The Completist Presents: The Revenge of Shinobi
All was dark and serene in my world, I must have been sleeping. In the back of my head I felt a nagging sensation pulling at my consciousness. Threatening to bring me out of the inner peace I was enjoying. I began to hear an interesting groove, a nice beat. Bop Bop thrum de dum dum, bah! I slowly opened my eyes, staring at the perfectly flat ceiling of my grandmothers 1950’s era Florida home. I heard the rustle of Coconut Palms gently blowing in the ocean breeze outside. That same breeze softly caressing my face through the slotted “island style” windows of this antique house. It was time to wake up.
As my senses rose from the quicksand they were in, I began to make sense of what my ears were hearing. A beautifully crafted, 16-bit chip tune called “Make me Dance”:
Or to be precise, the music for level 2-2 of the Sega Genesis classic, “The Revenge of Shinobi.” Waking up to this song at my grandmother’s house was a common occurrence for me in my youth. My grandmother had an interesting habit of dragging all three of the guest bedroom mattresses into the living room and onto the floor for us to sleep on. Perhaps it was so my brother, sister and I could simply turn over, switch on the TV and start playing games as soon as we awoke in the morning. In this regard, I usually found my younger brother beating me to the punch. His current gaming skills still far exceed mine to this day and I have no doubt that all this extra “early bird” practice is to blame.
His game of choice for this was generally “The Revenge of Shinobi” (or Thunderforce 3, but that is another article) and for some reason I almost always found myself waking up when he reached level 2-2. Maybe it was the funky but elegant groove of “Make me Dance” that brought me out of my slumber each time. Or maybe four levels and a slammin boss tune was too much for my subconscious to handle. Said “slammin” Boss tune can be heard below:
Which reminds me of one of the things that defines this classic game. The music! If you’ve never heard of Yuzo Koshiro, he is the Bach or Beethoven of the 16-bit era. He was capable of doing things with 16-bit music hardware that no one else was able to do at the time. You knew each and every time you heard one of his songs (it helped that he got full credit, usually on the title screen of each game score he composed) because that’s how high the quality was. When you hear a Yuzo Koshiro tune from that era, you know it’s him, plain and simple.
So yes, the music in “The Revenge of Shinobi” is great. But what about the game itself? This game has been a constant in my life pretty much since I got it back in 1990. I know it practically inside and out. My eyes are fitted with contact lenses filtered with nostalgia so you aren’t going to get a very objective take on this game from me. What you will get though, is a look at what a play through of this game entails and some of the quirky things you will find along the way. Starting with the story, right out of the horse’s mouth. You can even listen to the kick ass title music while you read. It will make the experience, more authentic:
And there you have it. And by “it” I mean your typical setup for pretty much every video game and movie plot ever. But we’ll forgive that. Just like we forgave Avatar’s lame story (freaking Ferngully, ugh). It’s about the journey and the special effects! Not the story!
Ok, so other than the story, what does this game have to offer that makes it worth playing? There are 16 very distinct levels, 8 very distinct bosses, 4 ninja magics for you to use, shuriken’s to throw, knives to stab, swords to slash and 19 beautiful music tracks for you to listen to along the way (ok, so maybe one of them sucks, I’ll explain why later). There are also power ups that you will absolutely want to get. They make you twice as strong and enable you to actually use your katana blade. Because apparently, Joe doesn’t have the strength to pull his sword out unless he is all jacked up on “P.” Again, we forgive you Joe.
The Revenge of Shinobi starts in the Ibaraki Province, Japan. A slow but appropriately Eastern sounding tune sets the mood. “The Shinobi” theme to be exact:
There are majestic looking ruins from the ancient past, shrouded in a bamboo forest all around you. The sun begins to set as you fight your way through Zeed’s many grey, flamboyant flipping ninjas and samurai straight out of the 16th century. Throwing stars coming at you from every angle. As you reach the end of the forest, the moon begins to rise, a crescent moon. My brother and I dubbed it “The Shinobi Moon” when we were kids. A fond memory that I am pleasantly reminded of every time I see that familiar arc in the night sky.
