Shinobi (Game Gear, 1991)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

It feels like an eternity ago when I first played Shinobi on the Sega Game Gear. This game came out in 1991, probably about two or three years before I played first played it on my Game Gear. I was a wee little munchkin at the time, only eight or nine years old. The fact that I enjoyed this game as immensely as I did back in the day when I was so young says something significant, because this was a very rough game!

There is very little that I can probably fault this game for as I look back on it now. Sure, there weren’t many features and there was practically no story, but it made up for all of this by having soul destroyingly difficult gameplay. Like many older games, Shinobi didn’t have alot of stages. This game only had five in total. “Only five stages?!” … is what I hear you cry out. Yes, only five, and the first four can be completed in any order.

Despite the fact that there are only five levels, only one of them happens to be anything less than hellishly difficult, and that is the highway stage. Take it from me, this is the level you’ll want to beat first! Even though the level is a breeze, the boss is pretty overwhelming. It is a plane that swoops down quickly from left to right while suicidal maniacs crawl up to you and blow themselves up over and over. It sounds rough and it certainly can be, especially when you take into account how hard the boss can be to hit. The plane moves so quickly and the collision detection with it is so odd that you’re bound to take a significant beating. Just check at the video I’ve posted at the bottom if you need further proof.

The point of the game is to rescue your fellow ninjas from the four initial stages before going after the final boss in the fifth and final stage. You can swap between your main character (red ninja) and any ninjas you’ve rescued at any point in the game, and they all have different techniques. The red ninja attacks with a sword, the pink ninja throws bombs, the yellow ninja shoots some kind of chi projectile, the blue ninja uses a grappling hook, and the green ninja throws shurikens. They all have unique special moves as well, and they have passive abilities such as wall climbing and water walking.

Aside from questionable collision detection, the second thing that makes this game very hard is the small screen size. I remember having problems on the Game Gear and I’ve also had recent problems when I emulated the game. The screen is just so small that most mobile enemies appear almost right in front of you and you’ll probably take damage unless you have quick reflexes. Thankfully, stationary enemies don’t cause as much grief.

This game sounds really awesome for a Game Gear game, and I remember rocking out to the soundtrack as a kid. Yes, I was that nerdy. I absolutely loved the music in this game when I was young! It’s still pretty cool to listen to, as I find it to be very nostalgic.

Shinobi was probably my favourite game on the Game Gear, and I highly recommend it even today, as it’s a challenging and fun platformer. I won’t give out any rom links or anything and I won’t openly encourage the use of a rom. I feel that I’m scott free since I used to own a legal copy, but maybe I’m not? Regardless, it was fun to play this game again recently. Check it out if you’re able to and you love old school platformers.