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Jesus what a terrible game.  Shinobi in the arcade was hugely popular and one of Sega’s biggest quarter crunchers of the time.  The original arcade game was markedly different from the exclusive home console Shinobi games, resembling Rolling Thunder more than the straight up action games on the Genesis.  It saw many home ports to nearly every computer format you can imagine and in a surprising twist was released on the NES through Tengen.  They really shouldn’t have bothered as the NES version is a truly awful piece of crap.

The criminal organization known as Zeed have been kidnapping children all around the world and Joe Musashi is here to save the day.  Shinobi was just in time to cash in on the ninja craze of the 80s and was a decent clone of Namco’s Rolling Thunder, proving that the two companies were guilty of copying each other long before Virtua Cop/Time Crisis in the mid-90s.

Why Sega would go nuts and grant a license to release some of their most cherished properties of the time on a competing platform is a mystery.  Tengen were responsible for all of the NES versions of Sega games and each was poorly programmed and instantly recognizable by the oversized black cartridges.  The entire Tengen saga is interesting to read about but if you want more insight as to the behind the scenes this episode of Retronauts explains it all:

Admittedly I was never a fan of Shinobi; the stop and go action didn’t jive with what a ninja was supposed to be in my eyes back then.   Silly, I know.  The NES port of Shinobi is based on the Master System version, itself a well done conversion considering the hardware differences.  However due to incompetency, lack of skill, and the weaker hardware it turned out worse and qualifies as one of the worst games of all time.

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 Split up into 5 stages with numerous sub levels the goal of each stage is to find the kidnapped children and reach the exit in one piece.  “Find” is a bit too strong a description as they are all in plain sight.  Rather than a straight action romp Shinobi borrows from Rolling Thunder.  All enemies are deliberately placed and there are numerous boxes and other such objects to take cover behind and wait to attack.  Like that game you can jump between multiple levels to avoid enemies or grab items.  The level design was above average in the way certain enemies were placed and how you would try and deal with them without getting hit.

The NES version is missing a significant chunk of all of this, to the point where it’s almost a different game.  All of the secondary weapons are missing, leaving you to rely on shuriken and basic kicks to survive.  You can only fire a single projectile at once, which impacts the game severely.  Most levels consist of wide open spaces leaving the enemies in plain sight.   As long as you crouch and walk you’ll avoid getting hit the majority of the time.  The awesome vertical scrolling levels of the arcade game have been redesigned as horizontal stages.  Why all of these changes were made is a mystery as they were completely unnecessary.

The epic boss battles of the arcade have made it over but not without flaws.  The one projectile limit makes these fights nearly impossible, especially the battle against the Black Turtle helicopter.  Although the number of ninja attacking has been capped at 3 they move so fast and unpredictably that you’ll be bounced around and die without a chance to fight back.  Even worse you can’t see your life bar during the fight either.  The hit detection on each boss is so terrible that that it’s impossible to discern whether you are hitting the correct target or not.  Wailing on a massive demon for minutes at a time with no feedback is not fun at all.

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As if ruining the bosses weren’t enough the game is ungodly ugly as well.  The color choices chosen to replicate the arcade’s graphics are so far off the mark it’s unbelievable.  Joe Musashi does not resemble his arcade counterpart in the slightest and looks like a generic army grunt.  The music is an affront to your eyes with its one looping music track and grating sound effects.  Nearly all of the unlicensed Tengen games were in a special class of terrible but Shinobi is in a league of its own.

Normally at this point I would say don’t buy this under any circumstances but like most of the black Tengen carts it’s in short supply and the few that are out there are priced so high no one will bother.   As well they shouldn’t.


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