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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 X Zone, with the latter notably fighting alongside Strider Hiryu.

A list of Shinobi games by order of release:

  • Shinobi - 1987 (Arcade, Mark III/Master System, NES, PC Engine)
  • Shadow Dancer - 1989 (Arcade, Master System)
  • The Revenge Of Shinobi - 1989 (Mega Drive/Genesis, known in Japan as The Super Shinobi)
  • Alex Kidd in Shinobi World - 1990 (Master System)
  • The Cyber Shinobi - 1990 (Master System)
  • Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi - 1990 (Mega Drive/Genesis)
  • The G.G. Shinobi - 1991 (Game Gear)
  • The G.G. Shinobi Part II: The Silent Fury - 1992 (Game Gear)
  • Shinobi III Return Of The Ninja Master - 1993 (Mega Drive/Genesis, known in Japan as The Super Shinobi II)
  • Shinobi Legions - 1995 (Sega Saturn, known as Shin Shinobi Den in Japan and Shinobi X in Europe)
  • Shinobi (2002) - 2002 (PS2)
  • The Revenge of Shinobi - 2002 (Game Boy Advance, unrelated to the Genesis version)
  • Nightshade - 2003 (PS2, Kunoichi in Japan)
  • Shinobi - 2011 (3DS)

Tropes used in Shinobi:

