Ninja classic 'Shinobi' revived

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

If you're a ninja fan, rejoice.

"Shinobi," the classic 2D hack 'n slasher, has been revived in great form.

There is a story here, but it takes a back seat to the nonstop action in this PlayStation 2 title developed by Overworks for Sega.

There's a new star for "Shinobi." Joe Higashi has been replaced by the equally talented Hotsuma of the mortally wounded Oboro Clan.

His ultimate goal is to destroy an evil sorcerer who is trying his best to level Tokyo.

Trailing a scarf as long as a decent-sized boa constrictor, his face masked, his sword gleaming, Hotsuma wades through armies of enemy fighters, cleaving them into bloody pieces with ease.

That ease refers only to early days, however. This game has a very steep difficulty curve, and by the time you reach the first boss, you can tell that getting to the end of this game is going to take serious practice, weeks of effort -- and a lot of dying.

Hotsuma has some fascinating talents. Perhaps the most valuable is the stealth dash, which squirts him forward in a blue blur. A quick left or right and stealth dash will zip you around behind attackers, where they can be dispatched with ease.

Hotsuma hauls around a collection of ninja knives called shirukins. Use them to mow down an enemy or stun him long enough to finish the job with your sword, the lethal, soul-collecting Akujiki.

He also controls a collection of magic spells.

Watching Hotsuma in action is so much fun you might forget to keep him moving. Our hero's animation is smooth and dramatic and his swordplay is merciless.

Graphics get an A. Nicely detailed, sharp and colorful, the images on the screen provide a perfect atmosphere for the violent collisions between our heroic ninja and the hordes bent on his destruction. The wreckage of Tokyo is handled nicely, and narrative scenes interrupt the action from time to time to advance the story.

Sound gets a B. Hated the music, loved the sound effects, which are entirely capable of waking the dead -- and anybody sleeping within about 100 yards.

Control gets a B. Making Hotsuma do your bidding is easy after a bit of practice. Pulling the ranking down is the poor viewing angle occasionally provided by the camera. Much of the trouble comes from use of the right stick to control that view. It needs a bit more refinement.

"Shinobi" gets a solid B. If you remember earlier episodes fondly, this latest version will be a major thrill despite the incredibly steep difficulty curve. If you're new to the series, the game will be a revelation.

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