Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Megasoft
  • Publishers:
    • Sega
    • Brazil Tec Toy
  • Released:
    • JP 07/23/1993
    • UK 07/24/1993
    • US 08/22/1993
    • Brazil 1993
Score: 85%

This review was published on 09/06/2017.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, known in Japan as The Super Shinobi II, is a side-scrolling action video game developed by Megasoft for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was originally released in Japan on July 23, 1993, Europe on July 24, 1993, North America on August 22, 1993, South America in 1993, and Australia in 1994. Tec Toy published it in South America while Sega did the publishing everywhere else. As can be seen by the different titles in and out of Japan, there is a discrepancy in the number. The first Shinobi came out in 1987 and received a sequel called Shadow Dancer in 1989, both of which started off as arcade games before being ported to home platforms. 1989 also saw the release of a Genesis game called The Revenge of Shinobi, which was known in Japan as The Super Shinobi. Both The Revenge of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer were advertised as the sequel to the first game in the series outside of Japan. However, the Japanese titles seem to indicate that The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III are separate from the arcade games. Regardless, Shinobi III is a direct sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi, and it's widely regarded as the best game in the series.

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Originally, Shinobi III was supposed to come out in 1992. Several gaming magazines at the time, such as GamePro, had previews and even reviews of the game before it came out, giving the world an early look at what was to come. However, Sega wasn't too satisfied with the product as it currently was, so the company delayed the game to 1993 so the development team could make some improvements. During this additional development period, the game apparently went through some massive changes, as a lot of the stuff shown in those early magazines never made it into the final product. Countless years later, a beta ROM of the game leaked onto the Internet, which featured many of the removed elements that were shown in those old magazines. The beta ROM is riddled with issues, however, making it nothing more than a historical curiosity. In any event, these series of events show how committed Sega was to making Shinobi III a standout game.

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In the previous Shinobi games, there was a nefarious crime syndicate known as Zeed that did lots of bad stuff. They were defeated once by a masterful ninja named Joe Musashi, whose codename is Shinobi. Zeed then resurfaced under a new name in the form of Neo Zeed, but Musashi took them down again, putting the criminal organization back into hibernation. During that brief period of peace, Musashi returned to his home of Japan to recuperate from his tough battles. Of course, it didn't take long for Neo Zeed to come back for a third time, still using the same name as before. This time, Neo Zeed has created a super ninja clone from Musashi's own bloodline to aid them in their conquest. The clone is known as Shadow Master, and he commands Neo Zeed's savage army. Now Musashi has no choice but to annihilate them all. Basically, it's the same old story.

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You once again take control of the master ninja, Joe Musashi, for another adventure that has very little to do with stealth. As usual, the d-pad allows Musashi to walk left or right, duck, and walk while ducking, while the buttons allow him to jump, attack, and use ninja magic. Like in most of the classic Shinobi games, his attacks primarily consist of throwing projectiles, but he does melee strikes if the attack button is pressed near an enemy or breakable object. Projectile ammo is still limited like in The Revenge of Shinobi, though. Musashi's somersaulting double jump also returns from The Revenge of Shinobi, as does the wide projectile spread attack that can only be executed during a somersault, which uses up more ammo than regular attacks. He also has the same assortment of magical ninja techniques from The Revenge of Shinobi that can be used once per stage or life, such as the lightning shield that protects him for a few hits, the fiery attack that damages everything on the screen, the spell that temporarily increases his jumping height, and the suicide attack that does big damage to all foes in exchange for a life. All of this feels much better than it did in The Revenge of Shinobi, though.

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Musashi has a couple of new moves at his disposal. For one, it's now possible for him to run by quickly double tapping either left or right on the d-pad. Not only that, but you do a wicked running sword slash if you attack while running. Another new move he has is a downwards kick attack that is performed by attacking in the air while holding down on the d-pad. After hitting an enemy with this aerial kick, the recoil will send Musashi back into the air, allowing him to bounce from one enemy to the next by repeatedly chaining the same attack. Unlike The Revenge of Shinobi, Musashi no longer needs power-ups to block. By simply holding the attack button, Musashi will block some enemy projectiles, but the tradeoff is that he moves very slowly while blocking. Additionally, he's now able to climb horizontal ropes, pipes, and ceilings. He can even do wall jumps now! All of these new moves and attacks substantially up the game's depth.

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Seven stages of intense ninja action await you in Shinobi III. The first stage starts off in a serene forest where ninjas wearing green lay in wait to surprise you, and it progresses into a cave with powerful samurais. As with The Revenge of Shinobi, the environments get progressively more imaginative as you get further in the game, but Shinobi III does an even better job of this. A great example of this imagination is a stage that has you fight through a biological weapons facility with mutated monsters, which eventually transitions into a horrifying sewer filled with muscular goop oozing everywhere. Then there's an exhilarating segment where you're falling down a seemingly endless gorge and must jump from one falling rock to another in order to survive. Oh, and the final stage takes place on an airship, because airships are super rad. All of these wonderfully varied environments are depicted in some of the best graphics on the Genesis, and the soundtrack is fairly solid, too.

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Something else Shinobi III brings to the table are thrilling automatically scrolling sections that have you riding something or other. For example, one bit has Musashi riding on horseback as enemy ninjas drop down from kites that fly above, and another one has him surfing across water on a surfboard while ninjas on hovercrafts attack from overhead. For all these high speed sections, you first see the enemies in the background before they approach you in the foreground, giving you ample time to prepare for their attacks. Likewise, warning signs appear to notify you of upcoming obstacles that you must jump over. Both of these things are smart game design, because they solve the fundamental limitation of the side-scrolling perspective that prevents you from seeing what's coming up ahead. Also, you don't typically see ninjas riding horses or surfing in video games, but you should, because it's freaking awesome.

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Compared to The Revenge of Shinobi, the action is much smoother, with less emphasis on raw challenge and more on speed. The bigger life bar, more responsive controls, additional movement options, new attacks, and more flexible stage designs all contribute to this. That doesn't mean the game is too easy, though. Shinobi III is still quite challenging, generally forcing you to proceed through stages carefully, especially on the first go around. The penultimate stage is particularly hard, because it's a massive maze filled with traps similar to the final area of The Revenge of Shinobi. The final stage is even harder, because it expects you to perform some extraordinarily tough wall jumps. Rest assured that beating Shinobi III is no easy task.

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Like everything else in Shinobi III, the boss battles are all better than good. For instance, there's a brain that flies around in a small pod that reverses your controls and occasionally deflects your projectiles with a barrier. Another boss is a towering robotic dragon that causes debris to fall from the ceiling by violently stomping around. Obviously, it also breathes fire. You also fight bosses during the auto scrolling sections, like a speedy ninja that chases after Musashi's horse on foot and rains many spears down on him, or the Gundam-like robot that attacks with homing missiles during the surfing segment. All the bosses have highly discernible attack patterns, so studiously studying their attacks and coming up with a plan of action is the key to victory. Most of the bosses aren't too difficult once you figure them out, but you'll likely die a bunch of times before reaching that eureka moment. It feels great once you do, though.

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This game takes everything from The Revenge of Shinobi and refines it to near perfection. The graphics, music, controls, stages, and bosses are all significantly superior. All of the new moves also greatly enhance the game's appeal, as there's nothing more satisfying than chaining multiple aerial kicks or doing a series of wall jumps. If you thought The Revenge of Shinobi was awesome, then wait until you get a load of Shinobi III.

Word Count: 1,584

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