Shinobi (series)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Joe Musashi, the original Shinobi.

He is stronger than steel
and moves faster than a whirlwind.

—Intro, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

Shinobi is a series of side-scrolling action games that were released by Sega during the late 1980's and early-to-mid 1990's. The games has the player controlling a ninja (usually Joe Musashi, an obvious nod to ninja actor Sho Kosugi) who battles the forces of evil in each title.

The original Shinobi was originally released in 1987 for the arcades. The player controls a ninja named Joe Musashi, who fights a criminal syndicate known as "Zeed" in order to rescue his kidnapped students. The original game featured a floor jumping system similarly Namco's Rolling Thunder. Musashi is armed with his punches and kicks, as well as an unlimited supply of shurikens (which can upgraded into a sword and machine gun), as well as different kinds of ninja arts which could be used to kill all on-screen enemies. Sega also made a Master System rendition which changed the game mechanics by adding more weapons, as well as a health gauge system and the ability to carry multiple ninja arts. There were also licensed versions for the Nintendo Entertainment System and TurboGrafx-16.

A single arcade sequel was released in 1989 titled Shadow Dancer, which retained the format of the original arcade game, giving the player a canine companion who helps the player fend off enemies. A severely stripped-down version was released for the Sega Master System, while the Sega Genesis got Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, which had similar gameplay but with completed redesigned level layouts and different enemies.

Shinobi had further sequels for home consoles, the most prominent being the two Super Shinobi games for the Genesis, which consisted of The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. The Super Shinobi series completely revamps the game mechanics from the arcade games, ditching the one-hit-kill rule from the arcade game, while adding selectable ninja arts and abilities in the process. The series went into a hiatus after the release of Shinobi Legions for the Sega Saturn, which eschews the hand-drawn graphics from previous installments in favor of Mortal Kombat-style digitized graphics.

Sega revived the series in the early 2000's with a new 3D game simply titled Shinobi for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, which had the player controlling a new ninja named Hotsuma, who wields the life-draining blade known as Akujiki (Eater of Evil). Joe Musashi also appeared in the new game as well as a hidden character. It was followed by a pseudo-sequel titled Nightshade in 2003, also for PS2, which featured a female ninja named Hibana. Many of the older titles (namely the three Genesis games and the original arcade game) had been re-released for the Wii Virtual Console.

A new Shinobi game was developed by Griptonite Studios for the 3DS, and released in September 2011.

You're not even trying, Hotsuma.

A list of Shinobi games by order of release:

