Monday, March 22, 2010

Virtual Console Review - Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (Genesis)

Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi - Sega for Genesis - 7/10

What exactly is the "secret of Shinobi," anyway?  Does it involve his long lost childhood?  A pirate treasure chest in his attic?  He's really OJ Simpson under that mask  Hmm...actually, that would make for a really interesting surprise ending.

Shadow Dancer was a very solid and very well made action game for the Sega Genesis.  Its only mistake was arriving after a genuine masterpiece called The Revenge of Shinobi.  That's like your band taking to the stage after Jimi Hendrix.  It just ain't gonna happen, and everybody knows it.

It's the same situation today on Virtual Console.  You have the option of downloading not only Revenge of Shinobi, but its direct sequel, Shinobi 3: Revenge of the Ninja Master.  Hmm, maybe that was Shadow Dancer's mistake - they used "Secret" in the title instead of "Revenge."  The moral lesson, kids: "Revenge" and "Ninjas" always go together.

Anyway, I'm getting distracted.  And that's really the larger issue here.  Shadow Dancer is the short kid in the family, the one who's always picked last, the one who's always overlooked.  This isn't entirely unearned.  After all, the game is a fairly conventional and fairly short (only 5 levels) action game.  It's the one title in the series that plays like the original arcade Shinobi, but it feels safe, unambitious.  The designers took no risks or pushed no boundaries.  They just created a very playable, very solid Genesis game.

I think that's a very fair assessment.  Shadow Dancer is a very good game.  It has some really impressive moments, like that climb up the Statue of Liberty, and those rolling flames in the background at the start.  The dog is a fine companion, and he helps dispatch the bad guys.  I especially enjoyed the option to turn off the throwing stars, which makes the game more tactical, more stealthy.  Having unlimited throwing stars is like handing Shinobi a gun.  Take them away, and, well, he gets all ninja on your hide.  It's more fun to play that way.

I really wish this game was longer.   I really wish the ninja magic was more impressive.  I really wish it was more than 4 megabits.  Shadow Dancer was released in 1991, after the 8 meg barrier had been broken.  Moreover, I just wish there was more game.  Is that a praise or a critique?  Both, actually.  This is a solid example of the kind of action games Sega could churn out easily on the Genesis.  These were the system's bread and butter, like shooters on the Turbografx and RPGs on the Super NES.

Shadow Dancer is a very good game, so it wins my endorsement.  But be sure to get the other Shinobi titles first, okay?  Good.

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