Shinobi (Sega, November 1987)Posted on May 19th, 2011 2 comments
Sorry about all the videos lately. I keep on coming across games I want to talk about.
Shinobi might be my favorite among all the ’80s Sega arcade games. It’s a tough choice — it’s competing against both Space Harrier and Out Run, after all — but I have to go with this one. There’s no better personification of the era it’s from. It’s got 16-bit visuals, FM sound, side scrolling, and lots of ninjas. Yet it’s so much more refined than every other ninja game of the time. The music’s got this very smooth, muted groove to it that’s more Miami Vice than fighting game, and that reserved feel extends to the graphics, too — very few bright colors, no innocent bystanders, no trash on the ground, some kind of Warhol thing going on in the first stage’s background. In the flash and blare of late-’80s arcades, it stood out in the way that it didn’t stand out. Taito’s The Ninja Warriors is kind of similar in visual style, and I’d like to think that’s not an accident.
Like Gradius and Dragon Spirit, Shinobi is an arcade game that Japan’s Gamest magazine spent several issues in early 1988 dissecting apart like a frog in bio class. Nothing is random to enemy placement or movement patterns in this game, and as long as you’ve got a good memory and enough coordination, you can finish the entire game without remarkable trouble.
If you’re a master (like the guy who recorded this real-time play is), then you go through as many stages as you can without using a shuriken. I was in awe of this the first time I saw a guy do it at my local arcade over two decades ago. I didn’t think it was remotely possible, even though the idea should’ve occurred to me long ago — after all, the color-coded ninjas that appear starting in Mission 2 are a lot easier to defeat at close range with punches or your sword. All of the non-boss stages in this video are completed without using shuriken, although the player does use ninja magic strategically once or twice.
Humorously, not even this player can successfully complete any bonus stage apart from the first one. Even if you know the pattern, it requires the sort of precision last seen with some of the hairier Pac-Man routines Ken Uston printed in his book. (The player in this video gets killed by the very last guy in the third, though, heartbreakingly.)
This playthrough takes around 16 minutes, which is longer than the TAS record of 10:30 or so, but watching a human do this is a lot more fascinating to me. (You might want to look up the TAS on YouTube anyway, though. It features a very clever method for skipping most of the third boss battle.)
I’ve been trying to conquer the great SMS port of Shinobi recently and I choke, consistently, at the same parts I used to choke at back in the day. Watching this video had inspired me to keep trying
I never managed to clear those Shuriken-throwing bonus rounds. I thought having no continues for the final stage was ridiculous at first (especially considering the game uses checkpoint respawns), but now I learned to appreciate that design choice.
Have you ever read the liners of the Shinobi Music Collection boxset? It includes anecdotes from the directors of each Shinobi game. Did you know the original Shinobi was supposed to have a shuriken-shaped slider controller instead of a joystick? Or that the final boss is Joe Musashi’s dad?
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