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Shinobi (series)

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Shinobi (?) is a series of video games published by Sega and developed primarily by Overworks. The name Shinobi is used as a code-name throughout the series to hide the true identity of its bearer. It has been adopted by various characters, most prominently Joe Musashi, the protagonist of the original series of games (Shinobi -- Shinobi III).

Along with Alex Kidd and Sonic the Hedgehog, the Shinobi ninja has long been one of Sega's flagship characters, acting as a mascot for a short time in the late 1980s when the ninja boom was in full force. Its games are a showcase of Sega's technical accomplishment. Today the games are still noted for their high quality of graphics, gameplay and music, as well as their high level of difficulty.

Shinobi debuted in 1987, in the arcade title Shinobi, and has since featured in eleven other official Shinobi titles and one spin-off game. Nightshade ("Kunoichi" in Japan) is currently the last game in line.

Characters

Identity and backstory

The role of "Shinobi" is most commonly associated with that of Joe Musashi, the protagonist of the original arcade game and many of its sequels. His name is a combination of both an archetypical western first name and Japanese last name, Musashi likely being derived from the legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. In the manual of The Revenge of Shinobi, Musashi's backstory is told as that of a weak boy who first entered the dojo of the Oboro clan at a young age and gradually, through tireless practice and meditation, worked himself up to become the most skilled and respected ninja of his clan.

His peaceful existence in the mountains of Japan is shattered when the totalitarian crime syndicate Neo Zeed rises to power and threatens to take over the world. The Oboro clan is hunted down by Zeed's minions, his master assassinated and his girlfriend Naoko taken hostage. Musashi swears revenge, and in the ensuing battles, as chronicled in The Revenge of Shinobi, all but annihilates Neo Zeed. When Neo Zeed returns in Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master the ninja comes out of retirement one final time and destroys the crime organization for good.

In the Japanese Shadow Dancer plot, Musashi's title is passed down to his son Hayate, who now assumes the Shinobi identity and battle the Union Lizard syndicate. The English localization of the Mega Drive version, however, identifies the character as being Joe Musashi himself rather than his son.

Shinobi Legions, however, presents an entirely different plotline. The titular shinobi is now played by Sho, the youngest of two brothers raised by a lone ninja master. The elder brother becomes corrupted and abducts the master's daughter in search of the ultimate ninjitsu technique, and Sho has to prevent him from destroying the world. Neither Joe Musashi nor the Oboro clan are mentioned.

Following a seven year hiatus in the series, the lead archetype returns in Shinobi for PlayStation 2 as Hotsuma, another member of the Oboro clan. In a similar theme to Shinobi Legions, the game starts with Hotsuma slaying his elder brother Moritsune during a full moon Oboro ritual. The main plot revolves around Hotsuma's battle with a powerful sorcerer called Hiruko. The game also featured Joe Musashi as a hidden character, as well as Moritsune himself (who appears in the game's storyline as an enemy named Aomizuchi).

In a complete break with tradition, Nightshade featured a female shinobi named Hibana. Hotsuma himself appears as a hidden character, though it requires a completed Shinobi PS2 game save on the memory card to unlock him. Joe Musashi also returns as he did in the PS2 Shinobi by completing 88 missions in the game.

It should be noted that story-wise, there is little continuity between games, and it is debatable as to what has to be interpreted as canon to the series. It is more traditional for Shinobi games to start the plotline from scratch and introduce new characters in the ninja role.

Trademarks

Shinobi's main weapons of choice are the shuriken (or throwing knives), but over the course of the series the emphasis gradually shifted to a ninjato. One of the most important moves in the games is Shinobi's somersault, performed by tapping the jump-button a second time at the height of a jump. The somersault is used to leap onto high-places, perform trick jumps and use the hedgehog shuriken attack to wipe out several opponents at once. The ability to run was not introduced until Shinobi III.

Another staple of the series are the four magical ninjitsu attacks Shinobi can use to kill his foes, or improve his own abilities. The four ninjitsu techniques are: Ikazuchi, Fushin, Kariu and Mijin. An in depth discussion of said techniques can be found in Shinobi III.

Each level in Shinobi is usually divided into two or three scenes, and the final scene is always a battle against a powerful boss character. Standard Shinobi stages include bamboo forests, dojos, Hong Kong styled docksides and industrial complexes filled with biological monstrosities.

Timeline

Following is a timeline of releases in the Shinobi series. Listed are the name of each game, the corresponding release date and the consoles for which they were developed/ported. Further below is a brief discussion of each release. For a more detailed examination of each game, click on the corresponding link in the timetable.

No. International title Japanese title Year Game system
1. Shinobi Shinobi 1987 Arcade
1988 Sega Master System
1989 NES, PC Engine, Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST
2. Shadow Dancer Shadow Dancer 1989 Arcade
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi 1990 Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis
1991 Sega Master System, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum
3. The Revenge of Shinobi The Super Shinobi 1989 Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis
4. The Cyber Shinobi N/A 1990 Sega Master System
5. Shinobi The G.G. Shinobi 1991 Sega Game Gear
6. Shinobi II: The Silent Fury The G.G. Shinobi II 1992 Sega Game Gear
7. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master The Super Shinobi II 1993 Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis
8. Shinobi Legions (Shinobi X in Europe) Shin Shinobi Den 1995 Sega Saturn
9. The Revenge of Shinobi N/A 2002 Game Boy Advance
10. Shinobi Shinobi 2002 PlayStation 2
11. Nightshade Kunoichi 2003 PlayStation 2

The series

Shinobi (1987)

The game that started the franchise and launched Shinobi into fame, the original Shinobi is still considered a classic game of the arcade era. Released in 1987, it was ported to the NES Commodore 64 & Sega Master System]]. Shinobi introduced several novelties to traditional platform mechanics, such as sophisticated enemy AI and multiple layers in each level.

