DEVELOPER: Sega CS
RELEASE DATE: 04/26/91 – (JP), 06/1991 – (US), 07/1991 – (EU)
I love the name The GG Shinobi. It’s ludicrous, yet accurate. The GG Shinobi is, indeed, the first Shinobi game released for the Game Gear. We could argue that the “The” in front of GG Shinobi is unnecessary, but really, why give the game a different title? Sega of America and Sega of Europe disagreed and slapped a plain ol’ Shinobi on the American and European releases respectively. I understand why – GG Shinobi sounds silly on the best of days – but at the same time, this isn’t an arcade port or even a scaled down Master System port. No, GG Shinobi is its own brutal entity and a welcome addition to the Shinobi series as a whole.
Poor Joe Musashi can’t get a break. Ninja Valley is in shambles. His best students from his Oboro school have all been captured and brainwashed by unknown evil forces. And, presumably, he had one week left until retirement. Now, Joe must don his red sash over his expanding midsection, rescue his students (while questioning his training), and save Ninja Valley.
Yes, at first, old Joe is the lone shinobi you control. He slashes! He jumps! His powers cause the earth to quake! His presence is familiar and comforting, like a warm cup of ninja vanish. But he’s not the only shinobi around here. Once you defeat his brainwashed students and awaken them from their stupor, they also wish to fight evil. Pink, green, yellow, and blue-sashed shinobi all have different attacks, abilities, and powers that help you progress. Once you acquire them, you can switch between them at any time.
My boy Pink launches long-range bombs at enemies and walks on ceilings to avoid ground-based jerks. Yellow is a fine fellow who walks on water and launches spheres of “Shinobi force” at far-away foes. Blue’s weapon is a Crescent Blade that cuts fools in half, but can also be used to swing across large spaces. Finally, Green throws shurikens and double jumps to perfection.
You and I love Joe Musashi, both for his past adventures and for his resilience in the face of terrors, like the Terminator, Godzilla, Rambo, and Spiderman. His multi-colored students are the real heroes here, though. Their diverse weapons and abilities are the only way you’re conquering The GG Shinobi without throwing your aging Game Gear against the wall.
Even with your rainbow ninja coterie, GG Shinobi is as rock hard as Joe Musashi’s once-proud abs. As in other Shinobi titles, memorizing enemy patterns and placement is key to moving forward. But unlike the Shinobi titles that you play on a bulky CRT, the Game Gear’s small screen doesn’t always allow you to see who’s lurking around the corner. And boy, do enemies like to pop up here. Out of nowhere, you’ll face a rifleman who fires two shots at a time. Or a statue that launches laser beams from its eyes. Or a large spiky ball that bounces awkwardly around a corridor. Be prepared for anything, and you’ll still get hurt.
Difficulty is inevitable in a Shinobi title. What is unexpected is how Sega handled their first portable Shinobi entry. The company could have slapped the Master System version into a Game Gear cartridge and called it a moderately successful financial quarter. Instead, The GG Shinobi is an original entry that dares to move the series forward. The ninjas with different abilities and choose-your-own-level aren’t unique ideas (hello, Mega Man), but they do provide GG Shinobi with its own distinct identity. The level design pushes the Game Gear to its limits (check out the thunderstorm on the ship in the Harbor stage), while the Yuzo Kushiro soundtrack is the perfect melodic backdrop for ninja antics. Really, Sega didn’t need to go this hard, but I’m glad they did. GG Shinobi rules.
Until Sonic the Hedgehog came along, the Shinobi series was hands down Sega’s most successfully executed franchise. I admittedly haven’t played every Shinobi game, but the ones I’ve played thus far – Shinobi, Revenge of Shinobi, Shadow Dancer, and now GG Shinobi – are at least good, if not excellent. Especially compared to the mostly inane output of Sega’s supposed-to-be mascot, Alex Kidd.