Shadow Dancer
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developers:
    • Sega (ARC/SMS)
    • Images (AMI/ST/C64/CPC/ZX)
  • Publishers:
    • Sega (ARC/SMS)
    • Brazil Tec Toy (SMS)
    • U.S. Gold (AMI/ST/C64/CPC/ZX)
  • Released:
    ARC
    • 1989
    SMS
    • UK 1991
    • Brazil 1993
    AMI/ST/C64/CPC/ZX
    • 1991
Score: 80%

This review was published on 08/26/2017.

Shadow Dancer is a side-scrolling action video game developed by Sega. It was originally released as a coin operated arcade game in 1989, but got ported to quite a few home platforms in 1991. Those platforms include the Sega Master System, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, and ZX Spectrum. Sega developed the Master System port, but it was only available in Europe and Brazil. The computer versions were all developed by Images and published by U.S. Gold. Like the Master System version, most of these ports were only released in Europe, and some of them were subtitled The Secret of Shinobi. Kixx also republished some of these ports as budget titles in 1993. A version of Shadow Dancer was also created by Sega for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive, but it's basically an altogether different game. Due to that, this review will only cover the arcade release and its more faithful ports.

Image

This is the sequel to Shinobi, another arcade game by Sega that originally came out in 1987. As a result of that, the story of this game is set after the events of the first one. In the first game, a ninja named Joe Musashi went out and stopped evil doers from doing evil. The story of Shadow Dancer differs depending on the version, though almost all of them involve a similar setup of a lone ninja going up against a bunch of terrorists. The identity of the lone ninja is the main difference between versions. The arcade version didn't give him a name, but other versions refer to him as Takashi, Fuma, or Hayate. There are even some versions that make him out to be the same Joe Musashi from the first game, whereas some versions refer to him as Joe's son. Regardless of who he is, the aforementioned ninja is the protagonist of this game.

Image

You control a ninja dressed in white in this game. However, unlike what the title may lead you to believe, you won't be dancing in the shadows. Instead, you'll be killing lots of people in broad daylight. Your basic movement options include walking left or right, jumping, crouching, and walking while crouching. The main way in which you dispatch foes is by throwing shurikens at them, which you have an unlimited supply of. If you press the shuriken button when right next to an enemy, you'll do a melee attack instead. You do die in one hit, however, so it's usually best to keep your distance. Thankfully, merely coming into contact with foes doesn't result in death, though you and the enemy will get pushed away from each other if that occurs. You can also use ninja magic to kill all regular enemies on the screen and severely damage bosses, but you normally only get one use per stage. However, if you die a lot, the game will take pity on you and let you start with more than one use of ninja magic. Aside from getting multiple uses of magic for continuing, all of this is the same as the original Shinobi.

Image

A new feature this game introduces over the original Shinobi is the dog. Your white garbed ninja is accompanied by a "ninja" dog with white fur. This friendly canine automatically follows you around wherever you go, attacking whatever you command it to. In order to command the dog to attack an enemy, you must press the attack button while holding down. The dog will notify you when it's ready to assault an enemy by barking. While your dog's attack doesn't kill enemies, it does momentarily stun them. However, if you take too long to kill the enemy that the dog is attacking, it'll be injured. Likewise, certain enemies will injure the dog if it attacks at the wrong time. When the dog is injured, it'll temporarily shrink down to the size of a puppy, rendering it unable to attack enemies. That Super Mario shrinking weirdness aside, the dog is an invaluable asset.

Image

Instead of rescuing kids like in the original arcade version of Shinobi, you're defusing bombs. The goal of every stage is to diffuse all the bombs in it, which is done by simply coming into contact with them. There is a different amount of bombs each time, and unsurprisingly, you have to find them all within the time limit. However, the time limits are generally pretty generous, plus finding the bombs is relatively simple due to the exceedingly straightforward stage layouts. You'll also receive power-ups for defusing some of the bombs, and these make your shurikens and melee attacks stronger. Normally, your melee attack is a katana swing, but power-ups make you do magical punches and kicks. Why are fists and feet stronger than a sword? I have no idea. Anyway, once all the bombs have been defused, you leave through the exit at the end of the stage. This is all mostly a thematic change, as defusing bombs in Shadow Dancer is functionally the same as saving kids in Shinobi.

Image

Every stage is full of baddies ready to rip you a new one. Baddies include guys with knives, guys with guns, and guys with shields. On that note, the shield guys are back, and they still block your shurikens, so you have to get them with melee attacks. Enemies are usually placed behind cover or at various vantage points where they can snipe you easily with projectiles, so you'll have to be a little strategic when approaching confrontation. Smart use of the dog makes things much easier, as the canine is good at getting enemies that are behind cover. Like the first Shinobi, pressing the jump button while holding up or down allows you to go between upper or lower sections of a stage. Sometimes, you'll be able to go between the foreground and background like this. It's a cool mechanic that further adds to the strategic nature of the action. There's also more platforming this time around, which results in greater variety in stage design.

Image

Bonus stages return from the original Shinobi, and they're more or less the same thing. Basically, you throw shurikens at enemy ninjas in a first-person perspective reminiscent of a shooting gallery. Aiming is relatively simple, because you only go from left to right. The differences are mostly cosmetic, as you're now throwing shurikens upward at ninjas that are descending a building. In the first Shinobi, the bonus stages had you tossing shurikens at ninjas within a ninja hideout of some sort. You still get extra lives if you win at these mini-games, but this is extremely tough to pull off. They're a little simple, but the bonus stages serve as a nice break from the game's normal side-scrolling action.

Image

The arcade version of the first Shinobi was built using the Sega System 16 board, but this one is on the Sega System 18 hardware. That's why this game looks a thousand times better than the original, which already looked solid for its time. No home console or personal computer was capable of such technical power at the time, so like with the original Shinobi, all ports of Shadow Dancer had to be downgraded graphically, sonically, and sometimes even mechanically. Upon initial inspection, the Master System port will look quite good for an 8-bit recreation. However, it doesn't play anywhere near as good as it looks, and is missing content. None of the computer ports are particularly good, either, though the ones on more advanced hardware are less bad. The arcade version is really the only way to go.

Image

While the Genesis version is superior, the arcade version of Shadow Dancer is quite good, too. It takes everything from the original Shinobi and kicks it up a notch, sporting improved graphics, controls, and design. The stage layouts are more involved and varied, being that there's more platforming and such. The canine companion is also a nifty addition that doesn't feel like a gimmick, even though it essentially is. The arcade incarnation of Shadow Dancer is still far from the best game in the series, but that's mostly because the series has so many excellent games in it.

Word Count: 1,395

Tweet