Sega‘s Shinobi revival for the Nintendo 3DS is here, and there’s one vitally important fact about it that you should understand before you take the plunge: this game hates you and it wants you to die. It will, in fact, go to great lengths to ensure that you do so. Repeatedly.
It’s an old-school mindset for a current-gen game to embrace, but it’s also an entirely fitting one for a series with a reputation like Shinobi’s. Just like the recently released Sonic Generations, Shinobi 3DS knows where its roots lie. If games like N+ and Super Meat Boy make you smile, then you’ll probably take the same sort of masochistic joy in learning the layout and timing for each level as you perish over and over again.
Shinobi 3DS hangs onto the largely left-to-right side-scrolling presentation as its predecessors, though the fancier tech and glasses-free 3D display are used to good effect. There are more visually impressive 3DS games out there as far as the textures go, but this game does some wonderful things with perspective. It suffers from the same issue every other 3DS game does on the 3D side, which is to say that you’ll have to remain perfectly still in order to keep the effect in focus, but the effort is at least worth it with this game.
It’s a worthwhile effort for more than just the visuals, too. Like the best classic arcade games of this sort, progress is its own reward. The Normal is supposedly recommended for experienced Shinobi vets, but those same fans will recognize that the unlimited lives aspect of the game’s Beginner difficulty is crucial to learning the map layouts and enemy positions. Your initial runthrough is all about surviving to the end of each level, something which only an android could hope to do on a first attempt.
The long-term value of Shinobi 3DS comes in as you try to put together the perfect runthrough of each level, earning yourself a higher score and letter grade ranking in the process. You build up a point multiplier meter for attacking and blocking without sustaining any damage, and you incur a penalty if you use any of your magical abilities to make things easier, though in fairness some of those abilities boost you to the point that you actually stand to earn more points while magically empowered than you would be penalized for.
Also on the “added value” front, there are a variety of StreetPass challenge modes that you can unlock using Play Coins (the 3DS currency earned as you log travel time on the device’s pedometer). These are more focused encounters as compared to the main game’s lengthy (but few, overall) story levels. The challenge remains the same though: brutal.
The controls tie everything together for Shinobi 3DS. Jiro Musashi is incredibly responsive to your inputs in all matters, whether it’s leaping off of a wall, throwing your kunai at just the right moment or using the timing-based block button to hold off an attack. As frustrating as Shinobi 3DS can be — which is to say, EXTREMELY — you’ll never die because the controls aren’t doing what you tell them to. Instead, you’ll die because you don’t use them quickly enough, or accurately enough.
The biggest flaw here is the lack of variety in the relatively short campaign. The 3D is certainly used to good effect, but the environments themselves stop feeling fresh after the second or third level. The enemies, too, are lacking on the variety front. It’s welcome news in some ways, since there are that many fewer attack patterns to learn (and that many fewer Game Over screens as a result), but it’s still important to note.
Shinobi 3DS is an easy yes or no choice. If you consider yourself a graduate of the old-school, having learned at the feet of masters like Mega Man, Sir Arthur and, yes, Joe Musashi, then this game is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you have a drawer or closet filled with the corpses of smashed and/or thrown controllers, then you’re better off skipping this one unless you’d like to add your 3DS to that mix. Shinobi 3DS hates you and wants to kill you no matter what; you’ll just need to decide if you’re going to take any pleasure in letting it do so.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3Ds on a copy provided by Sega)