Sunday, March 9, 2014

Review #101: Shinobi

 Oldschool goodness.
 Shinobi is a series that's sadly underrated, to think that it once was one of Sega's flagship titles! Curiously enough, three games, counting this one, share the "Shinobi" name, but I digress. Developed by Griptonite Games, Shinobi on the 3DS is a callback to the games of old, tough as nails and as unforgiving as it gets.

 The story.... makes no sense, but it all boils down to time travel, seriously. You play as Jiro Musashi, father of the legendary Joe Musashi(The hero from the first games), who during a invasion on his village gets sent into the future, for mysterious reasons, and must now battle Zeed in the future. The story never, ever makes much sense, and you do get cut-scenes before, and sometimes during, each level, but don't expect them to make much sense, at least you get to battle a mechanical shark!
 This is a platformer styled after the games of old, which is to say, memorization is a big part of the game. Plenty of times you'll be hit by stuff you weren't expecting, or maybe you won't be able to react fast enough to an obstacle after you've seen it, and that's alright, by your next run you'll be, hopefully, be able to deal with them. The game starts out hard and only gets more challenging as it goes on, having some very hard platforming segments on the last level. You'll have to jump, double jump, wall jump or hook to the roof in order to get through the game, but you'll also come across various enemies. Enemies are, on paper, the least of your worries, as they run on patterns, but the game loves mixing different kinds of enemies together so that you have to plan on how to get through them, sometimes with a little platforming on the mix. Combat is a no thrills affair, enemies go down after a couple of swings from your blade or Kunais, but you can actually juggle their corpses in order to raise the combo meter, which in turn gives you more damage and more points per hit, get hit once however, and your combo meter drops down to 1.

 Jiro has a couple of other tricks in his bag in order to make his journey easier, though not by a whole lot, in the form of four different spells and a parry. Y'see, blocking is too mainstream and a coward's move, instead Jiro can only parry, and you have to time it right unless you want to look like a fool and receive damage, although you can parry at, basically, any moment, and if you got your parry right, Jiro will automatically parry anything that tries to harm it soon after, meaning that enemy combos get parried automatically if you parry the first hit. As for spells, all of them are a one-time affair, unless you find a scroll lying about or respawn after death, and they provide many different bonuses, but lightning will be, by far, the most useful, making you invulnerable for three hits.
 As hard as the game is, you do get four different difficulty settings: Beginner, which grants you infinite lives and plenty of checkpoints, so you will, eventually, get through the game. Normal gives you five lives, but infinite continues, losing all your lives means starting the level from the very start. Ouch. Was Normal too easy for you? Hard limits your lives and continues to three each and you only get checkpoints on level transitions. Finally there's very hard, which I didn't even try. Each of the nine levels lasts about 20 minutes most, but getting through the game on Normal, blindly, took me six hours plus, and doing it on hard, knowing what to do, took me about three. Regardless, you also get unlockable Challenge Maps(One hit kills you!) by finding every Bonus Token on each level and by spending spotpass points on them. It doesn't end there, there are loads of achievements to unlock, and each one grants you a little something, from to Cheats to use in Free Mode(Which, sadly, don't let you earn achievements), costumes, Weapon skins, hats or a character that plays completely different from Jiro. The game might be short, but it's very high on replay value.

 Platformers this hard need spot-on controls, and the game more or less provides. Controls are pretty tight, most of the time, but wall-jumps and double jumps could've used some tightening. Plenty of times you'll need to double jump out of a wall-jump, if you double jumped before the wall jump then you'll only be able to perform a single jump, the issue here is that unless you press the direction opposite of the wall, and jump, Jiro will double jump instead of wall-jumping, how is this annoying? If you double jumped before the wall jump, pressing jump will automatically perform the wall-jump, which can get confusing later on. Furthermore, movement is done with the analog stick, instead of the digital pad, which on a game played on a 2D plane isn't the best choice, when you need to fall down beneath the platform you are standing on, it can sometimes prove troublesome, due to the analog's stick nature. One thing to keep in mind, is that the hit boxes are a bit bigger than what you might expect. Hit detection is alright, but some projectiles have rather big hitboxes, so you'd better get used to them.

 The game's worst aspect is, easily, its presentation. The game is fully 3D, but on a 2D plane, graphics are very lackluster and just plain looking. Still, the game manages to impress thanks to its setpieces. Y'see, the game never lets up, on the very first stage you'll go through a horseback section, then there's a section that takes place above a warplane, as enemies in jetpacks board your plane, how about the segment when you are on-board a truck and must go from truck to truck since missiles are targeting you, which sounds rather tame when compared to a mechanical shark trying to take a bite out of you while you are freefalling on a cascade.... only to be later fighting a chopper as another mechanical shark tries to destroy the solid magma you are running on.... the game is impossibly exciting and imaginative, specially for a 3DS game, easily making up for how lame it looks on a technical level. Cut-scenes between levels are made in a hand-drawn style that looks very cool, even if the animation itself is very lame. As for the music... it's very "ninja-like", very fitting, but not terribly exciting or memorable

 Shinobi on the 3DS is a bit hard to recommend, not because it's bad, on the contrary it's really good, but because its target audience is rather small. If you are looking for oldschool games, this is what you want, but if you can't stand old platformers that require memorization, skip this one.
 8.0 out of 10

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