Once you exit the forest you enter the “House of Confusion.” A nasty trek through a dilapidated building that someone saw fit to turn into one giant booby trap. Sharp, piercing bamboo stakes, crushing bamboo slammers, hidden switches and rotating doors spewing ninja’s with reckless abandon. This place is dangerous. The “Art of Thunder” magic helps here, but I always save my big guns for the bosses. Speaking of bosses, once you’ve cleared the not so fun house you get to joust with a giant, nine foot tall samurai called the “Blue Lobster.” He’s easily dispatched by using your “Art of the Fire Dragon” magic and then somersaulting continuously in the corner spewing shurikens until he explodes (did I mention that ALL enemies in this game explode? Even live humans?).
With the Blue Lobster dispatched, you now head towards Tokyo. But first, you must traverse through a rocky and extremely wet canyon. Bat-like Ninja’s with wings, conveniently placed boxes with bombs, slippery logs rolling down waterfalls and the ever present need to keep going up, up, up. Absolute precision platforming at its finest can be found here. Particularly the final four insane jumps which always seemed to use up much of my patience, not to mention my continues. “Art of Self-Levitation” is a must here. This magic conveniently enables you to jump twice your normal height. Spiffy I must say.
As you reach Tokyo, that familiar funky bass line hits like a ton of dancing 70’s boogie shoes. Gyrating all the way up to the roof tops. We have to assume here that the treacherous canyon you climbed lead you to the roof of Tokyo. And the roof is where you stay, if you want to live, anyway. Hang high and this level is a breeze. Forget about the Bruce Lee looking guys or the female ninja’s dressed like nuns. Leave them to their leaping and they’ll jump right down one of the many pits below, leaving you to easily find your way to a disco where you encounter the “Shadow Dancer” (isn’t that another spin off Shinobi game?) in a blinding, seizure inducing blast of color and lights. Hit him enough times and he goes into stealth mode. Hit him a few more and he explodes in the usual blaze of glory.
From the disco we of course head over to the nearby military base. Because all discos have military bases right out the back door, especially in Tokyo, complete with attack dogs, soldiers in green uniforms and helmets, machine guns, and multiple Arnold Schwarzeneggers with flame throwers blasting away. You gotta love the military grade, grinding, marching style of the music:
“Like the Wind”
It’s absolutely perfect for the theme of this stage. Just be careful about hoping over that fence too much. You’ll find yourself landing on a grenade. I’m pretty sure Mario learned something about fences from this game.
Now, this next level actually makes sense. A giant military aircraft with a supercomputer on board controlled by a human brain! Of course! I always remember sucking on this level. No, literally. You can get sucked right out the airlocks. This plane has a grand total of 10 of them. Not to mention a lot of angry soldiers blasting machine gun fire into every wall possible. Good thing this plane is made of titanium or I’d imagine it would end up grounded permanently. Mr. brain himself is a trial in patience. Dodge one of the two lasers guarding him about 20 times, hit him as he emerges from his metal carapace and guess what he does? He explodes.
Next stop, Detroit! Huh? Well at least one thing makes sense here. There are LOTS of cars in Detroit. In fact, it appears to be a huge junk yard. Were the Japanese developers trying to say something about the quality of American cars? Hmmmmm…. Either way you fight your way through more military thugs and in what I can only presume is a car factory. Oh yeah and there’s lava too. You know, for melting down all those horrible American cars. This level also has a catchy little tune called “Ninja Step” which can only be described as beautifully robotic sounding:
Now this is where things really start to get interesting. Head through the factory and out behind the building you inevitably run into the Governator himself. He hurls more trashed American cars at you while you nail him with your shurikens. What makes things incredibly strange is that as you hit him his skin begins to turn green and then he literally becomes the incredible hulk. Yes, the incredible hulk. Finish him and his skin melts off revealing that he is in fact not the incredible hulk, but the terminator. But before he can do anything else, you guessed it, he explodes.
Don’t worry, things continue to get stranger. Straight to area code 818, which is, Los Angeles? And in Los Angeles there are two things everyone thinks of, skyscrapers and highways (ok so this DOES make sense). Starting with the skyscraper, you leap your way straight up through a completely vertical level, lasers blasting you all the way. The music of course is equally as vertical sounding thanks to Koshiro’s musical prowess:
Reach the top and apparently, Joe decides to come back down because the next level is the highway. Complete with bottomless pits on the side of the road, more angry U.S. army guys and nun-like female ninja’s. Oh yeah, and you can also get run over by cars. Wouldn’t climbing the sky scraper after the highway have made more sense? Just my thinking…
At any rate, at the end of the highway we jump onto what is apparently a giant, electrified, armored vehicle carrying a gargantuan missile. There are red “siren” looking orbs that pop out of the vehicle that you have to kick to death. Because kicking sirens is always what I thought I’d be doing in a game about ninja’s. Dispatch the sirens and…. wait for it…. the entire vehicle explodes!
