Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master has to be the best of the franchise, at least to me as it narrowly edges out Revenge of Shinobi. This game has far more in common with Revenge than the original series which is a great thing, because Revenge upped the stakes in what a Shinobi game can be so high that it hurt the series in my view. This game did exactly what is expected of a sequel and that’s improve on the original with new ideas.
The story takes place several years after Joe Musashi destroyed the Neo Zeed terrorist organization. However, they weren’t finished and were simply laying low. They attack once again and Joe returns to finish the job he started.
I love the very beginning of this game as it opens up with classic ninja combat in the wilderness. Joe runs through slashing and stabbing the enemy with an extreme prejudice. The game gives him some new moves right off the bat such as a running dash that can be stopped at any time or run for as long as necessary. The dash can end with a vicious sword slice that does good damage to the enemy. In addition he can dive from the air with a strong kick that can even be chained into another kick, since the first kick tosses him back. He once again has access to four types of ninja magic with different uses; such as health regeneration and higher jumping. The game feels more free roaming like Revenge, and the level design is truly amazing. Joe can know cling to walls above him and this works into navigating to other areas. The stages and enemy types are varied. Many of the stages have something unique about them such as one section following Joe as he must keep from falling to the bottom of the screen to his death, as he traverses from one falling rock to another. There is also a horse back riding stage that works as a shooter, and this is rehashed later on in the form of jet ski’s, but it’s no less fun to play. The enemy types range from ninjas and monks, to soldiers, and bio experiments gone wrong (or right when considering the enemy). Even the boss battles are pretty engaging but I think Revenge did a better job in this area to be honest.
The graphics were great for the era with the woods, laboratories, and labyrinths capturing a nice atmospheric feel. The character designs are really good with plenty to go around for the various stages. While the soundtrack has moments of simply being breathtaking and working very well with the stage settings plus helping boss battles feel quite epic. They pale in comparison to the original game which had a heavy music score, and easily among the best ever put together for a game of that era. Nonetheless I can’t really complain about it.
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master is an excellent action/adventure plat former that is still great to this day, and is easily among the best of that era. The only issue I can imagine could be the difficulty. Despite having a health bar it’s easy to watch it drain, and some of the ninja plat forming will irritate some gamers. I still love it just as now as I did then. I highly recommend this to those searching for that good challenge, because you’ll find it with this oldie yet goodie.