The Shinobi series has been among the better franchises known to kick out some quality action/adventure plat formers. Over the years they have been known for their high difficulty and challenge; but most importantly these games usually saw a steady progression in game play introducing something innovative to keep them feeling familiar yet not too much the same. The Revenge of Shinobi I think was such an amazing dash forward that it raised the bar and actually hurt the series. That game is still amazing to this day and I play it once in awhile, which is why I find Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi to be such a let down that doesn’t get any better over time. I remember how much of a disappointment it was on release day, and for me this is a sequel I much rather forget about.
The story involves Joe Mushashi, the hero whom brought down the Neo Zeed Organization. He travels to New York City on a quest to avenge his student whom was killed by the current terrorist network Union Lizard. His previous student left behind his canine, Yamato, whom journeys with Joe seeking revenge of his own.
Shadow Dancer has a lot more in common with the original Shinobi, as Joe will traverse the stages rescuing hostages and gaining a power up along the way that disappears after completing a stage. He once again can gain access to upper and lower levels simply by looking up or down and jumping which creates these two plane levels during the stages. He also has one ninja magic per stage with each having the same function which is to kill all enemies on the screen plus weaken bosses despite different types of magic. There are plenty of enemies to dispose of consisting of the rushing thugs and projectile hurlers; but everything in this game feels too like the original game and this makes up at least half the problem. The addition of Yamato feels too tacked on because he doesn’t really feel necessary to use. There isn’t one area in the game I needed to use him. It feels nothing like the arcade version where you really need him. The game seems almost identical to the original just with a dog in it. Even the first boss is very similar to the original game’s first boss; as far as I’m concerned all of these bosses are a bunch of turds with the final one being just as forgettable.
There are many issues with this game, and I agree with a lot of the criticism it received upon release. The game’s difficulty is a huge problem as well being far too easy for a Shinobi game, and the one hit death shouldn’t be a problem for most gamers. The stage design doesn’t improve on the original game at all and are just way too straight forward and vanilla. The game is also way too short with only five levels consisting of two sub levels each, except for the final stage made up of five. I never really found myself challenged by this game at any point unlike Revenge of Shinobi or Shinobi 3. It feels insultingly by the numbers.
I’ll give credit to its visuals though. I still like the way it looks with some nice details in some of the backgrounds. The fiery background and ruined buildings in the opening stage looks great, and actually works to some good character development of Union Lizard as an organization that’s not playing around. Plus the dark and lit areas of the fourth stage has a nice atmosphere. I’m still mixed on the soundtrack; the bosses feel like a threat which is always good, but everything else feels a little too standard.
Shadow Dancer is definitely not something I would recommend to those who played Revenge of Shinobi and missed this. I recommend Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master for that insane challenge and difficulty fix. For those whom never played this I would advise to seek out the one’s I claim to be far superior, because this may put a bad taste in your mouth early, which is bad for a franchise with so much to offer.