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Shadow Dancer

After the release of Revenge of Shinobi the franchise saw new life and momentum behind it.  When Sega announced a sequel, I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that expectations were high.  ROS had established itself as the ninja game, so it’s a bit of a disappointment that its sequel was a retuned port of an arcade game.  My own experience with the game was bit tainted; I didn’t own it, the annoying kid down the street did, and whenever I would start to get far in the game he would start whining.  “Gimme, it’s my game!”  So I kicked him out along with the game.  It would only be a bit later that I would play it sans irritating brat for a fresh perspective.

Shadow Dancer was released in arcades in 1989, the same year as Revenge of Shinobi actually.  A direct sequel to the original arcade release, it follows the same basic gameplay.  The story has you seeking revenge on the Union Lizards for the death of your master (or student depending on the version).  The Genesis version was released in 1990, a full year after Revenge of Shinobi, inviting comparisons between the two.

The changes are few between Shinobi and Shadow Dancer.   New to the game is the addition of your canine companion, Yamato.   After a quick charge, you can send your dog to detain enemies for you to close the gap and kill them unimpeded.  Stronger enemies or if he gets hit will cause him to shrink and become unavailable for a short period.

The arcade and Genesis have stark differences.  For the home version all of the levels are new, and rather than defusing bombs you are rescuing hostages like the first arcade game.  The bonus stage is an aerial drop off a building as you mow down ninjas coming at you rather than the first person shooting gallery the arcade games had.  Everything is done competently, so why is it a disappointment?

It’s just bland.  Comparing it to Revenge of Shinobi is a bit unfair, seeing as this is a sequel to the arcade game and not an original home release.  But as it was released after ROS, you can’t help but to compare the value.  The game is far shorter, consisting of 5 stages with 3 levels each.  It sounds like a lot, but most levels last less than 2 minutes.     In fact the game is so short it can be finished in a little over 20 minutes.  The majority of the game takes place in urban environments, which are a far cry from the Japanese temples and military bases that wowed just a year ago.  You can only take 1 hit before dying, which is annoying but understandable.  To offset this, direct collisions no longer kill you, just bump you back a bit.

All enemies have specific spawn points, so if you pay attention you can draw them out beforehand.  Yamato spices up the action but is wholly unnecessary.  You could go the entire game without using him and it would not make the slightest difference.  The tension heats up during the boss fights but they fail to excite.  The epic boss fights from Revenge of Shinobi are a hard act to follow of course, but they could have tried a little harder.

Judged entirely on its own, Shadowdancer is decent enough.  Judged as a sequel to Revenge of Shinobi it feels like a step back.  Approach it from those two perspectives and decide if it is worth your time.  I can’t really recommend it as you’ll blow through all of the content too quickly.


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