  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: In the final mission of Shinobi III, Joe boards Neo Zeed's flying fortress and has to navigate past its automated defenses in order to reach the final duel with the Shadow Master.
  • All There in the Manual
    • Depending on the language of your instruction manual, the protagonist of Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is either: Hayate, the estranged son of Joe Musashi, seeking to avenge the death of his adoptive father (which is the story in the Japanese manual); or Joe Musashi himself seeking to avenge the death of a student (which is the story in the English version). The game's opening text crawl (which is written in English, even in the Japanese version) is ambiguous enough to support either version of the backstory, as it never actually mentions the protagonist by name.
    • All the backstory for Shinobi X is only detailed in the manual, making the FMV scenes - especially the ones that deal with Kazuma and Sho - completely incomprehensible.
  • Attack Animal: Both Shadow Dancer games allow you to sic a white dog at enemies that would be very difficult to handle without the dog's help. The dog can distract some enemies to make them easy targets for the ninja. However, letting the enemy fight the dog too long will allow the enemy to injure the dog, turning it into a puppy until the next bomb is found or the next hostage is rescued.
  • Attack Its Weak Point:
    • Both Lobster samurais had their heads as their weak point. Some bosses have this as well.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Jitsu of Mijin in Revenge of Shinobi causes Joe to explode and do enormous damage to everything onscreen. It's the only Ninjitsu that can be used repeatedly without needing additional pick-ups (though you need to have one use to use it to begin with) the cost of consuming a life every single time it's used. Needless to say, using it on your final life isn't a good idea...unless you WANT to go out with a bang.
  • Base on Wheels: The giant ballistic missile tractor in Revenge of Shinobi.
  • Battle Aura: In Shinobi III, the final battle with the Shadow Master starts off on equal footing as he uses shuriken and katana against Joe. Then when he takes enough damage, he calls down a beam of energy to power himself up with a corona of fire — at which point he starts firing energy bolts from his palms, hurls a huge Energy Ball, counters Joe's dive kick with a Shoryuken and sometimes unleashes his own Ninjitsu technique to spray the entire chamber with energy bolts.
  • Bomb Disposal: The ninja must collect all of the time bombs in a non-boss level in Shadow Dancer before he can leave a level.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Averted in the final stage of the arcade original. You can continue as many times as needed in previous levels, but here losing all your chances is Game Over, with no continue prompt. Quite a nasty surprise, really.
  • Canine Companion: Both Shadow Dancer games allow you to sic a white dog at enemies that would be very difficult to handle without the dog's help. The dog can distract some enemies to make them easy targets for the ninja.
  • 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.
  • Continuing Is Painful: In the Master System version of the original game, dying resets the length of your life bar down to its default, and brings you back down to the slow-shuriken weapon. The former can be particularly frustrating in levels 4-2 and 4-3, which feature bottomless pits.
  • Continuity Nod: Of sorts in the 3DS version. Enemies from past games like the Brain Mutants make an appearance, and one stage has Jiro board a Zeed warship identical to the one in the final level of Shinobi III.
  • Crosshair Aware: Shinobi III: In the Womb Level section of Round 3, the grotesque Hydra will surface in the background and a computerized targeting reticle will slowly drift towards Joe. Let it get too close and it locks on to him before the Hydra unleashes its laser breath. Blocking the Hydra's line of sight to Joe will temporarily disable the targeting system as the Hydra submerges and waits for him to be visible again.
  • Damsel in Distress: Naoko in Revenge of Shinobi, Aya in Shinobi Legions, and Kagari in the PS2 game.
  • 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.
  • Full Motion Video: Shinobi X did this; specifically, the "live action cutscene" shtick used so extensively in The '90s.
  • Fuuma Shuriken: Kongou wields a gargantuan, kite-shaped shuriken that he uses as a shield and a flying saucer-like platform.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Killing the Ninja Master in Revenge of Shinobi can get like this, given he appears completely invulnerable and even the boss-killing Mijin magic deals no damage to him. As it turns out, you can only attack his body, which is usually protected by his deadly Kabuki hair — until he overextends it in his initial strike, which leaves an opening that Joe can throw a shuriken at... or even detonate a Mijin into.
    • Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master actually has a functioning guard mechanic that can outright No-Sell many projectiles and attacks, even trivializing some sections. The manual simply lists it as a defensive pose in a corner of the page like an awkward hang-on from the last that is easy to overlook, and doesn't bother to indicate just how effective it really is.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Kazuma in Shinobi X pulls this, as he considers Sho a Worthy Opponent.
  • 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.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Shadow Dancer on the Genesis uses faux-sequel numberings on its difficulty levels: level 2 and 3 change the title screen to Shadow Dancer II and III, respectively.
  • Improbable Use of a Weapon: In the 3DS Shinobi, Kunai are used as projectile weapons much like shuriken. Although not implausible in real life, Kunai were used primarily as tools and melee weapons (as depicted in Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III), seldom thrown. However in real life there are kunai-gata shuriken, ones that are shaped like kunai and are very much meant to be thrown.
  • Improbable Weapon User: A part from various weird shaped blades, we have Homura, who fights with a kiseru (pipe), Hakuraku, who uses a huge box full of scrolls, and Kogou, who uses his extra-spiky iron Geta in order to chain lightning bolts at you.
  • In Name Only: The Game Boy Advance version of The Revenge of the Shinobi is a completely different game from the original Genesis game.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Hotsuma's sword can cut a tank in half.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In the early versions of Revenge of Shinobi, Musashi will fight against thinly-disguised pastiches of Rambo, The Terminator (or The Incredible Hulk, depending on how you look at it), Spider-Man, Batman, and even Godzilla as bosses. Unfortunately, the companies that made the characters started catching on, so shipment of the games was stopped in order to modify the sprite data. This happened at least 3-4 times, with each revision removing or altering the characters in question. By the time of the Wii re-release, Rambo was spriteswapped, Spider-Man was recolored pink, Batman was a mutated Devilman ripoff, and Godzilla's skin was peeled off. Yep, that's right: only the Terminator / Hulk survived.
    • Spider-Man was more of a Special Guest, as Sega originally obtained the rights to use him in another set of games. In fact, he was the only one of the aforementioned cameos who remained the same until the Wii re-release, since Sega no longer had the Spidey license by that time. Especially noted is that he does not die in the Boss Fight; rather, he climbs out of the picture after taking enough hits before the Batman/Devilman rip off moves in to take on Joe.
