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Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi

Genre: Action Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1990

I remember a time back in fifth grade when I went bowling ever Monday with my school. At the time, Street Fighter II had just come out and everyone said “Screw bowling! Let’s play this!” Well, right beside that Street Fighter II machine was the Sega classic Shinobi. As much as everyone hated it (one hit kills, mostly) I took a liking to it. Sure, I loved SFII also, but I think I appreciated this game much more than everyone else. I liked it quite a bit more than the Sega Master System version…in addition to the life meter and silly ninjitsu earning, it just didn’t have the feel of the arcades game. It was too slow in comparison.

And Revenge of Shinobi just took in the series in a whole other direction. Since it was a home-only game, it was designed as such, with longer levels, kept the life meter, a choice of ninjitsu, and a different level structure. Shadow Dancer is the only true arcade Shinobi to make it to the home platforms, and while the style is notably different (and I betcha some won’t like it), it’s still a fabulous arcade translation.

After defeating the evil Neo Zeed corporation back in Revenge of Shinobi, Joe Mushashi retired with his friend Kato. Unfortunately, as it happened, Kato was killed when trying to rescue some kids. Not only that, but a new terrorist group known as Union Lizard (sounds like a kind of demonic pet store) is taking over New York City. It’s up to Joe to not only take vengeance but also save the city from a band of overgrown reptiles!

That little bit about the death of Kato wasn’t just to add emotion to the story. Kato had a nice little puppy named Yamato, and this puppy grew into a big bad dog who joins Joe on his adventure. And what does this dog exactly DO, you ask? Well, by holding down the fire button and releasing after a few seconds, Yamato will run forward and disable a nearby enemy for a few seconds. Then you can move in and kill the bad guy. This is a pretty innovative idea, and works very well.

Since it is based off the arcade game, the levels and gameplay are a bit different from other home Shinobi games. They aren’t horribly large, but the object is to rescue all of the hostages (many who give power-ups like points, 1-ups, or more powerful weapons). Your main weapon are unlimited shurikens, but you can use your sword when close to an enemy. Additionally, you have ninjistsu to use once in every level, just killing everyone on the screen.

Also, you can only take one hit. However, you only really die if you get hit by a deadly weapon (sword, bullet, fire, whatever.) If any enemy simply bumps into you, you just get pushed back. No harm done. Much of the game requires that you wait in safety until an enemy is vulnerable, then attack (this is where Yamato can be very helpful.) Most of the time, this means ducking under a box under the enemy has to stop and reload his gun while you jump over and attack. Swift and deadly…fun too. It’s not very hard, but rookies will probably get frustrated off the bat.

Shadow Dancer has some fairly good graphics. Although you’ll never get blown over by them (that fire effect in the first level’s getting old), amazingly, they compare very favorably to the arcade game. Nicely detailed, well animated, large characters. Fighting with the Statue of Liberty up close in the background is rather impressive. Except for the first level music, the audio isn’t exactly bad…it’s just not great either. Plus the noise when you use ninjitsu resembles that of a broken vacuum cleaner. Not good. And the game controls like a thing of beauty. The only thing I’m concerned about is that people may forget that you need to press Up + Jump to jump up a vertical level, as attempting to jump normally on a platform won’t work.

It’s a different pace from past games, but that’s what Shadow Dancer was intended to be: pretty much a translation of the arcade gameplay. And as a result, it’s a bit short… five levels total, being made of two short sub-areas and a boss. But the difficulty select and no-shuriken mode add to the challenge for long time fans. Shadow Dancer is one of those Genesis classics you should definitely get your hands on.

SCORE: 8 out of 10

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2 Comments

  1. Zebbe says:

    This game is quite good, but way below Revenge of Shinobi, which is better on all accounts, especially atmosphere. But this is fun to play, with average graphics, quite good and fitting music. Overall I had more fun with this than with Shinobi III, which mostly just annoyed me.

  2. havok666 says:

    This game takes the opposite route of Revenge of Shinobi and improves on the original arcade game. Everything from the arcade game is here such as, the three sub-rounds within each level and the one hit kills.

    Shadow Dancer is quite easy, your dog or ninjutsu can get you through any tricky sections. The stages themselves are generally more difficult than the boss battles. Each boss only has one attack pattern so it is extremely straight forward to defeat them.

    The first three levels are pretty interesting. The most memorable being the opening stage that has parts of New York up in flames. I was also impressed with the stage where you ascend the statue of Liberty. The last two levels are boring and uninspired.

    I find this to be lacking the atmosphere found in Revenge of Shinobi. Shadow Dancer is a straight forward and quick arcade style game that can be completed in about 20 minutes. For a completely different experience check out the Arcade original.

    7/10

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