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Video Game / Shinobi

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Joe Musashi, the original Shinobi.
He is stronger than steel and moves faster than a whirlwind.
Sometimes he hides in mud. Other times he transforms his shape like an ever-changing cloud.
Although his fighting spirit burns like fire, his mind is as calm as still water.
— "Shadows" (quoted from the Secret Manual of Oboro Ninjutsu), intro to Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

Shinobi is a series of side-scrolling action games that were released by Sega during the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. The games has the player controlling a ninja (usually Joe Musashi, a nod to ninja actor Sho Kosugi) who battles the forces of evil in each title.

The original Shinobi was originally released in 1987 for the arcades. The player controls a ninja named Joe Musashi, who fights a criminal syndicate known as "Zeed" in order to rescue his kidnapped students. The original game featured a floor jumping system similar to Namco's Rolling Thunder. Musashi is armed with his punches and kicks, as well as an unlimited supply of shurikens (which can be upgraded into a sword and gun), as well as different kinds of ninja arts which could be used to kill all on-screen enemies. Sega also made a Master System rendition which changed the game mechanics by adding more weapons, as well as a health gauge system and the ability to carry multiple ninja arts. There were also licensed versions for the Nintendo Entertainment System and PC Engine.

A single arcade sequel was released in 1989 titled Shadow Dancer, which retained the format of the original arcade game, giving the player a Canine Companion who helps the player fend off enemies. A severely stripped-down version was released for the Sega Master System, while the Sega Genesis got Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, which had similar gameplay but with completely redesigned level layouts and different enemies.

Shinobi had further sequels for home consoles, the most prominent being the two Super Shinobi games for the Genesis, which consisted of The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. The Super Shinobi series completely revamps the game mechanics from the arcade games, ditching the one-hit-kill rule from the arcade game, while adding selectable ninja arts and abilities in the process. The series went into a hiatus after the release of Shinobi Legions for the Sega Saturn, which eschews the hand-drawn graphics from previous installments in favor of Mortal Kombat-style digitized graphics.

Sega revived the series in the early 2000s with a new 3D game simply titled Shinobi for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, which had the player controlling a new ninja named Hotsuma, who wields the life-draining blade known as Akujiki (Eater of Evil). Joe Musashi also appeared in the new game as well as a hidden character. It was followed by a pseudo-sequel titled Nightshade in 2003, also for PS2, which featured a female ninja named Hibana. Many of the older titles (namely the three Genesis games and the original arcade game) had been re-released for the Wii Virtual Console.

A new Shinobi game was developed by Griptonite Studios for the 3DS, and released in September 2011.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed features Joe Musashi as an unlockable racer as well as a track based around Shinobi called Seasonal Shrines. Hotsuma and Hibana are also present in the sequel to Project × Zone, with the latter notably fighting alongside Strider Hiryu.

A list of Shinobi games by order of release:

If you're looking for the trope about shinobi, see Ninja.

The Shinobi games provide examples of::

