E3 2011: Shinobi hands-on
Growing up with Sega consoles, the Shinobi franchise has always been a staple of my gaming habits. While franchise purists swear by the early 8 and 16-bit entries, it wasn’t until Shinobi for the PlayStation 2, that I was truly hooked on the franchise. Nearly a decade after its previous reboot, Griptonite Games has been tasked with returning the ninja master to his sidescrolling roots – albeit in 3D.
Cozying up with the 3DS at the Sega booth, it’s probably important that I mention that this was my first time actually using the handheld. The 3D effect of Shinobi is measured, raising HUD elements and characters off of the background, creating a subtle illusion of depth. While I was honestly impressed seeing the 3DS’ wizardry finally in action firsthand, the effect didn’t seem to serve much functional purpose.
Like any other action/platform title, Shinobi consists primarily of walking left to right, fighting enemies and traversing environmental hazards. Unlike the two PlayStation 2 titles, this title bears more in common with the early games, as it plays in a far more deliberate manner. Katanas and kunai are still the name of the game, but combat here is based heavily on parries and counter-attacks. Any attack, projectile or melee, can be parried with a single button press. Players are free to walk or jump-in on their enemies, but will almost always be greeted with some unnecessary damage.
Breaking up the combat were a few extended platform sequences, which required many forms of ninja acrobatics, along with the all-new grappling ability. With a simple press of the appropriate button, new ninja protagonist, Jiro Musashi, unleashes a chain that can be used to grab surfaces and even enemies. Incorporating wall jumps, delayed double jumps and Jiro’s new chain technique, I had to navigate a series of devious spiked pits, of which I landed in many. The combination of not quite understanding the timing allowed for double jumps, along with the touchy nature of wall hops, and finally, the inability to see the hazards below earlier, made it extremely difficult to traverse scratch free. Admittedly, using the directional pad allows the player to nudge the camera, but without many breaks in the sequence there were no moments to stop and survey.
Before arriving at the requisite boss battle, Shinobi featured a brief horseback section, which used a slightly skewed third-person perspective. I navigated my horse from left to right to avoid passing trees, occasionally trading sword swipes with the other mounted ninja. Most of the stage was populated with fallen tree trunks that had to be vaulted over, which proved nearly impossible. The stage appeared to exist solely to show off the obstacles in 3D, coming towards the player, but for some reason the effect was clearly throwing off my depth perception – I must have cleared a single trunk the entire stage!
Following my dreadful display of the equestrian arts, I was greeted by that previously mentioned boss. Composed like a classic fighting game versus screen, there was a brief ‘Fight!’ before Jiro and Yoko did battle. Again, much like normal combat, the boss battle required tightly timed parries to leave Yoko open for high-damaging counter-attacks. The timing for said parries felt extremely tight and although Shinobi games are known for their difficulty, I found myself quickly exacerbated with the wait for attack, deflect gameplay.
As a huge fan of the high-octane, acrobatic ninja antics of the PlayStation 2 era titles, I was somewhat disappointed in the overall direction of Shinobi. This title is supposedly intended to be a new beginning for the franchise, telling the story of Jiro Musashi, head of the Oboro clan and father of the original protagonist, Joe Musashi. As a fan I wanted to be excited, but with what I saw and played, Shinobi’s return wasn’t really connecting with me. Hopefully Griptonite can tweak some of the timing required in the game and loosen things up a bit before the game releases this fall.