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Shinobi preview: The re-revenge of Shinobi


If you've heard that the new 3DS Shinobi game feels exactly like the original -- or any Shinobi game to date -- you've heard wrong. Even though it's published by Sega and it's about a ninja, Griptonite's new Shinobi is definitely a modern action game. It does take some inspiration from the series, which makes it recognizable as a descendant of those games, but it's more reimagining than remake.

Gallery: Shinobi 3DS (E3 2011) | 11 Photos

Not that this is a bad thing! Classic Shinobi games had, well, classic action: throw a shuriken or two, or slice once with your sword to dispatch an enemy. This new entry, however, is heavily focused on combos and parrying. With the right timing, a quick button press can parry almost any attack, granting you a bunch of points. Then counterattack with a quick shuriken, slice, slide attack, jumping sword attack, jumping shuriken attack, etc. and you'll get more points. Then quickly move over to the next guy and dispatch him for more points. Keeping up combos without getting hit adds to a multiplier, and the build-up of points leads to ability upgrades.

Protagonist Juro Musashi also has more flexibility in terms of movement than previous side-scrollers. You can double jump, slide, cling to walls, wall-jump and use a chain to grab onto high ceilings. In a nod to Shinobi history, you can shift up or down to multiple planes of action; however, instead of just jumping between two levels of platforms, this has been expanded to allow you to climb under some platforms and hang.

Griptonite used these advanced movement abilities to, well, kill me. It wasn't too long into my demo before I was wall-jumping down a zig-zagging corridor, dodging spikes on the floors, ceiling and walls. One particularly difficult area had me double-jump off an outcropping -- but not too high, because there are spikes on the ceiling in front of me -- and then chain up to the ceiling adjacent to those spikes. Many Juri Musashis met their deaths at my inept hands. Even ninja magic didn't help. Juro has a selection of magic spells, including lightning and fire; I cleverly thought I could use the invincibility spell and just chain up to the spiked part of the ceiling.

A couple of mini-game type events also bring back memories of old Shinobi games while keeping things fresh. The first-person "throw shuriken at a bunch of ninja" game is back, though now it uses touchscreen controls in an odd echo of the shuriken game demonstrated in Nintendo's Wii U video. I was told that button controls might be added for that as well. Another interstitial sequence had me riding a horse, jumping over felled trees and taking out other equestrian ninja, like the dramatic second stage of Shinobi 3. But in this version, the perspective is a tilted 3D view, riding into the screen for maximum 3D-ness. This also allows Griptonite to add multiple planes of obstacles, so you have to steer left and right while jumping and fighting.

So far, Griptonite seems to be totally onto something with this game. Looking back at the past few years, I'm a little disturbed by how few side-scrolling ninja games there have been -- when in the 8- and 16-bit eras that was every other game. I'm glad the developer has stepped up to bring that canonically classic genre of game back and modernize it. I should also note that it's really difficult, especially that horse sequence, and I died a bunch. And that's something I feel discerning ninja-game fans look for.

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