Sega Ages Shinobi is a Great Doorway to Game History
Let's take a look at Sega Ages Shinobi and explain why Sega's Shinobi series is interesting when it comes to game history.
Ninja characters have always been popular in video games. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice obviously showed that, but it’s been true for decades now Sega was one of the first companies out there who focused on this theme with the Shinobi series. The Sega Ages Switch release of the very first Shinobi game is a great way to remember or discover the series.
Shinobi first launched on arcade in 1987. Needless to say, this Sega Ages version is mainly directed to nostalgic fans of the series looking for an easy alternative to play the game without the arcade version, but I definitely think everyone should try it out. Shinobi is a pure arcade game and a great historical example of what constitutes arcade games in many ways.
First off, the game is easy to play but hard to master. Anyone can get a superficial understanding of how Shinobi works in a single glance after ten seconds of gameplay. You’ve got simple controls and a simple presentation, side-scrolling action with enemies to defeat and hostage kids to save in each stage. Next, you have our protagonist, Joe Musashi, who dies in a single hit, making the game quite hard and encouraging players to train and put some more money in the machine. The Sega Ages Switch port recreates this by asking you to press a specific button to add coins. Last but not least, Shinobi has an extended scoring system with many hidden scoring mechanics. The easiest mechanic to notice is how defeating enemies in CQC, instead of shooting shuriken from afar, garners much more points.
These scoring mechanics encourage dedicated players to learn various patterns and reach the highest score possible, and perhaps this Sega Ages port will birth new scoring (or speedrunning) vocations. Shinobi most notably includes hidden scoring systems dependent on the last digits of your current score, meaning top scoring players learn patterns to manipulate said score. This would take me way too long to explain, but I highly recommend checking out top player Ben Shinobi’s guide if you’re interested.
One element worth pointing out is, like all other Sega Ages ports on Switch so far, Shinobi also includes options to make the game easier, such as being able to use savestates and the time rewind function. The Ages mode also makes the game easier. Some would say it’s blasphemy, but I personally couldn’t care less. I’ve always been surprised some can consider these systems such an issue. I don’t remember anyone getting this mad when emulators and savestates got more popular 20 years ago, though Twitter didn’t exist yet so there were fewer outlets for vitriol. In any case, I genuinely think people spending time criticizing others about using these systems should seriously rethink their lives.
I’d lastly point out this first Shinobi game is fascinating in how it already has the basis and foundation that made the next episodes in the series so enjoyable. Sega’s Shinobi is one of the best series when it comes to making players feel like actual shinobi. The series evolved and switched from pure arcade to consoles and kept its charm. Hopefully, the other Shinobi games, and Shinobi III, my favorite in the series, will release via Sega Ages soon.
Sega did a pretty good job transferring the Shinobi series to 3D with Shinobi (2002) and Kunoichi (2003) on PlayStation 2, and I hope the series will be revived soon, be it 2D or 3D. No game company actually “forgets an IP” or never thinks of reviving it. Sakura Taisen winning the Sega Fes 2016 fan popularity poll is one of the main factors which led to Project Sakura Wars (check out our translated playthrough), so it would be great if the Shinobi franchise came back.
As a side note, our Japanese peers at Game Watch regularly interview M2’s developers, the team behind these Sega Ages Switch ports. Around one interview per month is published, and the very first one concerned Sega Ages Phantasy Star. If you can read Japanese, you should check out the interview regarding Shinobi.