Title: SEGA AGES Shinobi
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Price: 999 Yen (Japan), $7.99 (US)
Release Date: 10/31/2019 (Japan), Unknown (US)
In this action platformer, you take control of Joe Musashi who sets out to rescue his kidnapped students from an organization known as ZEED. Including new options and features, this is yet another Sega AGES port that aims to add new additions to enhance an old classic!
Per usual, the Sega AGES standards apply to this release: Extra borders, differing screen options, and a clean UI. (now with an indicator on if you qualify for the leaderboards or not) Shinobi actually adds an extra screen option into mix, with a brand new Arcade Cabinet display mode.
This is a very well-made recreation of an original arcade machine, with the US version’s buttons, border, and all! The screen itself is just a smaller version of the Vintage mode, but when paired with this arcade border it’s pretty darn incredible, and I was really impressed by the attention to detail on it. The Japanese version also has it’s own machine, but it’s this weird generic “Aero City” border, which doesn’t seem to be associated with an actual game of the same name. The US cabinet thus looks a lot better as a result.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for this game’s traditional border. Like before, the US and Japanese art differ a bit, and the US version goes with this border that’s so shockingly awful that I’m completely confused as to how anyone can think it’s a good idea. It really does look like it was thrown together in a few minutes with a bad doodle. In comparison, the Japanese border goes for the sides of a table-top machine, which looks a lot more natural. Of course, regardless of version, the colored borders are still available if you wish to use those instead.
Shinobi tasks you with guiding Joe to the end of each stage, progressing through five missions to take out the leaders of the terrorist organization. Unlike later, more familiar entries in the series, (The most famous being The Super Shinobi) the main goal of each stage is to rescue hostage children scattered about, and upon finding every single one of them, you can proceed to the exit onto the next stage. The hostages are not at all difficult to locate, and you’ll almost always find all of them as you work your way to the exit, so there really isn’t a concern for getting lost trying to find them.
You have a very simple control scheme here, with a jump attack, a normal projectile attack, and a special Ninjitsu button, that will unleash a screen-clearing attack once per stage at the cost of some bonus points. You do have a melee attack, but it can normally be used only when you’re right up against an enemy. However, if you manage to master this mechanic and refrain from projectiles, then you’ll earn a crazy amount of bonus points upon clearing the stage! One of the leaderboard modes even allows you to assign the melee moves to their own button, which can make this bonus a lot easier to get and changes the nature of the scoring system. (Trying to beat the entire game with only melee moves however, is absolutely impossible. The second boss is immune to them so you still need a projectile button assigned even on the Melee mode)
For such a simple control scheme and basic premise, the game allows for some surprisingly complex strategies to score points. There’s the aforementioned secret bonus, which requires you to play the game very carefully if you want to earn this on the traditional leaderboards, and there’s even some cool tricks you can do depending on the digits of your score: rescuing a hostage at a certain point threshold will grant you more points than normal, as one example. For high-score chasers like myself, this game is a dream to play and the short length of the adventure makes it not that taxing to play either, clocking in at around 16 minutes.
However, this game was an arcade game, and there are plenty of elements of the evil difficulty spikes from those games surfacing here. The third mission introduces these dreadful Ninja enemies that show up out of nowhere and will try and ambush you, and since they’re plentiful and also use their swords to defend, they require strict memorization to even counter. The fifth mission gets ridiculous with this as they’re everywhere and one stage even has them flying around in spinning balls all over the screen! Even with ninjitsu, these later levels are an extreme test of patience, and don’t even think about trying to perfect the bonus stages: unless you have perfect reflexes you almost certainly won’t due to how strict their timing is.
The great news is that this version makes a super huge change to the game’s difficulty that may not even be noticeable to newcomers, and that ends up being the introduction of continues in the final mission of the game. In the arcade version, while you could continue as many times as you wanted before the final mission, you would get an immediate game over if you had to continue in the final mission. Here in the AGES port however, you can now continue infinitely throughout the entire game, and there’s not even an option to turn off this new tweak. Thus, even on the default settings, anyone could beat this game with enough persistence, which already helps to make this the most accessible version yet.The continue tweak isn’t the only beginner-friendly addition to the game, either.
Per the Sega AGES norm, there’s a brand new difficulty mode that allows for some extra features. Here in Shinobi, the AGES mode allows Joe to take two hits before dying, (making it sorta like the Master System’s health bar, but not quite) and makes his weaponry maximum strength at all times. These additions further help make this game not only more accessible, but also provide a fun new way to play the game, now that you have a bit more leeway to brute force parts of the game due to your invincibility frames. (The infamous third boss fight can now be cheesed by walking through the walls of enemies during these frames, as a major example of how much this change helps!)
One final addition that also applies to the normal mode comes from the option to hold the ZL/ZR button to rewind time for a few seconds. This is the most overkill of the new additions by far, but if you’re really determined to see the ending by any means necessary, (and don’t mind having your scores logged on Freestyle) then you can go nuts.
Considering how barebones the additions to the Shinobi III 3DS port were, I was pretty nervous that M2 would just go the safe route and port over Arcade Shinobi with an easier difficulty at the most.
While they did add that, they also ended up doing a lot more things with this port that I really didn’t expect! From fixing the original game’s biggest flaw of no continues on the final stage, to a brand new screen mode that looks amazing for fans of retro displays, This Sega AGES version of Shinobi is without a doubt, the best version of the game on any platform. The controls are emulated perfectly, there’s no notable input lag, the game’s a bit less punishing by default and it allows for a lot more options to help make it beginner friendly. With all that said, you have an outstanding scorechaser that’s incredibly addicting to play, and aiming for the highest score on the online leaderboards is quite the challenge to undertake!
When the only gripe I have with this version is that the US border art for the game looks dreadful, you know you’ve done an outstanding job on a retro re-release. Most Sega AGES games do a great job at updating things and adding extra content, but there haven’t been too terribly many that have made me convinced that they put in their full effort. Thankfully, Shinobi does do just that, and joins Phantasy Star in being the ultimate version of a featured game in the AGES lineup. If you’re a fan of this game, then you owe it to yourself to buy this ASAP, either via import or by waiting for the western release. Here’s hoping they do an AGES version of Arcade Shadow Dancer in the same fashion!
I give SEGA AGES Shinobi a 9 out of 10.