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Shinobi Preview
game: Shinobi
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Overworks
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Jun 23rd, 2002
last revision: 01:12 PM Sat Oct 29th, 2005

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Did anyone else out there mimic that cool meditation stance from Shinobi when you were a kid? You know: stand perfectly still, up on your toes, hands together in a fist at your chest, index fingers pointed up. That has to be one of the best resting poses in video game history. I mean, come on, Mario falls asleep when you let go of the joystick. This guy looks deadly even when he isn\'t doing anything. Of course, we are comparing ninjas and plumbers here, but you get the picture. In its day, Shinobi ruled the arcade. This fall Sega is bringing the franchise back in full next-gen glory for the PS2.

Shinobi was playable in a single-level demo at E3 2002. The demo may have been short, but it was also graceful, violent, and hypnotic. The setting, a modern, demon-ravaged Tokyo, is ghostly and haunting. The ninja, Hotsuma, runs across the screen, elegantly carving up his foes. The most striking visual element of the game is Hotsuma\'s cape. It is about twenty feet in length, blood red, and it trails behind him like one of those long, flowing ribbons in a traditional Chinese parade. The effect is beautiful. And yes, he still rests in that fearsome meditation stance.

This game is all about bad-ass third person ninja action. The combat in Shinobi is arcade style, consisting mostly of quick hits, combos, and special moves. The traditional shuriken, jumps, and double jumps are prominent, though there are several new additions to satisfy fans. Hotsuma\'s primary weapon is his sword. Tapping the attack button once results in a slash, pressing it multiple times initiates a graceful and deadly combo. The combos are a treat to watch, with cinematic finishes in which Hotsuma slices his adversaries with a move so swift it is nearly imperceptible. The vanquished foes freeze in a moment of terror, just before their bodies fall into halves, spurting blood (fans of Samurai Shodown, and numerous anime flicks will appreciate this). Hotsuma also has a ninja dash that is so fast it leaves only a ghostly image of him where he previously stood. This is handy for getting behind your opponents while they attack your fading image. Hotsuma can also cling to surfaces and run across walls. Ninja magic will return in the finished game, featuring old favorites like fire, lightning, and splitting into multiple bodies.

Between bloody confrontations, the gameplay also contains platform and exploration elements. The demo level was divided into sections by mystical monuments that had to be destroyed in order for you to progress. Some of the monuments could only be reached by traversing a chasm, or double jumping onto a higher area. This scenario is pretty simplistic, serving its purpose for the demo. In the finished game you will have to find maps and scrolls as well, and you can expect to have to leap, climb, and run across walls in order to get them.

It is nice to see Sega breathing new life into the older fan-favorites like Shinobi. They have so many great franchises, many of which predate and outshine Sonic the Hedgehog. Shinobi has successfully made the transition into a 3D, third person action game. It has enough of the old to satisfy nostalgia, and enough of the new to earn a place alongside such great PS2 action titles as Devil May Cry. And it looks and performs terrifically-love that cape. My favorite part of the demo had to be the last leg of the level, when Hotsuma is attacked by a pack of statue dogs that have come to life. Slicing those dogs in half in mid air as they leapt for my throat-there is something devilishly satisfying about that.

Shinobi, by Sega and Overworks, will be available this fall on the PS2.

Jeremy Kauffman (06/23/2002)