  • Shinobi -1987 (Arcade, Mark III/Master System, NES, PC Engine)
  • Shadow Dancer -1989 (Arcade, Master System)
  • The Revenge of Shinobi -1989 (Mega Drive/Genesis, known in Japan as The Super Shinobi)
  • Alex Kidd in Shinobi World - 1990 (Master System)
  • The Cyber Shinobi -1990 (Master System)
  • Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi -1990 (Mega Drive/Genesis)
  • The G.G. Shinobi -1991 (Game Gear)
  • The G.G. Shinobi Part II: The Silent Fury -1992 (Game Gear)
  • Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master -1993 (Mega Drive/Genesis, known in Japan as The Super Shinobi II)
  • Shinobi Legions -1995 (Sega Saturn, known as Shin Shinobi Den in Japan and Shinobi X in Europe)
  • Shinobi -2002 (PS2)
  • The Revenge of Shinobi -2002 (Game Boy Advance, unrelated to the Genesis version)
  • Nightshade (2003 video game) -2003 (PS2, Kunoichi in Japan)
  • Shinobi -2011 (3DS)
Tropes used in Shinobi (series) include:
  • Above the Ruins: The ending of Shinobi III, where Joe looks at the remains of Neo Zeed's aerial base from a cliff after it crashes into the ground.
  • Airborne Aircraft Carrier: In the Final Mission of Shinobi III, Joe boards Neo Zeed's flying fortress and has to navigate past its automated defenses in order to reach the final duel with the Shadow Master.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • The backstory for Secret of Shinobi differs between versions, particularly when it comes to the player character's identity. The Japanese manual identifies him as Joe Musashi's estranged son Hayate, while the American version changes him to Joe Musashi himself. The in-game text is ambiguous enough to favor either version. Note that the original arcade Shadow Dancer didn't even have anything to do with Musashi.
    • All the backstory for Shinobi X is only detailed in the manual, making the FMV scenes - especially the ones that deal with Kazuma and Sho - completely incomprehensible.
  • Apocalypse Maiden: The Ubusuna Miko in the PS2 game, whom Hiruko intend to use to power up Yatsurao. She's also his descendant.
  • Badass: Joe Musashi, by far. Hotsuma also qualifies.
    • Might as well throw in Hibana as well no?
    • Jiro takes this even further.
  • Base on Wheels: The giant ballistic missile tractor in The Revenge of Shinobi.
  • Battle Aura: In Shinobi III, the final battle with the Shadow Master starts off on equal footing as he uses shuriken and katana against Joe. Then when he takes enough damage he calls down a beam of energy to power himself up with a corona of fire... at which point, he starts firing energy bolts from his palms, hurls a huge Energy Ball, counters Joe's dive kick with a Shoryuken and sometimes unleashes his own Ninjitsu technique to spray the entire chamber with energy bolts.
  • Battle Couple: The two teens Shirogane and Akagane.
  • Bonus Feature Failure: Joe Musashi can be unlocked as a playable character in the PS2 Shinobi, his bonus being that he has an unlimited supply of shurikens... which damage targets instead of paralyzing them, and no life draining Tate gauge (since he doesn't wield the Akujiku blade). He has the strongest magic attack as well. The benefit to this is that you don't have to worry about getting huge combos to keep your health and damage enemies, and you can just continually chuck shurikens at some of the harder to kill enemies. The downside is that there are some bosses that pretty much require you to get huge combos in order to defeat them in a timely fashion; however, you can also chuck shurikens at them infinitely. A perfect beginner character... only you don't get him until you've collected 40 Oboro coins, which is only possible if you've already beaten the game twice: once on Normal and again on Hard.
    • Using his infinite shurikens to defeat a boss sounds good on paper, but in practice, it takes a ridiculously long time. The game was also designed around the 'stun' ability of Hotsuma and Moritsune's projectiles, which actually makes certain sections trickier with Joe.
    • On another note all together, the long time fans will note that this isn't much of a surprise for Joe, as all of his titles focused much of the combat on rapid fire shuriken throwing (save for latter installments like Shinobi III, where the running slash and jump kick help to ease the difficulty by a good notch). Making this something of a throwback to the arcade games.
  • Boss Banter: Every single one in the PS2 version. You can actually attack them while they're taunting For Massive Damage.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Hotsuma will yell "BURN!!" as he cast his jutsu. Hiruko too, but he could be justified being a warlock.