    • In Shinobi III, Mecha Godzilla is the fifth boss, making him the second Godzilla-related boss in the series.
    • 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.
    • Here's a dialogue in a youtube comment section for an LP of Revenge of Shinobi:
      sandwichoftruthiness: So you're a ninja and so far you've fought Rambo clones, Terminator-Hulk, Spider-Man, Batman and Godzilla. Did Sega's CEO just write some fan-fiction and tell them to make it into a game?
      slowbeef: Does the "Tropes vs. Ninjas" title make sense now?
  • Legacy Character: In the 3DS Shinobi, it seems Shadow Master has become a title for the head of Zeed, as the one fought in this game is apparently the very first and is quite different from the Cyberninja in Shinobi III.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Moritsune when unlocked as playable character is faster and stronger than Hotsuma, but his yin meter drains more quickly causing him to need to kill more enemies to keep his health from being drained.
  • Made of Explodium: Every single enemy in Shadow Dancer.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Orn in the 3DS Shinobi is the real mastermind behind the attack on Jiro's village, and is controlling the Shadow Master (and therefore Zeed).
  • Market-Based Title
    • The Revenge of Shinobi is known as The Super Shinobi in Japan.
    • Shinobi III is named The Super Shinobi II (establishing its status as a sequel to Revenge).
    • Shin Shinobi Den is known as Shinobi Legions in America and Shinobi X in Europe.
    • The 3DS version is known as Shinobi 3D in Japan.
    • 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.
  • Not so Fast, Bucko!: In Shinobi Legions/X, the protagonist Sho spends the game trying to rescue his girlfriend Aya. You actually rescue her after only stage 4, and she even teaches you the secret to the ultimate Ninjutsu technique, but the Big Bad's ninjas were eavesdropping on you both so they could overhear the secret, and they recapture Aya after knocking her out with a cheap shot. So your mission to rescue Aya isn't over yet.
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: The ending of Shinobi on 3DS has Jiro fall from space ALL THE WAY DOWN TO EARTH during the entirety of the credits. On fire. And then he walks away unscathed upon landing. Doubles with I Fell for Hours.
  • Notzilla: The Revenge of Shinobi features a boss battle against a Godzilla parody.
  • Obvious Beta: Sega once released a pack of poorly emulated Genesis games for PC. The Revenge of Shinobi was one of them and it was a beta build.
  • 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.
  • Prehensile Hair: The Ninja Master, Final Boss of Revenge of Shinobi, uses his Kabuki hair as a weapon. When he returns in Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master as the penultimate boss, he takes this Up to Eleven, shooting a Flechette Storm from it.
  • 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.
  • Razor Wind: Kamaitachi no Jutsu.
  • Reality Ensues: In Revenge of Shinobi, falling into molten metal spells instant death, and getting hit by a car really hurts!
  • Recycled Title
    • The name Shinobi alone could apply to the original 1987 arcade game and its console variants, the first Game Gear title, the 2002 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.
  • Reformulated Game: The Genesis port of Shadow Dancer has the same gameplay as the arcade game, but with completely new stages.
  • Related in the Adaptation:
    • Played straight and then subverted in Shadow Dancer. The original arcade game starred an unnamed ninja with no relation to the Musashi bloodline, but the Japanese Mega Drive version establishes to be Joe Musashi's son Hayate, where he is given an elaborate backstory of how he was estranged from his father in the manual. However, the English manual for the American and European version ditches that backstory in favor of just making the protagonist into Joe Musashi himself.
    • Similarly, in the Japanese version of Shinobi III the penultimate boss is Byakushishi ("White Lion"), who is supposed to be the Ninja Master's younger brother while Western releases makes him The Ninja Master instead.
  • Rocket Ride: Jiro performs one in a cutscene (off the plane you were fighting on no less) to reach the Zeed stratofortress.
  • The Ruins I Caused: The ending of Shinobi III, where Joe looks at the remains of Neo Zeed's aerial base from a cliff after it crashes into the ground.
  • Rule of Cool: Ninjas on surfboards in Shinobi III? Yes, please.
    • Riding on horseback at the beginning of stage 2. On which said horse can do a diving KICK ...awesome
    • And Hotsuma's sword-parachuting, cutting tanks, missiles, and helicopters in half...
    • Hibana gets some nice moments too in a number of the cutscenes.
  • Save the Villain: At the end of Shinobi X, Sho attempts to do this for Kazuma, but Kazuma decides to save Sho and his girl instead, dying in the explosion he was responsible for.
  • Scarf Of Asskicking: Hotsuma's scarf in the PS2 titles.
    • They even tack one on Hibana - although hers isn't quite as epic, it does leave a rather cool 'ghost trail' effect.
    • Hell, they tack one on JOE in his model for PS2... it doesn't trail or get brushlike....but it's the principle that matters.
    • Jiro Musashi sports one.
  • 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:
  • Soul Eating: The Akujiki in the 2002 game. It feeds on the souls of those that are slain by it, and it can and will also feed on the soul of its wielder should he fail to keep it sated.
  • Spoiler Title: Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. The Ninja Master, the Final Boss of The Revenge of Shinobi indeed returns, albeit as the penultimate boss.
  • Stepping Stones in the Sky: Round 6 of Shinobi III is set entirely on a series of falling rocks in a chasm.
  • 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.
  • Super Drowning Skills: In the revenge of shinobi, in the first 2 acts of the Tokyo stage (rocky canyon near Tokyo and Tokyo itself), the second act of the Detroit stage (car factory), the second act of the Area Code 818 stage (freeway), the first act of the New York stage (the docks), and the first act of the Neo Zeed Marine Stronghold stage (the mariner), Joe is killed instantly if he falls in water.
  • Super Mode: Again, the Shadow Master after he charges up.
  • Take That!:
    Loading Screen: Everyone knows real ninjas eat chicken, not pizza.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Sho in Legions does this to save Aya from getting backstabbed.
  • Time Bomb: Non-boss levels in the arcade version of Shadow Dancer are littered with these, justifying the missions' time limits.
  • Timed Mission: The arcade version of Shadow Dancer has a timer justified by the time bombs that are placed throughout non-boss levels.
  • To Be Continued: We are told this after the credits in Shinobi III, but Joe's story isn't continued at all in the other games.
  • We Can Rule Together: Kazuma tries this in the final stage of Shinobi Legions. This example differs from most Video Game examples of this trope, as Sho automatically says no.
  • A Winner Is You: The ending in the arcade Shinobi wasn't anything special to begin with, but it sure beats the Master System port, which awards the player with a blank Game Over screen (the same one you can get for losing the game).
  • Womb Level: The second half of level 3 in Shinobi III.
  • Yuki Onna: Jiro has to fight one at the end of the first level.

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


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