Ninjas were THE thing back in the 90’s – and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master captures the essence of it beautifully! As a gamer who did not grow up with a Sega Genesis, this is one of those gems that I did not get an opportunity to play until I started collecting, but am happy to have played now! The fun gameplay, excellent music, and high quality graphics comes together to great an awesome 2D ninja gaming experience!
In terms of story, I didn’t pay much attention to it (because it didn’t really effect my enjoyment of the game), but it nevertheless did a good job setting up the backdrop for a good 90’s ninja story! In brief, you take control of Joe Musahi – a ninja from the Oboro clan. The criminal organization Neo Zeed is at it again threatening the world with it’s evil! Now headed by Shadow Master, your job is to take him and his organization down! Yo start in the mountains, sensing a disturbance and the rise of Neo Zeed, and decide to decent and deal with them once and for all!
This game is a 2D side-scrolling action platform game. For most of the game, you control Joe as he runs from left to right in stages (with occasional vertical sections) all the while throwing shurikens, slashing enemies, dashing and jumping over pits! With all of Joe’s abilities like wall jumping and ceiling hanging, the game really manages to give the player a sense of being a ninja!
Levels (of which their are seven large zones) are fairly action heavy where Joe must dispatch many enemies. The levels are large enough however that secrets can be found aplenty, which really pushes the player to explore all the nooks and crannies! To mix up the standard 2D action gameplay, the game also incorporates some horizontal scrolling levels where you are traveling on either a horse or jet sky. These levels were really fast and twitch-like, which was a nice change of pace from the rest of the game.
In terms of the game’s controls, they are exceptional! One button does all the jumping, another does all the primary attack moves (including shurikens and slashing), and the last button initiates ninjutsu magic! I was really impressed how they managed to incorporate both shurikens and sword attacks to one button – depending on how close you are to enemy, the game will select which to use! While it might seem like you have less choice with how to attack when only one button is dedicated to attack, I never felt like that. The attack button does different things depending on whether you are standing still, close or far from enemies, and whether you are dashing or jumping in the air.
One of the major surprises for me was how interesting and challenging some of the enemies were. While most can be dispatched with a couple shurikens, some enemies need to be attacked intelligently to defeat them – even in the first stage! For example, you fight a mini-boss type character early in the game that can only be attacked when he attacks. The problem is that the mini-bosses attack returns to hit you within a second, so players must be very quick to get hits in before getting hit themselves!
The end-bosses are really unique too! I particularly liked the second boss where you fight a computer room that constantly changes! The game utilizes some really interesting mechanics like backwards controls and cool graphic effects to make the battle disorienting in a cool way! Overall, the bosses were excellent!
In terms of graphics, this game is a gorgeous and still stands up to this day! The characters are big and detailed, the animations are excellent, the levels all look exceptionally unique! Players will travel from forested areas to caves all in the first zone, and later exploring science labs, outdoor areas, and open fields with a horse (please see pictures below and above)! The game also incorporates really cool graphic effects that bolster the boss and horizontal scrolling stages by having the background characters interact with the foreground! Few games looks this good on the Genesis!
The music of this game is also outstanding, and has had me return multiple times just to listen to the catchy opening theme! The music does an excellent job setting the tone for an awesome ninja-focused action game! The sound effects also do a good job making each attack feel impactful and satisfying – making the game even more enjoyable to play!
It may sound like I am gushing about this game…and truth be told, I am. This is one of those games that reaffirms why I continue to play retro games! It’s exceptionally fun, challenging but fair, has awesome 16-bit graphics, and an amazing soundtrack. If you have a Sega Genesis and enjoy action, platform, or ninja games, please go out and play this game. Few games can rival it on the system! I give this game a final score of 9/10 and a top pick designation!
Final Score: 9/10