Early in the Sega Genesis’ life the system was dominated by arcade ports. The reasons for this are numerous of course, but not as overt as you would think. Sega has always had a strong arcade heritage which continues even today. With the release of the Genesis they now had a home console powerful enough to reasonably convert most of their more demanding arcade cabs and did so with aplomb. Another reason came as a direct result of Nintendo’s strong arm tactics. Third parties were locked up by stringent contracts and could not directly support Sega so they had to license their games to Sega who would then do the conversions themselves. It’s actually mind boggling how many of these they programmed but if you loved arcade action games you were happier than a pig swimming in its own..you know.
But that’s the rub! Arcade ports are fine but they mostly only appeal to people who were already fans to begin with. Also arcade games are designed for one purpose: suck as many quarters as possible out of every pocket. You can see this in games like Ghouls & Ghosts with the frustrating amount of cheap deaths that occur. Original games designed for the home market were needed, and it’s here that Revenge of Shinobi comes in. First of all, the intro. For its time the intro starring Sonny Chiba as Shinobi was mind blowing. And that music! The whole soundtrack for the game represents Yuzo Koshiro at his peak.
A direct sequel to the arcade game, Revenge of Shinobi Joe Musashi running afoul of the Zeed organization once again, except now they have christened themselves the “Neo Zeed”. They kidnap your girlfriend, kill your master as revenge, and you set off in pursuit. Released in 1989, this quite possibly was the first major release that turned heads and made everyone take the system seriously. I would even go as far as to call it a killer app.
Gameplay is split into 8 stages with 2 sections each capped off with a boss fight. Your journey to destroy the Neo Zeed will take you from the ancient ruins hidden in a bamboo forest to a Zeed military base. You even stop by the ship docks of New York as you finally assault the Neo Zeed marine fortress to save the girl. Your arsenal of moves has been greatly expanded compared to the original and you’ll need every single one of them. You still have your traditional ninja stars and when in close use your sword to conserve ammo. The two biggest additions are the double jump and the rainbow shuriken throw (well at least that’s what I call it). The double jump is absolutely essential to the game which is why it’s so infuriating to activate. You have to jump at the apex of your previous leap with no margin for error. The rainbow throw is activated in conjunction with the double jump and covers a wide area of the screen at the cost of more stars. It’s a cool visual but will clean you out if abused.
The ninja magic system has also been overhauled completely. You have your choice of 4 spells to use with all serving a function. You only get 1 use per stage with 2 exceptions: collecting a power-up or using the last spell, Mijin, which sacrifices one of your lives to inflict damage and refill your life bar. You get a point bonus for not using them at all, but you know what? Fuck that. The game is already hard as it is, there’s no sense punishing yourself even further.
That difficulty I just mentioned is absolutely insane. There’s no battery backup, no passwords and limited continues. Its all or nothing as you pursue the Zeed leader to rescue the girl. Enemies come in waves at times with some devious trap placement. There is a heavy emphasis on platforming and in combination with the finicky double jump will lead to many cheap deaths. The frequent bottomless pits demand near perfection of the double jump or you face death, something that the controls aren’t up to the task of handling.
It’s very easy to burn through your stock of shuriken forcing you to rely on hand to hand combat. Hell, the boxes that contain power-ups even try to kill you in the form of explosives. The fucking boxes try to kill you too! The last stage consists of a maze of doors that will break the sturdiest of gamers. I freely admit I had to cheat to find my way through it, a fact that I’m not the slightest bit ashamed of.
Sega you naughty bastards!
The bosses are in a word, awesome. All of the bosses have unpredictable patterns and require lightning reflexes to survive. In addition to their Sega’s own creations you will fight Spider-Man, Batman, Godzilla, and depending on the version, Devilman. Or at least representations of them. The licensing arrangements regarding these characters has resulted in at least 4 different versions of the game out in the wild. The final boss battle is a controller breaking experience as you struggle to prevent Naoko from being crushed to death while fighting the Zeed leader at the same time. There are 2 endings depending on whether you are successful or not and chances are you’ll fail. Yes I’m predicting that you’ll fail but I speak from personal experience.
If you’ve made it this far good luck, you’re gonna need it.
The legacy that Revenge of Shinobi has left behind is many. The soundtrack has been performed at numerous video game music concerts and composer Yuzo Koshiro even uses some of the tracks when DJing at clubs. Whenever Sega releases retro compilations it’s a sure bet that Revenge of Shinobi will be included in the list of classics. It was a much needed shot in the arm for the Genesis and gave the series a boost in the public eye.