Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
by Polly

Back in this site's infancy, in good ol' 2005, I made the bold statement that Ninja Gaiden II was the "game you should play if you want to finally grow hair on your nuts." Ladies, gentlemen, and other internet fuckmos, when I made that statement I was drunk on NES elixer (I think this is clearly evident by the ridiculously stupid fork and spoon lead-in that went nowhere in the graphics bit) and had overlooked another game that played a large part in developing my hardcore gamer muscle. My friends, Ninja Gaiden II will in fact put hair in your nuts and Contra 4 will make even the most feminine woman grow hair on her chest and become quite manly. Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi has the potential to turn you into some kind of weird, otherworldly, Altered Beast never called forth from its grave by Zeus to score a piece of Athena's hot ass, but by the time you're finished, you will be a fucking sick and completely inhuman GAME MASTER. Even better than Johnny Arcade. No foolin'!

Shadow Dancer is a sort of "true" follow-up to the original Shinobi arcade game. Sadly, the original never received a truly faithful adaptation to the home market and the Genesis-exclusive Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III, though great games, didn't resemble the action or mechanics of the arcade much at all. The Shadow Dancer arcade game and the game I'm reviewing now are also two different games. Though this version of the game features different stages and enemies than the arcade game, the basic gameplay elements are mostly the same. Why are you so confusing, Sega? Because you're Sega, yeah yeah, we get it.

The (heavily altered from the original, but not really important) story revolves once again around Joe Musashi. After the death of one of his students, Joe sets out to find the scoundrels involved and give them a nice juicy taste of swordy revenge. In the Japanese version of the storyline, you're actually Musashi's Son Hayate who is out for revenge. But like I said, it doesn't fucking matter. The story is hardly referenced anywhere else other than the game's manual and that's just fine with me.

Shadow Dancer plays similarly to both its arcade cousin and the original Shinobi game. You're dropped into each level with an unlimited number of shurikens and are on a timer to survive the onslaught of enemies, rescue kidnapped hostages (in the arcade you originally disarmed bombs which makes more sense with the whole working against the clock thing), and reach the goal. Even cooler this time is you're aided by a loyal canine companion. Simply holding down the attack button for a second or so charges your DOGGY GAUGE FUCK YES and when released, AWESOME DOGGY sprints across the screen and starts fucking with the nearest enemy giving you a great distraction to move in and put a miserable end to someone's poor pitiful world. All very simple premises that are made incredibly easy thanks to the braindead easy and responsive controls. There's really nothing to complain about here. The controls are so easily mapped out and responsive that you can't blame your fuck-ups on them.

What doesn't make the game easy....well is the fact that the game's just not fuckin' easy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The first boss is likely to gobble up all of your continues the first time you play this game. One hit and you're dead. Shot back to the beginning of the stage to try again. It can seem brutal at first, but the stages are generally short enough so that you can get back to where you were and try again without too much hassle. Shadow Dancer is in no way cheap. When you die, it's your fault for not paying close enough attention or reacting fast enough. Whether intentional by the developers or not, the game actually points out how you fucked up by pausing the action of all enemies the moment you die and while your character collapses to the ground, you're given a nice still image of exactly who killed you and how. The one-hit kill aspect of this game will likely turn a lot away once they reach the boss phases of the game. The bottom line is that you can't know how to deal with even the first attack a boss has your first time through the game. Meaning you get to die and try again many times, sometimes before even seeing a boss' entire pattern, let alone trying to exploit it.

Each stage is broken up into scripted enemy spawns and it's up to you to be nimble enough on the controls and have the reflexes to deal with them and rescue the hostages that certain placed enemies may be guarding. Sometimes enemies are just there to psych you out into making mistakes, such as making you jump over an attack when an enemy is already above you launching another because you didn't notice another opening. It's all part of the beauty that is twitch gameplay. Sometimes you'll look like a crackhead as you get antsy anticipating enemy attacks and spawns. Relieving a bit of this stress is the series tradition of not penalizing or killing you when you touch an enemy. So long as an enemy isn't in an attack animation when you come into contact with them, Joe will simply fall back and have the added benefit of being invincible during this time. You can and should use this tactic to avoid attacks. It's very useful.

In this way, the entire game turns into a lot of trial and error and simply memorizing spawn points and how to deal with them. This is made a little less tedious by the fact that the game features three difficulty levels which add new enemy spawns and more difficult situations to try and fight your way out of and the fact that the game is almost criminally short. On top of that there's also a very fun "No Shurikens" mode. Musashi leaves the neverending bag of shurikens at home and brings his sword, his doggy, and a jump kick, meaning you gotta get up close and personal and get your hands dirty in order to deal with enemies. This mode isn't simply tacked on for shits and giggles and I'd be inclined to argue it's the most fun way to play the game. It adds a whole new way to approach each mission strategically, and almost feels like an entirely different game this way. The only real down-side to this mode however is that bosses didn't get re-programmed to work with the no shurikens approach and you're given shurikens to deal with them as you would in the course of the normal game.

Visually, beyond a background or two, the game is fairly average. Enemies are nice and brightly colored and bosses have a good bit of detail. It's nothing really over the top, but you certainly won't get sick of looking at it after a couple hours either. The audio is about on par with the visuals, which is kinda sad. The amazing Yuzo Koshiro had composed the music for The Revenge of Shinobi on Genesis a year earlier, but without his work here, the tunes are largely forgettable and just there to compliment the action.

Shadow Dancer is pretty fucking awesome and you'd be doing yourself a favor to give it a go if you don't mind having your ass handed to you over and over until you get it right. It's dirt-cheap on Wii's Virtual Console and can also be found on the completely awesome Sega Genesis Collection that's out for both PlayStation 2 and PSP for as low as $9.

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