Shadow Dancer (1989, 1990, 1991)

Shadow Dancer was an arcade sequel to the original Shinobi. The plot follows Hayate, Joe Musashi's son. As opposed to his father, Hayate is accompanied by his pet dog Yamato.

The Sega Mega Drive version is titled Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi. In the backstory depicted in Western releases, Hayate was replaced with Musashi, whereas the original Japanese backstory retained Hayate and fleshes out his origin. Although the basic gameplay is similar to the arcade version, none of the actual game content — from levels to character art — is the same.

The Revenge of Shinobi (1989)

The debut of the ninja on the Sega Genesis console, The Revenge of Shinobi was widely praised at the time of its release and long one of the most popular games on Genesis and is still regarded as the best entry in the series by many. In Japan it was known as The Super Shinobi. Its soundtrack was written by acclaimed composer Yuzo Koshiro.

The Cyber Shinobi (1990)

The Cyber Shinobi was a Sega Master System exclusive title, released as a follow-up to the Master System port of the original Shinobi. Neo Zeed has resurfaced once more and threatens to destroy the world, this time under the name of Cyber Zeed. Equipped with shuriken as well as automatic weapons, Joe Musashi must prevent them from acquiring enough plutonium to melt the earth. The Cyber Shinobi is notorious for being one of the worst games in the series. Since it is mentioned in the manual that the hero's grandfather defeated Neo Zeed, the Joe Musashi-character in this game appears to be the grandson of the original Joe Musashi.

Shinobi (1991)

The debut of Shinobi on the Game Gear system was simply titled Shinobi, though in Japan it was known as The GG Shinobi (The Game Gear Shinobi). Its gameplay is largely reminiscent of The Revenge of Shinobi. In a take on the popular Japanese Super Sentai series, Shinobi revolves around the quest of five coloured ninjas (red, pink, blue, yellow and green) to bring down a powerful crime organization. The game starts with the player just controlling the red ninja and then freeing more and more of his compatriots as he progresses through each level. The soundtrack was once again composed by Yuzo Koshiro.

Shinobi 2: The Silent Fury (1992)

The Silent Fury (also The GG Shinobi 2) is a direct sequel to the original Shinobi game on Game Gear, and features much of the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessor. Both Shinobi and The Silent Fury were Game Gear exclusive games. It was scored by Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (1993)

Known as Super Shinobi II in Japan, Shinobi III is regarded by many as the high point of the series. It introduced a much smoother, faster style of gameplay while keeping the series' familiar trademarks firmly intact. The game marked Musashi's last appearance in a Shinobi game until Shinobi was released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2.

At least two known beta versions of Shinobi III are currently in circulation, featuring almost completely different levels from the final game.

Shinobi Legions (1995)

Shinobi Legions was the only Shinobi game developed for Sega Saturn, and the last sidescrolling title in the series until Revenge of Shinobi on the Game Boy Advance. The gameplay is similar to that of Shinobi III but with many tweaks. The plot represented a break with the traditional storyline of the previous games, as it focuses on an entirely new character named Sho. Shinobi Legions is also notable for its use of live-action cutsequences between each round and the use of digitized live-actors in game sequences.

Shinobi (2002)

Shinobi finally debuted in the world of 3D gaming with this PlayStation 2 exclusive title (the third game in the series to simply be called Shinobi). The story introduces a new member of Oboro clan called Hotsuma who, in the game, has to fight the evil sorcerer Hiruko and put an end to anarchy in Tokyo. Shinobi's gameplay is based upon a combo system called the tate-system (pronounced "taa'tay"), which produces a very fast and smooth style of play. However, even more so than other Shinobi titles, Shinobi is also noted for its extreme difficulty. Whenever Hotsuma dies, the player has to start the level all over again. This reboot of the franchise has not been as well received as the previous games in the series because of average graphics and the somewhat repetitive gameplay.

As one of its many secrets, Joe Musashi can be unlocked as a playable character after finishing the game.

Dark Horse comics produced a Shinobi #1 comic book based on the characters from this game.

Nightshade (2003)

The most recent game of the Shinobi franchise and the first to feature a female lead as the Shinobi character. Nightshade is a continuation of 2002's Shinobi with differences to the gameplay. In Japan, the game is known as Kunoichi, the Japanese term to denote the female equivalent of Shinobi.

Spin-off games

In 1990, SEGA released Alex Kidd in Shinobi World on Sega Master System, a spoof of the original Shinobi game in which Alex Kidd takes the position of Joe Musashi. In the game, Alex Kidd has to rescue his girlfriend, a native of Shinobi World, from an evil ninja named Hanzo. A good ninja fuses into him and gives him his powers.

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