  • Cherry Tapping: The essence of most of the older games, as getting close enough to use your blade is suicidal lest you're quite skilled... you spend most of your time at a distance, chucking shurikens like its going out of style. Lampshaded by Joe's unique ability when he's unlocked in the PlayStation 2 game... see Bonus Feature Failure above.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: The Game Gear games had multiple playable ninjas eached dressed in a different color with their own weapons and techniques.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: In Sonic the Comic. Shinobi was the first Sega game outside the Sonic the Hedgehog series to get a comic adaptation, and it was both faithful to the games' stories and suitably serious in tone.
  • Continuing Is Painful: In the Master System version of the original game, dying resets the length of your life bar down to its default, and brings you back down to the slow-shuriken weapon. The former can be particularly frustrating in levels 4-2 and 4-3, which feature bottomless pits.
  • Continuity Nod: Of sorts in the 3DS version. Enemies from past games like the Brain Mutants make an appearance, and one stage has Jiro board a Zeed warship identical to the one in the final level of Shinobi III.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: The fourth area in the PS2 version is filled with lava pools and fire-spitting foes. Yet Hotsuma has no problem whatsoever walking around. He's damaged only if hits the magma.
  • Damsel in Distress: Naoko in Revenge of Shinobi and Aya in Shinobi Legions.
  • Dangerous Technique: The MacGuffin in Shinobi Legions/X.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: Enemies tend to explode when they die.
  • Degraded Boss: The Shadow Dancer and the Masked Ninja from The Revenge of Shinobi reappear in the sequel as bosses, but in lower positions: the first is the midboss of Stage 2, the latter is the penultimate boss.
  • Diagonal Cut: Whenever you manage to pull a Tate attack. Extremely satisfying if you manage to wipe out all enemies onscreen.
  • Difficulty by Region: The US version of the PlayStation 2 Shinobi removes Easy entirely and adds an extra "super" difficulty level.
  • Directionally Solid Platforms: In 2D games.
  • Dirty Coward: Hakuraku, who will summon ninja hounds and keep healing himself using scrolls from his magical box.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: The Master System version of Shadow Dancer identifies the player character as "Fuma" in the attract sequence and "Takashi" in the manual.
  • Elemental Powers:
  • Everything's Better with Spinning: In addition to having a Punishing Steel Rain attack, Jiro can launch into a Jump-and-Slash off a double jump.
  • Evil Counterpart: In the PlayStation 2 Shinobi, the four Hellspawn Lords are actually twisted and dark counterparts of the Si-Ling creatures (e.g. Shirogumo stands for the White Tiger of west, and is a white Giant Spider with Tiger's head and earth powers).
    • The Shadow Master is this to Joe, especially since he was cloned from the Musashi bloodline.
  • Evil Plan: Hiruko is more interested in collecting souls than the Yatsurao. His actions are focused on collecting them, or getting the player to collect them for him. Nonetheless, the Yatsurao thing is the opening conflict.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Hiruko.
  • Evil Weapon: The sword Akujiki in the PlayStation 2-generation Shinobi feeds off the lifeforce of those it kills, and if not given fresh blood for too long, feeds off the wielder instead.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Jiro Musashi.
  • Flechette Storm: The Punishing Rain technique, from The Revenge of Shinobi onwards. Also, the Shadow Master's Ninjitsu technique.
  • For Massive Damage: Both Lobster samurais had their heads as their weak point. Some bosses have this as well.
    • The PS2 game's Tate system tended to require human foes to be hit in the back for one-hit kills, while the massive Hellspawn Lord bosses had "taunt" phases to their attack patterns where they took hugely increased damage. Outside the US-only Super difficulty, every boss could be killed by Hotsuma in a single sword swing save the two iterations of the Blackhawk. Yes, even Shirogane and Akagane if attacked at the right time.
  • Full Motion Video: Shinobi X did this; specifically, the "live action Cutscene" shtick used so extensively in The Nineties.
  • Fuuma Shuriken: Kogou wields a gargantuan, kite-shaped shuriken that he uses as a shield and a flying saucer-like platform.
