Revenge of Shinobi was a landmark title in the Genesis’s life early on. It truly made everyone take notice of what the system was capable of with excellent action, superb graphics, and an amazing soundtrack. 2 years later and we have a game that absolutely obliterates it: Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. This right here is ninja perfection.
Shinobi III was released in 1993 after a protracted development cycle. Unhappy with what they had created, Sega scrapped the initial final release close to completion and started over. After having gone through a retooling the finished game exceeded everyone’s expectations to say the least. The Neo Zeed has returned under the leadership of a man known only as the Shadow Master. Joe Musashi returns from the mountains to fight them once more. It sucks that the game suffered such a long delay but in the end we ultimately benefited.
Take everything that made Revenge of Shinobi incredible and give it a shot of adrenaline. ROS was no slouch in terms of gameplay but there were some elements of it that could use buttoning up. The entire game is much faster now, owned in large part to Joe’s new repertoire of moves. You can dash, perform a running slash that also makes you temporarily invincible, a jump kick, the ability to block attacks, and have the power to hang and jump off most surfaces.
This increase in agility and mobility is accounted for in the levels, giving you ample opportunity to use them. The jump kick especially comes in handy as an emergency escape button, and you can even chain it off multiple enemies. One of the biggest improvements comes from the tightening of the double jump: in ROS it was incredibly finicky; here you have more leeway when it comes to activating it. It’s a good thing that was fixed as you’ll need it as you traverse the levels.
The level design is the true star of the show. Every level is composed of multiple parts and will take you on a roller coaster ride of set pieces. The second level begins with Joe on horseback on your way to a military base. The third level takes place in a bio-lab and has you dodging fire from the boss prior to even fighting him. The surfing in the fourth stage is kind of cheesy (bad memories of Surf Ninjas) but the level itself is still awesome. All of your abilities come into play at some point and thanks to the steady ramp up in difficulty you’ll have time to master them before they become absolutely necessary.
By the time you reach level 6 you’ll need to have mastered double jumping in one of the greatest platform levels of all time. The final level will put every single skill and the knowledge you’ve accumulated throughout the course of the game in a test of your platforming skills. The challenge remains fair throughout the entire game with a nice curve in difficulty as you progress. You’ll start out a novice but by the end you’ll be double jumping with the best of them.
2-3 years had passed since the release of Revenge of Shinobi and the Genesis library had gone through several generational leaps in terms of graphics. Shinobi III stands as one of the best looking games in the system’s catalog; no easy feat. The backgrounds pulse with ridiculous amounts of detail, with scrolling as far as the eye can see. The limited color palette is put to good use to create atmosphere, such as the burning forest of stage five.
The bosses put most games to shame: the monstrosities on display really are on another level. Remember the Godzilla fight from Revenge of Shinobi? This fight makes that one look like Barney. All of this without the use of any special chips. Yuzo Koshiro does not return for the soundtrack, but his stand-ins do an admirable job composing tracks that match the action. I like the music here better but my opinion is the minority.
You have one of the greatest action games released for the genesis available on numerous download services and compilation packs. You don’t need me to tell you to buy it. You can look at the screenshots, and if your blood doesn’t get pumping you sir, do not have a pulse.