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Playstation 2












M (Mature)



Q4 2002



- Strategy required

- Makes you work hard to win

- Decent visuals



- Lack of exploration

- Poor voice acting

- Difficulty will be too much for some



Review: Gungrave (Playstation 2)

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Score: 8.7/10

Resurrecting popular franchises seems to be all the rage these days as more and more companies hark back to times of yore with new takes on a classic series.  Some of these efforts have worked out well, others not so much.  In the case of Shinobi, the former rings true here as our little ninja friend is successfully plunged into a 3D world with more than enough style and freakishly intense combat to keep players busy for a long, long time.  But beware, because this game is by no means for everyone, the extremely high level of difficulty will leave some gamers a whimpering heap in the corner.  

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The game starts out with a sorcerer laying waste to Tokyo, summoning all manner of demons to do their dirty work, generally making a mess of the city.  In comes Hotsuma, the only surviving member of the Oboro clan (the rest having been wiped out by the demons), who is flown in by military chopper to get to the bottom of things.  And with this the game begins as players learn more about Hotsumaís past as well as just what is going on with all these demons.  Some of the story does come off a bit campy, especially the flashbacks to Hotsuma with his brother, but there are some high moments as well, especially when you run into a prominent former Oboro clan member.  Theyíve all been turned into demons and are forced to fight Hotsuma even though they donít want to and our hero has no choice but to kill his old friends, the sadness of the ordeal is pulled off extremely well in the game.

Navigating the levels can be a bit of an ordeal as well, but in a good way.  The most important thing about getting around the stages is to know that itís all about strategy.  Unlike a lot of the hack ní slash games out there you really have to pick your battles in Shinobi.  Itís not a necessity to kill every last enemy.  That being said, you do have to kill some here since youíre armed with a cursed blade that must absorb demon souls from fallen enemies.  If it doesnít meet its nutritional requirement of souls you die.  So, you can skip out on fights to conserve hit points, but you still have to fight from time to time to replenish your blade.  Itís an interesting approach that may allow players to avoid a particularly hairy fight in hopes of fighting something a little more forgiving later.  Then again you could just as well run into a pack of enemies far more vicious after rounding a few corners.  Itís nice to be able to hedge your bets and try to get to safer ground instead of being forced to fight endless waves of enemies all day.  There are some mandatory battles where you must fight enemies to proceed past a barrier to the next area of the level, but these donít happen to often, though they do provide a good challenge.





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The other aspect of traveling through the levels that provide challenge is to decide whether or not to explore when the opportunity presents itself.  Exploration isnít as wide open and abundant as other games, and this will definitely bother some players, but the opportunity is there and there are helpful rewards for ding so in the form of magic scrolls, health, and so forth.  The thing to remember though is that there are seldom any enemies in these areas so your sword isnít getting any fresh souls to stay strong and is slowly withering, so youíre 


forced to prioritize what items you want.  Get the magic scroll and the health?  Get the hidden secret?  Itís up to you, but you canít waste too much time thinking about it.  Figure out whatís most important to you, get it as fast as you can, and head back to the beaten path towards the end of the stage or your blade will run out of juice and Hotsuma dies.  While it is a nice approach to making ones way through the stages it is a little frustrating as it feels like a tease, taunting the player to look for goodies while reminding them that they donít have a lot of time to waste if they donít want to die.  The game continually shows a little leg, then takes it right back and this will aggravate some.

But the part of Shinobi that will ultimately make or break you is the high level of difficulty of the game.  Some of this comes from the steep learning curve of mastering the controls just right so to dash past an enemy, spin around, lock on, then go in for the kill.  It feels awkward at first with the whirling camera and dealing with so many enemies at once, but once you get into a groove and know how to find it at the drop of a hat things become slightly easier.  Nonetheless the fighting is very intense, as youíll often find yourself swarmed by a pack of enemies while being forced to dash around avoiding attacks and landing your own blows, slowly building up the Tate on your blade.  But what is Tate, you ask.  Tate is the amount of attack strength your sword possesses.  As you successively kill the enemies a pack your sword will get stronger and stronger, allowing Hotsuma to take them down quicker and quicker.  This can be particularly useful in boss fights.  Take out a few minions then go after the boss.  Land a blow with a well-charged Tate and youíll knock off a huge chunk of hit points on him.  The thing about Tate, though, is that you must constantly kill enemies because if you wait to long your sword will lose its charge and Hotsuma will have to start gathering Tate all over again.  All of these aspects of combat in Shinobi are a lot to swallow and even after getting a handle on them itís tough to really lay waste to the legions of demons in Hotsumaís way.  

On the aesthetic front, thereís a lot in Shinobi to keep players happy.  While the visuals arenít as glitzy and detailed as some games this generation thereís plenty of style to enjoy.  The designs of the enemies are very well done with a mix of the conventional and the unique; wrapping everything together is the solid frame rate which doesnít let down for an instance, even with hordes of enemies swarming around.  The one annoying aspect of the gameís graphics is that when you take out a group of enemies in short order a quick animation is shown of Hotsuma in this or that fancy pants stance saying something while sheathing his sword.  Sure itís nice and stylized the first few times but it can be distracting after a while, ultimately ruining your rhythm which is so necessary to maintain to get through the levels well.

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The audio in Shinobi manages to do a good job of keeping up with the visuals as well.  The music is intense and adds to the atmosphere, while the sound effects provide all the appropriate slash sounds, clanging of weaponry and so forth.  The one weak point in the gameís aural experience is the voice acting, but at this point itís almost impossible to take any company seriously when it comes to English voice actors.  With the rare exception, voice acting in games is absolutely horrendous, yet companies insist on pissing away their money on the crap.  Hereís a hint kids.  Save yourselves a pile of cash and just use subtitles.  They subtract from the experience far less then this vile English voice acting polluting games these days.

By and large Shinobi does a great job of stepping into the realm of 3D gaming.  Smooth animation, and the fast intense combat are more than enough to keep players very busy, but this game is definitely not for the weak.  The high level of difficulty will be a turn off for some, thereís simply no avoiding that.  But if you donít mind a challenge, expect an extremely fun, rewarding experience from Shinobi.

- Mr. Nash

(February 14, 2003)

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