Developed and published by Sega in 1990.
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Never one to avoid capitalising on an arcade success, Sega produced Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, for it’s Mega Drive/Genesis home console. The game blends together elements of the arcade version and previous Shinobi games; the end result is something feels closer to The Revenge of Shinobi in terms of design, but retaining the faster pace of the arcade titles.
The back-story for the game is played out in a short intro cut-scene that makes little sense. Apparently, some form of terrorist organisation known as “Union Lizard” has arisen and is terrorising New York City. Any survivors of the group’s attacks have been taken hostage and it is the player’s job to rescue them, as well as to bring an end to the threat altogether.
The game is set across five different stages, each of which is divided into three sub-stages with a boss to beat on the third section. The majority of the stages contain a set number of hostages to find and rescue and progress to the next section is granted only once they have been found. In keeping with games in the Shinobi franchise, some hostages will upgrade your attacks when rescued, which allows you to take out even those enemies that would normally deflect your shuriken.
As always, you are also equipped with a limited supply of ninja magic that can be used to clear the screen of enemies and is useful for getting you out of tight spots, particularly in the later levels where you have to fight multiple enemies at once.
As with the arcade game, you are accompanied by your faithful canine accomplice who can be ordered to attack enemies, temporarily distracting them and giving you time to dispatch them. Unlike the arcade version where couching and firing would cause the dog to instantly seek out an enemy, this version of the game requires you to charge up the dog’s attack before it is activated. This means that you don’t constantly send your dog out to attack unnecessarily when trying to crouch and shoot and is a much-welcomed addition to this version of the game.
I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to see that the iconic bonus stage from the arcade version had been changed. Instead of the first-person perspective of the original, you leap from the top of a building and shoot shuriken at ninja that appear from the bottom of the screen. On the flip-side, the bonus stage is easier to complete as it doesn’t end if you miss a ninja. Instead, the number of bonus lives you receive is determined by the total number of enemies you destroy, with a maximum of three lives being awarded for killing all fifty ninja.
As for the audio-visuals, the game features sharp and vibrant artwork. Character sprites are nicely drawn, with many of the arcade version’s enemies making an appearance but with re-drawn graphics. I particularly liked the re-imagining of the main character, who’s outfit looks more befitting of the game’s gritty, urban setting yet retains the the traditional ninja design. Some of the level backgrounds feature additional detail, such as multiple levels of parallax scrolling which can be seen in the background of stage 2-1.
The game features some pretty good music, although it’s not as good as Yuzo Koshiro’s score from The Revenge of Shinobi. Many of the digitised sound effects from the arcade version feature here, including the dog barks and voice of the main character, largely undistorted.
I’d never played this version of the game before and, while not a classic, it’s a solid platform/shooting game that offers a fair level of challenge. The game features three levels of difficulty, as well as a mode that allows you to use melee attacks only if you want a real challenge. Unfortunately, the game is quite short as none of the stages are particularly long, so there’s little replay value.
Even so, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a fun game to play and fans of the genre won’t disappointed with this addition to the series.
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