The Revenge of Shinobi can safely be considered a watershed title for Sega’s young 16-bit system. While previous games like Altered Beast or Golden Axe tried to mimic their older arcade brothers as closely as possible, the first 16-bit adventure of Joe Musashi was not only developed exclusively for the home console, it also surpasses most contemporary arcade games in every way. It looks better, sounds better, is lengthier, and offers gameplay depth rarely found in the late ’80s arcade.
While clearly taking cues from the first Shinobi, The Revenge of Shinobi plays much differently. The pacing is far more deliberate; the hero, now dressed all in white, has a broader range of skills; and the newly introduced life bar allows him to take quite a few hits before going down. Shinobi’s simple smart bomb magic takes on an expanded form: Four different jitsus are available, comprised of screen-clearing dragon-fire, a protective force-field, increased jumping skills, and a suicide attack that costs one life but refills the life bar while killing every enemy on screen and allowing the player to carry right on–perfect if you’re on your last legs and don’t want to start a stage over.
Not that you wouldn’t want to play the game’s inventive levels again and again. For his first 16-bit adventure, Sega’s number one ninja ventures through many inventive and gorgeous-looking scenarios ranging from the Japanese countryside, to a huge waterfall, crowded Tokyo highways, fortified military bases, Chinatown, and finally the labyrinthine lair of the hero’s arch-nemesis, who (in the best ’80s fashion) holds Musashi’s fiancée trapped in a deadly contraption. If the hero can’t defeat the final boss quickly enough, only the bad ending awaits. Besides the flawless playability and the beautiful graphics, the soundtrack is one of the game’s high points. Composed by the young Yuzo Koshiro, The Revenge of Shinobi features a great soundtrack that seamlessly blends a variety of genres into a brillant score that perfectly matches the flow of the game and the varied surroundings. Good thing the game features a sound test option!
And then there’s the subject of… let’s say… guest characters. Along the way, you fight Rambo, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Batman and Godzilla. Or at least some eerily similar lookalikes. In the following years, Sega realized that the property owners might not take well to a white-clad ninja defeating their valuable properties. So, one by one, these guys were phased out of the game. Rambo was given a haircut, Godzilla was exchanged for a walking skeleton, and in the latest releases, Spider-Man is now dressed in pink. Also, the face of Sonny Chiba that’s featured on the title screen was subtly changed to look less like the famous actor. Still, the mixture of Sega’s brazenness in placing other companys intellectual properties into their own game, combined with an excellent playability and timeless presentation make The Revenge of Shinobi one of the high points in the Genesis’ early run.
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: The Revenge of Shinobi