RELEASE DATE: 04/1991 – (EU)
In my The GG Shinobi review, I praised the Shinobi series for being one of Sega’s “most successfully executed” series, pre-Sonic. Even if you don’t like the challenging shuriken-throwing, ninjitsu-spraying action found in Revenge of Shinobi or Shadow Dancer, the Shinobi series’ overall quality is far more consistent than Sega’s poor mishandled mascot, Alex Kidd.
Alas, all winning streaks must come to an end. After four solid games, we arrive at the Shinobi series’ first misstep. A supposed sequel to the original Shinobi for the Master System, The Cyber Shinobi is a janky, mediocre affair that only vaguely resembles the ninja antics we know and love. To paraphrase Frank Costanza, “this Shinobi… it’s not my kind of Shinobi.”
Frank is right. Cyber Shinobi does not contain the fluid side-scrolling action found in previous Shinobi titles. Instead, the game functions more as an early beat-em-up, one with some truly horrendous slowdown (10 FPS or bust). Two or three enemies come onto the screen, you kill them, then move a little further, before repeating over… and over… and over again. No dynamic setpieces a la Revenge of Shinobi. No faithful dog companion, like in Shadow Dancer. No student helpers with unique abilities, as in GG Shinobi. Just punch or kick the same four types of enemies – the shooting guys, the green-clad dudes, the red-clad chicks, and the shuriken-throwing fools – until you reach the boss.
Punching and kicking are your main attacks, but the secondary attacks (called ‘Shots’) and screen-clearing ninjitsu attacks from previous Shinobi games are here also. They function as intended, but outside of the Super Grenade attack that killed hard-to-reach enemies, I forgot to use them. Probably because I never found myself so overwhelmed I needed to bust out a ninjitsu attack. Bored, yes, but not overwhelmed.
Speaking of boring: the stage design. Ever wanted to fight ninjas in a harbor? Well now you can, in the stage titled “Harbor.” Ships linger ominously in the background, while the red-clad enemies leap over metal shipping containers. Yup, it’s a harbor all right. The remaining five stages are named “Construction Site,” “Field,” “Jungle,” “Waterfall,” and “Enemy Hideout.” Creative! Predictable brawling ensues in all of them, save for two areas. In the “Jungle” stage, large boulders bounce around the stage with reckless regard for human life, while the “Waterfall” stage is just Joe Musashi falling down the side of a waterfall for two minutes followed by a boss battle.
The bosses are easy and forgettable, as well. Gone are the days of Spiderman and Godzilla reigning terror on poor ol’ Joe Musashi. In Cyber Shinobi, you fight… a bull dozer! A submarine! A helicopter! Perhaps these vehicles were futuristic in 1922, but I’m pretty sure this game takes place in 20XX. Yes, two of the later bosses are robots, but that’s about as cyber as proceedings get here. At any rate, find their obvious weak point, spam it into oblivion, avoid their attacks, then watch them explode. Really makes you pine for the days where you danced with evil ninjas in a disco.
Now seems like as good a paragraph as any to tell you that the Joe Musashi you control in Cyber Shinobi is not the hero from prior Shinobi games. No, this Joe Musashiis his grandson who also happens to be named… Joe Musashi. I get it, I think. Cyber Shinobi is set in the future, so naturally, Classic Joe Musashi would be old and possibly dead by this point. Unfortunately, though, Cyber Joe just doesn’t compare to his forever-cool grandfather. His slumped posture, awkward attacks, and clunky controls are truly shameful. These are his inheritance from Sega, admittedly, so it’s not really Cyber Joe’s fault that he sucks. Still, his deficiencies make me want to smack his head with a newspaper and tell him to call his grandfather out of retirement/the grave.
The Cyber Shinobi is a forgettable blip within the Shinobi series at large. Joe Musashi isn’t Joe Musashi. The beat-em-up gameplay is overly simplistic and dull. And despite being labeled as Shinobi Part II by Sega themselves, the developers seem like they put as little effort into the game as possible. I maintain that the Shinobi series is still Sega’s best, pre-Sonic, but The Cyber Shinobi really tries to prove me wrong.
One reply on “The Cyber Shinobi (Master System, 1991)”
I think this is one of the games where most everything on screen including the character graphics are drawn on the background layer. This allows for bigger, more detailed characters but at the cost of fluid motion. The SMS version of Golden Axe was designed the same way as well. In Golden Axe it mostly works, but it’s a bad fit for Shinobi, which is known for its fast action.