E3 2011: Shinobi hands-on preview – it’s back, and it’s about damn time

Yes. Shinobi is coming back. Even better, this is no mere port. Sega’s much vaunted franchise is finally returning to us with the brand new Shinobi 3DS. Game developer Griptonite Games has returned Shinobi to its 2D (but viewed in 3D) side-scrolling roots and, having played the game for way longer than we should have been allowed to considering the line of other folks wanting a shot, we can assure you that first impressions are damn good.

In a nutshell, the new Shinobi is putting a modern twist on an aging classic in hopes that there are plenty of hardcore gamers still out there looking for a real challenge. As you would expect, that means we have a heavy emphasis on platforming coupled with a seemingly endless onslaught of enemies all chomping at the bit to throw themselves on your sword. Our hero ninja’s repertoire has received quite the overhaul, boasting a varied assortment of katana strikes, sweeping swipes, shuriken throws and ninja magic attacks that cover quite a few different elements (fire, water and lightning to name a few).

The demo was a truncated version of the first level (which was actually kind of surprising to hear because it took us nearly 40 minutes to get through). The stage was a burning village under siege by a clan of enemy ninjas. With stiffened resolve, we ventured into the heart of the fire to eviscerate some fools. As we cut a path through the first group of enemies, we noticed something: our katana began to emanate an eerie, fiery aura that grew stronger with every dunce-ninja we chopped up. Sadly, we soon took a stray shuriken like a champ and the effect vanished. The fine gentleman from Griptonite explained that Shinobi 3DS features a score multiplier system that rewards players who fell baddies without taking any damage. Essentially, if you approach combat skillfully, Shinobi will be granted a variety of new powers and abilities (i.e. a badass flaming katana).

Another interesting mechanic we noted was that our hero couldn’t block…at least, not continually. Instead, the game has a parry system in place where if you hit the parry button at just the right moment, you can deflect any attack and all damage. You can parry at any time, whether you’re flying through the air, running along the ground or hanging upside-down from the ceiling. This systems makes for plenty of “HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE WHAT I JUST DID” moments as, at any given moment, the screen can turn into a veritable clustermess of flying ninja stars. Being able to come out of these moments unscathed knowing that you had the skill to time your blocks appropriately is, for lack of a better phrase, freaking awesome.

The platforming sections were challenging without becoming frustrating. Our hero’s answer to any and all platform sequences is in his wall-jump, double-jump and grappling hook (a nifty gadget that zips you upwards to the ceiling). We managed to hop across our fair share of spiky traps and death pits while simultaneously dispatching murderous ninjas.

Visually, the game looks damn right decent. While the side-scrolling demo didn’t really show off any impressive uses of the Nintendo 3DS’ visual effects, we were told that a few different instances would appear in the final product that would make full use of 3D. Likewise, the developers at Griptonite, being massive Sega nerds, have promised to not only include a ton of content for wayward Shinobi gamers (i.e. 60 achievements that unlock special features in-game) but that the game will also have several homages to other well-known Sega franchises. Two examples they gave us were an After-Burner-esque level where you ride on top of a speeding jet, and a giant robot shark. We think that’s the best place to end this preview.

June 13, 2011

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