  • Attack Its Weak Point: Both Lobster samurais had their heads as their weak point. Some bosses have this as well.
  • Cherry Tapping: the essence of most of the older games, as getting close enough to use your blade is suicidal lest you're quite skilled... you spend most of your time at a distance, chucking shurikens like it's going out of style. Lampshaded by Joe's unique ability when he's unlocked in the PS2 game...see Bonus Feature Failure above.
  • Collision Damage: Subverted in some of the games, such as Revenge, where merely touching an enemy causes the protagonist to be knocked back but doesn't actually hurt him.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Game Gear games had multiple playable ninjas each dressed in a different color with their own weapons and techniques.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: In Sonic the Comic. Shinobi was the first Sega game outside the Sonic the Hedgehog series to get a comic adaptation, and it was both faithful to the games' stories and suitably serious in tone.
  • Damsel in Distress: Naoko in Revenge of Shinobi, Aya in Shinobi Legions, and Kagari in the PS2 game.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: Enemies tend to explode when they die.
  • Degraded Boss: The Shadow Dancer (Boss of Stage 2 in Revenge) returns in Shinobi III as Stage 2's Mini-Boss.
  • Diagonal Cut: Whenever you manage to pull a Tate attack. Extremely satisfying if you manage to wipe out all enemies onscreen.
  • Directionally Solid Platforms: In 2D games.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: Present in some of the games as enemies. Most prominent examples are the large Lobster Samurai that serve as a Boss Battle in the arcade game, Revenge, and Shinobi III.
  • Flechette Storm
    • The Punishing Rain technique, from The Revenge of Shinobi onwards.
    • The Ninja Master in Shinobi III gained a flechette spray attack launched with a flick of his kabuki wig.
    • Also, the Shadow Master's Ninjitsu technique.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja:
    • Hotsuma's scarf is designed to make him this so the player doesn't lose track of him during the action.
    • Lest we forget... Joe Musashi...a master ninja, fearsome shadow, all around badass... clad in WHITE. It's been stated by Word of God that this color scheme was devised to make him look more heroic than if he retained his original dark outfit.
    • Hibana doesn't do anything to be very stealthy either for the most part... as she too wears mostly white and has a scarf that trails ghostly pink.
  • In Name Only: The Game Boy Advance version of The Revenge of the Shinobi is a completely different game from the original Genesis game.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In the prototype of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, titled Kid Shinobi, one of the bosses was named Mari-oh, who looked like the mascot of a certain rival company dressed like a samurai. Said company wasn't amused by the joke Sega made at their expense, so Mari-oh was renamed Kabuto and his face was altered. However, he still attacks by throwing fireballs and shrinks after taking a few hits.
  • Market-Based Title
    • The Game Gear installments, The G.G. Shinobi and The G.G. Shinobi II are borderline examples, since the in-game titles remained the same (only the titles on the cover artworks were changed).
  • Master Swordsman: Kizane, who's blind but with keen senses and slices things using Razor Wind.
  • Nebulous Evil Organisation: Zeed and its successor Neo Zeed.
  • Ninja: In addition to normal ninjas, there are ninja dogs with swords in their mouths! Before you ask: No, when they bark they don't shoot swords at you.
  • Nintendo Hard: More like SEGA Hard, but the Shinobi series has challenge practically written into its very DNA. The original arcade game and Shadow Dancer make you a One-Hit-Point Wonder and inevitably get hectic from all angles, while Revenge of Shinobi, Return of the Ninja Master and 3D are plenty challenging and fully expecting you to master their mechanics or get annihilated. The PS2 entry is probably the hardest game in the entire franchise, between juggling a life-draining sword that forces you to play aggressively to survive, Bottomless Pit galore with even having to combo enemies over them from wall to wall, and straight up hard boss fights that require you to use all the tools and abilities as well as have reflexes to survive; death means an entire stage restart unless you reached the boss and if you run out of continues altogether, not even a boss checkpoint will spare you from a stage do-over.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: The player dies in one hit in the original arcade versions of Shinobi and Shadow Dancer. This can be quite jarring to players more accustomed to the console versions, since even the Master System version of Shinobi gave the player a life gauge. The only console game in the series to retain the one hit rule was the Genesis version of Shadow Dancer.
  • Press X to Die: A self-destruct ninjitsu is featured, which kills or greatly damages everything on the screen and reduces a life from your total stock, while also giving you another use for a ninjitsu. There's nothing to stop you from using it while on your very last life.
  • Recycled Title
    • The name Shinobi alone could apply to the original 1987 arcade game and its console variants, the first Game Gear title, the PlayStation 2 game starring Hotsuma, and the 2011 3DS game by Griptonite (aka Shinobi 3D).
    • The Revenge of Shinobi could apply to the 1989 Sega Genesis game (aka The Super Shinobi) or the 2002 Game Boy Advance game by 3D6 games.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The arcade version of ESWAT is pretty much Shadow Dancer with a RoboCop-esque setting. The Genesis version is more different, though.
  • Schrödinger's Canon: Shinobi III takes place after Revenge of Shinobi, but never indicates which of the two endings of the latter game is canon to the former. Shinobi III could have Joe Musuashi avenging the death of his beloved from the previous game, or simply have him fight against Neo Zeed in a standalone Excuse Plot.
  • Sequel Number Snarl: The Genesis games go from Revenge of Shinobi to Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi to Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Shinobi III is the true sequel to Revenge of Shinobi and features the same gameplay system, while Secret of Shinobi is actually a loose remake of the arcade's Shadow Dancer which kept the arcade version's one-hit-point-per-life system.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the Game Gear games, you have a Five-Man Band of heroes colored in red, blue, green, yellow, and pink. Just like a Super Sentai team.
  • Suicide Attack: The Art of Mijin sets off an explosion fuelled by Joe's lifeforce (i.e. one life) that'll wipe out Mooks and inflict heavy damage on Bosses. Also, for the longer stretches, it's a great way to avoid having to do a level from closer to the starting point - if you're going to die, might as well do it without having to do everything over again, no? But if you try to do it when you don't have any lives left, this can fall right into Explosive Stupidity.
  • Take That!:
    Loading Screen: Everyone knows real ninjas eat chicken, not pizza.

Alternative Title(s): The Cyber Shinobi, The GG Shinobi, The GG Shinobi Part II The Silent Fury