  • Guide Dang It: Killing the final boss in The Revenge of Shinobi can get like this, given he appears completely invulnerable and even the boss-killing Mijin magic deals no damage to him. As it turns out, you can only attack his body, which usually protected by his deadly Kabuki hair- until he overextends it in his initial strike which leaves an opening that Joe can throw a shuriken at... or even detonate a Mijin into For Massive Damage.
  • Heel Face Turn: Kazuma in Shinobi X pulls this, as he considers Sho a Worthy Opponent.
  • Highly-Visible Ninja: Hotsuma's scarf is designed to make him this so the played doesn't lose track of him during the action.
    • Lest we forget... Joe Musashi... a master ninja, fearsome shadow, all around badass... clad in WHITE.
    • Hibana doesn't do anything to be very stealthy either for the most part... as she too wears mostly white and has a scarf that trails ghostly pink.
  • Improbable Weapon User: A part from various weird shaped blades, we have Homura, who fights with a kiseru (pipe), Hakuraku who uses a huge box full of scrolls and Kogou who uses his extra-spiky iron Geta in order to chain lightningbolts at you.
  • In Name Only: The Game Boy Advance version of The Revenge of the Shinobi is a completely different game from the original Genesis game.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Hotsuma's sword can cut a tank in half.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In the early versions of The Revenge of Shinobi, Musashi will fight against thinly-disguised pastiches of Rambo, The Terminator (or The Incredible Hulk, depending on how you look at it), Spider-Man, Batman and even Godzilla as bosses. Unfortunately, the companies that made the characters started catching on, so shipment of the games was stopped in order to modify the sprite data. This happened at least 3-4 times, with each revision removing or altering the characters in question. By the time of the Wii re-release, Rambo was spriteswapped, Spider-Man was recolored pink, Batman was a mutated Devilman ripoff, and Godzilla's skin was peeled off. Yep, that's right: only the Terminator/Hulk survived.
    • Spider-Man was more of a Special Guest, as Sega originally obtained the rights to use him in another set of games. In fact, he was the only one of the aforementioned cameos who remained the same until the Wii re-release, since Sega no longer had the Spidey license by that time. Especially noted is that he does not die in the Boss Fight, rather he climbs out of the picture after taking enough hits before the Batman/Devilman rip off moves in to take on Joe.
    • In Shinobi III, Mecha Godzilla is the fifth boss, making him the second Godzilla-related boss in the series.
    • In the prototype of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, titled Kid Shinobi, one of the bosses was named Mari-oh, who looked like the mascot of a certain rival company dressed like a samurai. Said company wasn't amused by the joke Sega made at their expense, so Mari-oh was renamed Kabuto and his face was concealed.
  • Legacy Character: In the 3DS Shinobi, it seems Shadow Master has become a title for the head of Zeed, as the one fought in this game is apparently the very first and is quite different from the Cyberninja in Shinobi III.
  • Market-Based Title:
    • The Revenge of Shinobi is known as The Super Shinobi in Japan.
    • Shinobi III is named The Super Shinobi II (establishing its status as a sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi).
    • Shin Shinobi Den is known as Shinobi Legions in America and Shinobi X in Europe.
    • The 3DS version is known as Shinobi 3D in Japan.
    • The Game Gear installments, The G.G. Shinobi and The G.G. Shinobi II are borderline examples, since the in-game titles remained the same (only the titles on the cover artworks were changed).
  • Master Swordsman: Kizane, who's blind but really strong and slices things using Razor Wind.
  • Minecart Madness: Happens in Shinobi Legions.
  • The Mole: Ageha in the PS2 Shinobi.
  • Ninja: Obviously.
    • Ninja dogs with swords in their mouths!
  • Not the Fall That Kills You: The ending of Shinobi on 3DS has Jiro fall from space ALL THE WAY DOWN TO EARTH during the entirety of the credits. On fire. And then he walks away unscathed upon landing. Doubles with I Fell for Hours.
  • Obvious Beta: Sega once released a pack of poorly emulated Genesis games for PC. The Revenge of Shinobi was one of them and it was a beta build.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Joe Musashi dies in one hit in the original arcade game, while the Master System and NES versions gives him a health gauge. Expert players of the Master System version might find the arcade version a bit jarring at first because of this.
