Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publishers:
    • Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    • JP 12/01/1990
    • US 1990
    • UK 1991
    • Brazil 1992
Score: 85%

This review was published on 08/29/2017.

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a side-scrolling action video game developed by Sega for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was originally released in Japan on December 1, 1990, North America in 1990, Europe in 1991, and South America in 1992. Sega published the game everywhere except South America, where Tec Toy handled the publishing. As its subtitle implies, this game is part of the Shinobi series, which began in 1987 with the release of the original Shinobi arcade game. A Shadow Dancer arcade game came out in 1989 as a direct sequel to the original Shinobi, but it's completely different from the Genesis version. As such, it won't be covered in this review. I've already reviewed the arcade incarnation of Shadow Dancer separately, so you can read that if you're interested. Anyway, as good as the arcade release of Shadow Dancer is, the Genesis version is substantially better.

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After having vanquished the evil crime syndicate known as Neo Zeed, the lone ninja hero vanished, for his skills weren't needed in a peaceful world. That peace came to the end in the year 1997, when New York City was overtaken by another criminal organization. This criminal group called itself Union Lizard, and it was led by a reptilian monster named Sauros. Union Lizard brought the city to its knees with a massive assault. The few people unfortunate enough to survive Union Lizard's wrath became hostages, and mass panic swept the streets. Now the lone ninja returns to save everyone once more, but this time, he's accompanied by his canine companion. The game's intro sequence keeps the identity of the ninja protagonist ambiguous, but he's named in supplemental material. The Japanese manual identifies him as Hayate, the son of Joe Musashi from the first Shinobi game, whereas the English manuals identify him as Joe Musashi himself. Either way, the protagonist is a ninja.

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As a ninja garbed in white garments, you'll cleave your way through countless cantankerous cretins. The d-pad is used to walk left or right, crouch, and walk while crouching, whereas the buttons are used to perform other actions like jump and attack. As with the original Shinobi and the arcade version of Shadow Dancer, you mainly attack by throwing an unlimited supply of shurikens from afar, but pressing the shuriken button near an enemy executes a melee strike in the form of a sword swing or assorted martial arts. Unfortunately, you still die in one hit like the original Shinobi and Shadow Dancer. Also like those games, you get one use of ninja magic per stage, which defeats all normal enemies on the screen and partially damages bosses. Despite the many similarities, the controls of the Genesis version of Shadow Dancer are much more responsive than the arcade release, which already handled decently well. Needless to say, that's a good thing.

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Like the arcade version of Shadow Dancer, your white ninja is assisted by a white dog named Yamato. With the exception of boss battles, Yamato will follow you around everywhere. In the arcade incarnation of Shadow Dancer, you could instantly command Yamato to attack enemies. However, the Genesis version has you do it by holding the attack button for a second to charge up the dog meter, then letting it go to unleash the hound. To compensate for the additional charge time, Yamato attacks much faster in the Genesis version. Yamato's attack doesn't actually harm foes, but it does allow him to hold onto enemies to temporarily stun them. If you take too long to kill the enemy that Yamato is grabbing onto, he'll get hurt. Some enemies also hurt him if he lunges into them at the incorrect moment. He becomes a harmless puppy when hurt, but eventually grows back into a fearsome attack dog. Outside of having to charge up a meter and the faster attack speed, everything about the dog works just like it did in the arcade version. That's perfectly fine, because it's a cool feature.

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Instead of defusing bombs like in the arcade version of Shadow Dancer, you're back to saving hostages like in the original Shinobi. The remaining amount of hostages is listed at the bottom right corner of the screen, and you can't exit the current stage unless you rescue them all within the time limit. That's never a problem, though, because the stage layouts are linear enough that you're bound to run into all of them sooner or later. Also, some hostages give you power-ups that strengthen your attacks when rescued, but you do lose these if you die. Regarding death, you only have to rescue each hostage once, even if you retry a stage after dying. As a result, the hostages don't take away from the game's emphasis on action, and boy, is there an emphasis on action. Functionally, there's little difference between defusing bombs in the arcade version of Shadow Dancer and rescuing hostages in the Genesis version.

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While there are countless differences between the Genesis and arcade versions of Shadow Dancer, the biggest one is the stages. All the stages have completely different layouts, and some have entirely different environmental themes, too. For example, the first area in the Genesis release is a burning town, while it was an airport in the arcade game. Overall, the stage layouts in the Genesis version are more fleshed out, featuring smarter enemy placement and more interactive environments. A good example of the latter is how the burning city area has rubble that constantly falls from overhead, pillars of flame that shoot out of manholes, and portions of the ground that open up due to earthquakes. One thrilling bit has you riding an elevator up the Statue of Liberty as ninjas and helicopters attack you. Then there's a dark section in the caves where you must use the lights to see what you're doing. On top of being better, there are even more stages in the Genesis version than the original arcade game.

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As dangerous as the environmental hazards are, the main challenge is still derived from the enemies. Because of the instant kills, you can't just approach foes head on. Every stage basically requires an intricate plan of action, so multiple tries and a little memorization are often necessary to success. Additionally, you can still press the jump button while holding up or down on the d-pad to ascend or descend parts of the environment, or go between the foreground and background in certain stages. In addition to multiple difficulty settings, the Genesis version of Shadow Dancer has a strange option to play the game almost entirely without shurikens. You'll still have shurikens during boss fights, but nowhere else. Obviously, this makes the game much harder. Considering how hard the game already is, only the hardest of core players would take on such a challenge.

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Many bosses and enemies have been adapted from the original arcade game, but there are plenty of new ones, as well. The first boss is pretty similar to the arcade version, but the second one is completely different. The second stage of the arcade game had you facing a giant train, but the Genesis version pits you against a golem creature that comes out of a brick wall with his grabby hands. He'll lunge his arms toward you, then they'll fall apart like the bunch of rocks they are. There's also a battle against a massive fiery wheel that takes place on a falling cliff. As these examples illustrate, the bosses in the Genesis version are far more creative. The new enemies also display this same level creativity, such as armored soldiers that roll around like armadillos. Like almost everything else, the Genesis version has better enemies and bosses than the arcade original.

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Similar to the original Shinobi and the arcade version of Shadow Dancer, there is a bonus stage after every boss battle. However, the bonus stages in the Genesis version of Shadow Dancer differ significantly from the arcade release. Instead of throwing shurikens at enemy ninjas in a first-person perspective akin to a shooting gallery, the Genesis version of Shadow Dancer has you doing something much more intense. Basically, you jump off a building and throw shurikens at ninjas as you fall closer and closer to the ground. Despite the outrageous theatrics, these sections essentially control like a vertically scrolling shooter. The enemy ninjas don't harm you, though, so this is merely an extreme form of target practice. Depending on how many ninjas you slay, you may earn a varying amount of extra lives. While not as visually impressive as the ones in the original Shinobi and the arcade version of Shadow Dancer, these bonus stages are still fun due to their high energy.

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The Genesis version of Shadow Dancer is much more refined than the arcade original. The controls are tighter, the music has more punch to it, the stage design is more articulate, and the enemies are more creative. The only thing that the arcade version does better is the graphics, though the Genesis release is no slouch in that department, either. Vastly superior to the arcade version of Shadow Dancer and one of the best games in the series, The Secret of Shinobi is good. Its quality is no secret.

Word Count: 1,552

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