What’s next? Chinatown of course. And in Chinatown we find lots of angry Asians. More Bruce Lees, guys with spinning whips, ninja women with gravity defying leaps, and plenty of power ups.
Blasting through Chinatown is a breeze but what’s more breezy is jumping onto the top of a fast moving train ala “Mission Impossible” style. Did I mention that the music is equally as fast:
“Run or Die”
As the song title suggests, it’s run or die. And look out because every 4 seconds a metal pole comes your way doing some serious damage in the process. Finish the train and the biggest and strangest surprise yet awaits you.
Spiderman! Yes really, Spiderman! Apparently he likes to hang out in train yards and has somehow entered the employ of Zeed. Who the hell knows why, but what I do know is that fighting him is a chore, especially getting caught in his webs that he constantly throws your way. Get him down to low life, however, and Batman appears! Yes, Batman. With lots of annoying flying bats along for the ride. Can this game get any stranger? Marvel and DC super heroes in a Sega game about Ninjas? Playing bad guys? Unfathomable.
Dispatch the Batman with an explosive bang, and we’re off to the east coast. Or New York harbor to be exact. There are some absolutely insane jumps on this level and if you miss even once you are dead and back to the start. Ninja’s fly up out of the water, flame throwers are hiding around every container box and bouncing life rafts in the rough New York waters are your only solace from death (because apparently Joe can’t swim). Finish these and you find yourself in Zeed’s cargo vessel where you invariably meet… wait for it… Godzilla! Or at least a beast that looks kind of like Godzilla. He is referred to specifically as the “Ancient Dinosaur.” Ok, sure.
Did I mention that this dinosaur is extremely difficult? Easily the hardest boss in the game. You will burn through multiple “Art of Particles” ninja magics before you beat him. Dispatch him and he of course explodes. You know, like all the dinosaurs did when the meteorite hit earth 66 million years ago. So it makes sense.
Once Godzilla is dead, we are on to the final area: The “Neo Zeed Marine Stronghold,” which I can only assume is in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Ascension Island maybe? You are faced with another harbor like level with more insane jumps and enemies but this is a cake walk compared to what lies ahead: the nightmare of my childhood; the impassible obstacle of insanity; the two hours of my life wasted. To put it simply, it is a labyrinth. A labyrinth of epic proportions. I wasn’t able to finish this game for almost 10 years because of it. It’s pure, unadulterated torture. Remember that one specific music track I mentioned way back at the beginning of this diatribe? The one I said sucked? Well here it is in all it’s shameful, agonizing glory:
At first, it’s just a nuisance, but it’ll slowly start pounding into your head like Chinese water torture. You’ll be daft by the time it’s over.
So yes, thanks to the advent of the internet, I was finally able to finish this game around the year 2000. Just take my advice, get a walkthrough, find your way through this maze as quickly as possible and fight that final boss. If you don’t, your soul will be sucked dry and what was once a great game will become a nightmare of frustration and lunacy.
Speaking of final bosses, here he is! Creatively titled “The Boss” he is a total cake walk, provided of course that you have your ninja power up. If you don’t, good luck! The Boss’s only attack is his long mane of hair which he head bangs in a continual circle and then tosses at you doing major damage. Your fiancée is also trapped in a cage behind you with a slowly lowering wall that will crush her if you don’t succeed in time. So hurry up! Take out the boss with your sword on his soft underbelly and you get a truly epic explosion, so epic in fact that it makes all other explosions in the game irrelevant by comparison. Actually, not really. He just politely blows up like everyone else.
The Boss is dead! Your fiancé is safe! What is your reward for all this work? A sunset. And that’s it. I will have to say that for all the years I spent trying to beat this game I have never seen a more anti-climactic ending in all my life. No credit’s, no 16-bit cinematic, just a sunset with Joe and his girl looking out over the mountains. Honestly, who in their right mind would end something in such an abrupt, unexpected manner?