion like in the above screen shot. It looks like you can just jump and free that hostage but in actual fact you need to do a “Hold Up” and jump to get to the top half of the screen. This does come into some clever level design in later levels though.
The arcade version of the game also includes a 3 minute timer for each stage which was removed from the Master System version. With higher level detail and visuals the arcade version looks very good to this day. The sounds and music tracks have dated considerably but it was amazing how much they managed to cram into the Master System version for the time. You will walk away humming some of the tunes on both versions. The arcade version of the game is also a lot tougher and the bonus stages are a real challenge, due to the frame rate of Master System version.
Arcade version displays higher detail and on screen progress indicators
Master System version without timer or hostages to save
Finally before I move on to the next set of games in the series I have to say that Shinobi is still a very good game to play, even now. If you have never played it, go play it, Shinobi is a must play game and is held as a classic not only in the arcade but home versions too. See you in Part 2