  • Powered Armor: The Shadow Master in Shinobi III.
  • Pyromaniac: Homura in PlayStation 2 game is very fond of roasting people.
  • Razor Wind: Kamaitachi no Jutsu.
  • Recycled in Space: The arcade version of E Swat is pretty much Shadow Dancer with a RoboCop-esque setting. The Genesis version is more different though.
  • Recycled Title:
    • The name Shinobi alone could apply to the original 1987 arcade game and its console variants, the 2002 PlayStation 2 game starring Hotsuma and the 2011 3DS game by Griptonite (a.k.a. Shinobi 3D).
    • The Revenge of Shinobi could apply to the 1989 Sega Genesis game (a.k.a. The Super Shinobi) or the 2002 Game Boy Advance game by 3D6 games.
  • Red Herring: Yatsurao.
  • Reformulated Game: The Genesis port of Shadow Dancer has the same gameplay as the arcade game, but with completely new stages.
  • Rule of Cool: Ninjas on surfboards in Shinobi III? Yes, please.
    • Riding on horseback at the beginning of Stage 2.
      • On which said horse can do a diving KICK ...awesome.
    • And Hotsuma's sword-parachuting, cutting tanks, missiles and helicopters in half...
    • Hibana gets some nice moments too in a number of the cutscenes.
  • Samurai: Present in some of the games as enemies. Most prominent examples are the large Lobster Samurai that serve as a Boss Battle in the arcade game, The Revenge of Shinobi and Shinobi III.
  • Save the Villain: At the end of Shinobi X, Sho attempts to do this for Kazuma, but Kazuma decides to save Sho and his girl instead, dying in the explosion he was responsible for.
  • Scarf of Asskicking: Hotsuma's scarf in the PS2 titles.
    • They even tack one on Hibana - although her's isn't quite as epic - it does leave a rather cool 'ghost trail' effect.
    • Hell, the tack one on JOE in his model for PlayStation 2... it doesn't trail or get brushlike.... but its the principal that matters.
    • Jiro Musashi sports one.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Hiruko at first and then Yatsurao, a demonic living statue powered by the souls of the victims of all the earthquakes that struck Tokyo in the past.
  • Sequel Number Snarl: The Genesis games goes from The Revenge of Shinobi to Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi to Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. Shinobi III is the true sequel to The Revenge of Shinobi and features the same gameplay system, while Secret of Shinobi is actually a loose remake of the arcade's Shadow Dancer which kept the arcade version's one-hit-point-per-life system.
  • Shout-Out: An organization named "Zeed"? An enemy named "Ken-oh"? Someone must have been watching too much Hokuto no Ken when they made the game.
  • Suicide Attack/Taking You with Me/Action Bomb: The Art of Mijin sets off an explosion fuelled by Joe's lifeforce (i.e. one life) that'll wipe out Mooks and inflict heavy damage on Bosses. Also, for the longer stretches - its a great way to avoid having to do a level from closer to the starting point - if you're going to die, might as well do it without having to do everything over again no?
  • Super Mode: Again, the Shadow Master after he charges up.
  • Take That:

Loading Screen: Everyone knows real ninjas eat chicken, not pizza.

  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Sho in Legions does this to save Aya from getting backstabbed.
  • To Be Continued: We are told this after the credits in Shinobi III, but Joe's story isn't continued at all in the other games.
  • The Un-Reveal: That the Malevolent Masked Man alongside Hiruko is Moritsune is painfully obvious. That Aomizuchi was possessing him, however, wasn't so obvious...
  • We Can Rule Together: Kazuma tries this in the final stage of Shinobi Legions. This example differs from most Video Game examples of this trope, as Sho automatically says no.
  • A Winner Is You: The ending in the arcade Shinobi wasn't anything special to begin with, but it sure beats the Master System port, which awards the player with a blank Game Over screen (the same one you can get for losing the game).
  • Womb Level: The second half of Stage 3 in Shinobi III.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Much of Hiruko's plot in the PlayStation 2 game. Hiruko is trying to restore an ancient, completely useless superweapon called Yatsurao. As it turns out, he's only trying to restore it so you can beat it up and he can steal the souls that power it. Oh, and he wanted you to kill off your resurrected ninja clan with your cursed soul-eating sword so he'd have all their souls in one neat package you'd be guaranteed to bring straight to him.