Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
The legendary Shinobi will soon be able to draw his pension. Starting life many moons ago in arcades all around the world, Shinobi captured the imagination of many gamesters as it was converted from format to format.
There are now four episodes in the continuing saga, Shadow Dancer being the third, and like the original, this is a coin-op conversion.
In the mid-’90s, the space race is in full flow, shuttles launched almost every day. The government are secretly developing remote control missiles and terrorists known as ‘Asian Dawn’ have learnt of their plans. They plot to hijack the shuttle, sabotage the experiments then use the weapons to hold the Earth hostage.
It sounds like a Die Hard scenario, and the comparison isn’t that far off the mark — part of the action takes place in an airport.
Takashi is the one-man army ninja do-gooder who takes on the whole Asian Dawn. Aided by his trusty hound, he fights with his sabre and throwing stars to foil the Dawnies’ plot. Takashi battles through four stages, set in an airport, freight train, sewer and a launch area to reach the space shuttle before the terrorists.
Sounds a bit one-sided, doesn’t it? Don’t you worry your little selves, ‘cause our Takashi has a few tricks up his kimono sleeves. He can call on his faithful killer mutt three times during a stage, and in a desperate situation can use an ancient form of ninja mage.
Takashi can cast three types of spells — Fire Dog (fire magic) Tatsumaki (tornado) and Butsuzo (Buddha) — depending on how many lives reman. He begins each stage with one type of magic and one spell. As he’s hit in battle, the type ol magic changes and the number of times the spell can be cast increases. Unfortunately Ninjitsu magic can’t be used on the boss enemies!
As Takashi destroys enemies, time bombs appear. Move Takashi over the bomb symbol to defuse it and receive a thousand-point bonus. Picking up a fifth bomb increases the throwing rate of throwing stars.
After the first, second and third stages, he can try for an extra life. Ninjas attack en masse and if he wipes them all out, the life’s his.
The Shinobi concept is the original ninja shoot-’em-up and that alone will probably sell Shadow Dancer, although it deserves little success.
On the upside, there’s great detail on the main sprite and quality animation. However, the downside is the backdrops and gameplay suffer as a result. Particularly frustrating is the need for precision timing and control — there are no second chances — and to find yourself back at the start of the game after being hit by one lousy bullet can be soul-destroying. Not a simple game to control, all the options must be learnt and used to play Shadow Dancer to its max potential.
Avid Shinobi fans will no doubt be chuffed with this latest offering for the Master System, but frankly I’m not impressed.
Let’s start with something amazing: Claire and I AGREE on I this game. I find the Shinobi style of game very boring — the action’s repetitive and doesn’t set the adrenalin flowing. True to tradition, Shadow Dancer’s just as unexciting. While the graphics are passable, gameplay’s a complete washout. Pixel-perfection is needed simply to jump over a small fire and control of Takashl’s a problem at the best of times. Your usual jaunt of shuriken and slashing action; anyone who owns the original MS Shinobi should stick with what they’ve got.
No breakthroughs in MS gaming technology here
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