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Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis, 1989)

Joe Musashi gets his groove back.

One of the rare instances where I prefer the Western box art.
Watch out, Joe!



GENRE: Action platformer

RELEASE DATE: 12/02/89 – (JP, US), 10/90 – (EU)

Joe Musashi could not be more relaxed in Revenge of Shinobi. Despite the death of his master and the kidnapping of his lover, Naoko, Musashi strides toward danger at a near languid pace. Fidgety samurai do not sway him. Bouncing ninjas do not slow his stride. His leisurely gait is a far cry from his ninja brother Ryu Hayabusa, whose energetic running defines the Ninja Gaiden trilogy. Different temperaments, different men. Joe’s mission, though vital, does not make him anxious. Even with a limited amount of shuriken on hand – shuriken that, once depleted, will leave Joe weaponless – he breathes confidence.

A raging waterfall and bat ninjas? No big.

Musashi is different than you remember him in Shinobi. He’s grown taller, more muscular; 16-bittier, if you will. He can somersault and unleash a shuriken spray at the same time. He can hop over walls and climb buildings. His main weapon, the shuriken, has been limited to fifty. While there are refills strewn throughout each stage in boxes, these too are limited. If you throw your shurikens recklessly to the wind, you’ll have to do without until you die or get to the next stage.

All the shuriken in the world won’t help Joe out of this pickle.

Musashi also packs four types of strong magic. Ikazuchi envelops him in a shield of lightning, which allows him to take 3-5 hits without damage. Kariu unleashes four flame dragons, killing many weaker enemies. Fushin gives you a double jump, all but essential for certain stages. Finally, Mijin is a self-sacrificial slaughter that takes one of your lives, while also killing whatever else is on screen; this is a no-brainer if you’re about to die anyway. You can use Mijin once per life, but you can only use Fushin, Kariu, or Ikazuchi once per district unless you have extra magic power-ups.

“Sister, please, I don’t want any trouble.”

Alongside your standard ninjas and samurais, you’ll also fight WWII-era soldiers, female ninjas disguised as nuns, Rambos with flamethrowers, and Bruce Lee clones. These are just the commonplace enemies. The bosses are even crazier. They include: a disco-loving shadow ninja, a brain in a tube, an Arnold Schwarzenegger/Hulk combo (complete with endoskeleton), Batman, Spiderman, Godzilla. Some of these bosses and enemies were changed in later revisions of the game due to copyright (obviously, Sega!), but the fact that they made it over in the first place shows how little of a damn Sega gave.

Comin’ for you, Stallone.

The sixteen stages – broken up into eight “districts” with two stages and a boss fight each – only get more intense as you progress. Musashi climbs waterfalls, boards a biplane, destroys an engine factory, ascends a skyscraper, cleans up Chinatown, deactivates a missile base, and traverses an in-depth labyrinth set in a Japanese castle. The deeper you go into these dangerous set pieces, the more you’re expected to handle. The skyscraper has enemy ninjas, soldiers, and mounted laser cannons. The biplane has doors that open and suck Musashi right out of the plane. The labyrinth is a freaking labyrinth followed directly by the final boss battle, which is timed. No rest for the determined ninja

“New Jack Swing really isn’t my bag, bro…”

There are stages in Revenge that will seem impossible until you play them a fiftieth time and they click into place. For me, this was the Freeway. This stage has two routes you have to alternate between. The first is a freeway with a continuous stream of cars, while the second is a broken walkway with large gaps between platforms. Neither route is safe. The walkway has many areas where you’ll plummet to your death. The freeway is safer, but if you get hit by a car twice, you’re dead. Both sides have a plethora of enemies. While you watch your footing, you’ll also have to take care of the lady ninjas bouncing around your person or the bullet-spewing soldiers on the opposite side of the fence. I finally beat the stage, but not without a bruised controller and a lot of ninja-splatter.

All of Tokyo and the American army circa-1942 are after poor Joe.

Composer Yuzo Koshiro makes his Sega soundtrack debut with Revenge of Shinobi. The tracks feature the same propulsive drums and freewheeling synth work as the Streets of Rage series with some additional rock influences peppered in among the electronica bits. While not as memorable as the man’s future work, tracks like “The Shinobi,” “China Town” and “Ninja Step” extract better beats and melodies out of the Mega Drive’s Yamaha sound chip than any composer to this point.

Sega vs. Nintendo

Revenge of Shinobi looks, sounds, and plays like a 16-bit game where the possibilities are endless. The stages are ambitious and varied in scope. The character sprites are enormous. Enemies can block your attacks. Spiderman, Rambo, and other intellectual properties not owned by Sega are villains. The game’s rock/techno soundtrack sounded like few games before it; who even knew what techno was in 1989? Revenge of Shinobi is Sega coming into their own as developers, foreshadowing their dominance of the Western console market a mere two years later. It remains a masterwork of the early 16-bit era.


