When it comes to classic side-scrolling ninja games, two franchises always spring to mind: “Ninja Gaiden” and “Shinobi.” And while “Ninja Gaiden” has returned to its former popularity levels in recent years thanks to several great console action games, “Shinobi” has remained mostly quiet. The last installment for the franchise was back in 2003, the critically-unloved “Nightshade,” and there’s been nary a peep since. But Sega is deadset on bringing the franchise back, and they’re going to start on the Nintendo 3DS with, well, “Shinobi.”
“Shinobi” on 3DS is by no means a port. The release is an entirely new project by Griptonite Games, with new level designs, fully 3D character models and new gameplay mechanics. It does, however, stick close to its roots. For one thing, it’s punishingly difficult.
One of the new mechanics introduced in “Shinobi” on the 3DS is the ability to parry enemy attacks. Any attack launched by an enemy can be parried by tapping the block button as the attack reaches the titular ninja master. In my playthrough of the game’s first level, parrying is basically mandatory to survival. The game almost plays like a bullet hell shooter, as you constantly have to be aware of your surroundings and react accordingly. Mistakes are for the other guy.
In addition to the difficulty, other “Shinobi” staples return on the 3DS. World traversal is crucial, and you’ve got a grappling hook to give you some extra reach. There’s also ninja magic, which can be unleashed when you nail enemies with successful combos.
“Shinobi” on 3DS is off to a promising start, though there’s still work to be done. The controls feel a little stilted, especially when attempting life-saving wall jumps, and it would be nice to see mid-level checkpoints on easier difficulty levels to lessen the pain of death. But, for true “Shinobi” fans, these issues are mere learning experiences on the path to extremely difficult action platformer dominance.