Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master Review
The sequel to one of the greatest action games ever, Shinobi III surpasses its predecessor in virtually every way.
As mentioned in my recent review of The Revenge of Shinobi, ninjas are awesome. It’s just a fact of life. Or a fact of death, if you have the misfortune of being on the wrong end of a ninja’s sword, knife, or shuriken. As this month’s film Ninja Assassin marks the triumphant return of ninjas to the big screen, it’s time to review another stellar game featuring our favorite shadow warrior, Joe Musashi – Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master.
It’s been years since Musashi defeated the evil Neo Zeed organization in The Revenge of Shinobi. But while he takes a rest and trains in the peaceful mountains of Japan, Neo Zeed rebuilds to an even greater strength than before. Once Joe learns of the growing threat, he springs into action to destroy the minions of darkness once and for all.
The Revenge of Shinobi is one of my favorite action games, and Shinobi III takes that classic formula and improves upon it in every way. Your main method of attack is still by throwing out scores of throwing knives (shuriken) at foes; these shuriken are limited and you must constantly break open red crates for more ammo. Close range attacks include sword and knife slashes and sweep kicks. The classic double jump (performed by pressing the jump button again at the height of your leap) is also back, not only giving you the extra height and distance needed to reach certain ledges, but also allowing you to fire off a spreading volley of eight shuriken that can clear the screen of enemies. Picking up the POW item will upgrade your shuriken to fireballs that are about three times as powerful as regular shuriken; while this upgrade will make short work of foes, it is lost once you take a hit. Also back is the ducking crawl to get through tight passages and keep below enemy fire; you can also press down and jump to leap down through certain floors to reach lower areas.
But while these features have remained the same, you have a whole slew of new abilities that take the game way beyond the awesomeness of its predecessor. Holding down attack will allow you to block incoming shuriken and bullets. You can now run by double-tapping forward, which adds height and distance to a horizontal jump. One of the coolest new moves is performed by pressing attack while running; when timed correctly, you will hop through your enemy’s fire and deliver a devastating sword slash. You can now also perform a dropping jump-kick that is extremely useful to take down enemies while keeping you out of harm’s way. You can even pound down certain enemies by performing the move over and over on them. In effect, you are allowed to be much more aggressive than in Revenge.
As if these new techniques weren’t enough to make you feel like the baddest ninja ever, you can also cling to ceilings and climb forward hand-over-hand, and wall-jump back and forth to scale vertical areas. These new moves add volumes to your mobility and the overall gameplay. The game often requires you to use all these moves in combination, one after another, resulting in some incredibly tricky and fun platforming and exploration to find hidden power-ups in clever places. At any moment you could leap up and hang from a rail, climb forward, then leap up and wall-jump off a nearby wall, then turn the wall-jump into a double-jump to get to a lofty ledge. The game is literally filled with platforming euphoria that will test your reflexes and timing to the max. Favorite areas include an ancient Japanese temple filled with diabolical traps, and a level where you’re falling for miles between cliff faces, forced to leap ever upward on tiny floating rocks. It’s pure video gaming bliss.
Adding to your formidable repertoire of abilities, all the Ninjitsu Magic techniques have returned from The Revenge of Shinobi. As before, you get one Ninjitsu use per level unless you pick up more for your stock. Ninjitsus are accessed by going to the pause screen and selecting the magic of choice, then hitting your magic button when you return to the main screen. Ninjitsus include: Ikazuchi, which envelopes you in a cocoon of lightning and allows you to take several extra hits; Karyu, which summons fire dragon pillars across the screen and does big damage to any enemies caught in the attack; Fushin, which adds significant height and distance to Joe’s jumping (I never really use it, but it can help with some of the tricky platforming); and Mijin, which causes Joe to stick his sword in the ground and literally blow himself up. Mijin is significant in that it can be used over and over (though you must have at least one Ninjitsu in stock to use it) at the cost of one life each time. It is a technique of ‘last resort’; if you are about to die in the middle of a battle, it’s better to lose a life anyway and do huge damage to your foe in the process. This also prevents you from having to restart the battle or area at death. While it is not as crucial to use Ninjitsus in Shinobi III as in Revenge (there are a lot less cheap deaths possible in Shinobi III), they can still get you out of some tight spots, especially Mijin. They may just give you the edge needed to take down some of the game’s brutal bosses.