Monday, January 1, 2007

Birth of a Franchise 1: Shinobi

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays as much as this guy.

That having been said, I kinda like the idea of looking back at "Old-School" games. I'd originally planned to talk about the N64 a little bit today, but I actually got sidetracked. See, I happen to enjoy seeing how franchise games change and grow.

What is a "Franchise Game" you ask? Here are a few off the top of my head:
-- Final Fantasy
-- Mario
-- Sonic
-- Zelda
-- Bomberman

To qualify as a franchise, you have to have been around a while. My minimum cutoff is that you need at least FOUR games under the Franchise tag. This excludes games like Halo, Earthworm Jim, and even Gran Turismo.

I personally want to try and spend at least one day a week looking at the growth of a particular franchise, and seeing what changed. Maybe we'll make it a Tuesday thing?

For this week, I really want to talk about the Shinobi Franchise. Since 1987, Sega has fleshed out the character, making drastic innovations at each step along the way. To save you the time (and sometimes, the agony), I have picked the three games that I deem the most "influential" to the series:

Revenge of Shinobi (Sega Genesis, 1989):

Taking a big step from the popular arcade game, Revenge of Shinobi changed the formulaic gameplay. The first real change was the use of a lifebar: Finally, you can get hit by something and NOT DIE!!! Also, a "double-jump" move was added, complete with a somersaulting shuriken attack that basically hit everything on one side of the screen. In order to balance that, shurikens were no longer unlimited (so you really had to make sure you could use that attack).
Also, the ninjitsu attacks, which were previously pre-set screen-clearing attacks, were selectable. This allowed for a new level of depth ("should I use the shield ninjitsu, or should I attack?") in the game. Throw in a few "puzzles" and bosses, and you've got yourself a new game!
Granted, in order to keep the game difficult (you never really see an easy Shinobi game), Sega relied on a lot of "leap of faith" jumps that result in death, and a lot of frustrating platform hopping.

Shadow Dancer (Sega Genesis, 1990):

Whoa, whoa! What happened here! You had a great game going with Revenge of Shinobi! What the hell did you do!?
In a sick and twisted attempt to get back to the arcade roots, Sega scraps almost everything from Revenge of Shinobi in this Arcade port. In this game, it's back to rescuing hostages -- one hit kills you, and you're much less agile.
A new element to the game is the dog, Yamato. The dog can be sent to attack your enemies (and disable them for an easy kill), but 90% of the time, the damned dog just gets killed. And barks a lot.
This is the last game of the Shinobi series to incorporate a "one hit you're dead" mentality, and coincidentally, is the hardest of all the Shinobi games. The enemies come out of nowhere and jump upon you relentlessly (not to mention that the stupid dog is helpless in these situations). Oh, and did I mention that there are no checkpoints in these levels?!
This is certainly a game that could work if you're perpetually feeding in quarters, but not in a console setting. A huge step backwards for the series.

Shinobi III (Sega Genesis 1993):
Now we're talking! In what is my personal favorite game of the series, Sega returns to Revenge of Shinobi's formula and improves it.
In this iteration, everything is cleaned up -- the graphics, the sound, and especially the gameplay.
For one, this game is the fastest of the three: you can now run (complete with diving slash), do wall-jumps, and a diving jump-kick was added to allow a more diverse style of attack. In addition to being more agile, this game also uses different types of stages to keep the game well-paced. There is a stage where you're on a horse, on a speed-boat, and then just your good-ol'-fashioned platforming (less cheap this time).

Oh, and that fucking dog is nowhere in sight. Good riddance.

Now, this is not to say that the other Shinobi games (especially the one for PS2) were not influential to the series, but these three games laid down the ground rules for what every Shinobi game would have in the future. Even the abysmal Shinobi Legions (Saturn) followed in this formula.

And best of all, no game ever used the dog Yamato again.

I really fucking hate that dog.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Since you're like Mr. Peabody in the Way-Back Machine, don't forget Double Dragon, Shining Force, Breath Of Fire, Dragon Quest, NBA Live and tons of others that elude me now.

Oh, and I hated that useless mutt in Shadow Dancer as well. Hehe.