Developed and published by Sega in 1987.
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I'd wager that anyone into video games growing up knows about this classic action game released by Sega into the arcades in 1987. Even if you never had the opportunity to play the arcade version, it was ported to just about every computer and console available at the time.
The player assumes the role of ninja, Joe Musashi, who must take down the evil terrorist organisation known as "Zeed". Zeed has kidnapped the young students of Musashi's clan and it's up to Joe to rescue them.
The game is a horizontally-scrolling shooting/platform game set across a number of levels, each of which is sub-divided into several stages. Each level culminates with a fight against a boss, which must be defeated before the player is allowed to progress.
A set number of hostages must be rescued in order to access the next level. Although the hostages are not particularly difficult to find, an indicator in the bottom left of the screen tells the player how many remaining hostages there are in the stage.
As you might expect, Zeed is not about to let Musashi rescue the hostages without putting up a fight. A diverse range of thugs block his path, including gun-toting mercenaries, bazooka-wielding heavies and a wall-climbing man that bears an awfully close resemblance to a certain web-slinging Marvel super-hero. Enemies start to get a little more surreal in the later levels of the game as jumping mutants and the undead come out to play.
Musashi is armed with an unlimited supply of shuriken with which he can hurl at opponents to despatch them from afar. However, certain enemies are capable of deflecting projectiles, so the player must either time their attacks whilst the enemies guard is down, or get close enough to perform a melee attack (which cannot be blocked). Certain hostages will award a bazooka power-up when rescued and these shots cannot be blocked, making enemies more trivial.
When things are looking desperate, Musashi can call upon his magical ninja powers to launch a devastating attack that will clear the screen of any regular enemies. Unfortunately, magic is limited to a single use per level, so you must really choose the right moment to use it.
Being a coin-op, I expect the game to be difficult; after all, arcade owners want to keep punters pumping the coins in. What I did notice, however, was inconsistency in the difficulty of certain stages, particular the third end-of-level boss (Mandara). I don't object to a game being challenging, but there several places where enemies spawn in locations/quantities that will simply rob you of a life and bring you one step closed to dropping another coin in the slot if you wish to continue.
Of course, it's impossible to talk about Shinobi without mentioning THAT bonus stage. The game changes to a first-person view with Musashi's hands visible, holding shuriken that he proceeds to throw at hostile ninja as they run along two platforms. The ninja will attempt to jump from the rear platform to the front and this is where they become really dangerous; any ninja who manages to leap from the first platform will suddenly appear in front of you, filling your vision and prematurely ending the stage. Each ninja that appears moves along a predetermined path, so you have to learn which of them must be killed first. There seemed to be something extremely futuristic about the first person perspective and depth of field scaling as you hurled shuriken into the background and I'm not surprised it features prominently in the game's attract mode. Although the rest of the game had a tendency to look somewhat bland, the bonus stage really stepped things up a notch n the visual department.
Shinobi's success in the arcades would lead to a hugely successful franchise of sequels, conversions and dedicated console-only releases for Sega's 8-bit and 16-bit machines. Although these games usually had more involved gameplay, they all stay true to the original arcade game's premise of hurling lots of shuriken and killing lots of baddies.
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