24 replies on “Revenge of Shinobi (Genesis, 1989)”

Infinite shuriken cheat FTW!

One of my favorite MegaDrive games. I only recently found out through Generation16 that there were many reversions of this game, due to all the copyright infringement. The revision I used to own had a skeletal dinosaur instead of Godzilla (rev 1.03). That boss blew my mind when I first encountered it.

While reading your review and looking at the pictures, I started remembering many music fragments and sound effects from this game. Thanks for such a nice nostalgia trip before work 😉

This game is fantastic !
Despite it’s difficulty it never feels cheap and it is beatable with plenty of practice/memorisation.

I had this on a MegaGames compilation cartridge those were excellent value.

Good review as always Dylan. Made me want to dig Revenge of Shinobi out, until I remembered how hard it is! Definately a game that needs lots of time and practice!

Agree with you on the box art too – this might be the only game I can think of where the US/Euro box art is better than the Japanese box art. In this case, the Japanese box art almost looks like a pirate copy of the game.

What about the previous game: Mystic Defender? I think the JP box art for that game is also far worse compared to the EU/US one.

I was never very good at this game. I had this one growing up and never even realized stuff happened outside of Feudal Japan. 🙁

I never owned this one because my best friend did, so I borrowed it often. It always seemed really difficult to me but he could beat the game quite easily. This was one of the games that made me want to upgrade from my Master System. It was so much better than anything on the 8 bit systems. Beautiful graphics and good music. Truly a classic.

In many ways, Revenge of Shinobi feels like the first Genesis classic. Phantasy Star II had an excellent story, but the gameplay could have been achieved on an 8-bit system. Revenge of Shinobi was a 16-bit game through and through.

Let me get my ’90’s Awesomeness ‘ checklist out soooo…..

Awesome music
16 bit graphics
Sega on form

I think I’m gonna like this

I don’t know how much can be said that hasn’t been said. I guess first, while technically Streets of Rage is a better soundtrack, I think thematically I Like this games music at least as much if not better. It just sounded so damn good. I have this soundtrack on my iPhone right now in fact. And that boss music speed metal/techno track would always get me so hyped.

Shinobi is one of my favorite series of all time and this game is one of the best ones. I really enjoy the more technical gameplay. Each enemy has to be co side red and each jump measured. More like a chess match than just shooting endless enemies. And so many hidden secrets and power ups in this game. To get really good you’d have to learn their location. And often the harder stages would have a1-up to show you mercy so you could keep trying over and over till you mastered it, like the double jump on the waterfall stage. This game is also just pure adrenaline. There is always so much going on. And every level is so different and has some new graphical trick,Mike the raging wave effects on the dock levels.

I would say anyone who’s new to this game use the infinite shiuken trick. And when you learn the patterns go back and play normally. Your sword is a great weapon when used correctly. It then takes the game to a whole other level when you try and take out most enemies with your sword and save your shirukens for tricky situations.

The last boss is a real pain though. Pretty much all the Shinobi games have an insane last boss. This one especially tricky because your girlfriend is hanging on and and a spiked gate keeps lowering on her.You have to fight Neo Zeed and jam the gate periodically to stop her from dying. If you beat the boss but don’t save her you get the bad ending. It took me a really long time to finally get the good ending.

As much as I like this game, I still think Shonobi 3 is my favorite. But all 3 Shinobi games on the Genesis are top notch. This game really showed Sega could make a home console game that was not just an arcade port.

I reckon this might be the hardest Shinobi game. Shadow Dancer is much easier, more a straight up action game than ROS.

For me this is one of those defining games for the Mega Drive. It is every bit a game of its generation in terms of genre, look, sound and control. I will admit I am yet to complete it. I have it on the Six-Pack cartridge so my version has the copywright revisions.

One thing though mate. You said this was the first in the series to get a life bar. The original Shinobi on Master System had a life bar. The life bar is dropped to one hit kill for Shadow Dancer. Haven’t played 3 yet so I don’t know.

I didn’t get a chance to play this as a kid, because my “Sega friend” at school never owned a copy, for some reason. As an adult, I actually bought Shinobi III before acquiring this, so I actually prefer S3 a bit over RoS, mostly because I find the difficulty curve to be more manageable, and the extra attack moves in the game give it a lot more versatility than this. Still, a classic through and through, and one of Yuzo Koshiro’s most iconic scores.

Recently beat this and it’s crazy how much I remembered. Even the path through the final labyrinth. It’s a cakewalk now. There’s a very easy 1-up loop you can exploit pretty early in the game. Strategic use of magic is a must. No cheating with unlimited shurikens, that’s for pussies.

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