Shadow Dancer

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Shadow Dancer

Subtitled ‘The Secret of Shinobi,’ this is actually a do-over of the arcade game of the same name.

It’s not quite classic enough in my opinion to be classed a proper Shinobi successor, but it’s still a damn fine game in its own right.

shadow dancer

You play as a ninja, who can jump, throw shruikens and summon a fire attack. You can also strike foes with a blade if you get close enough. There’s also a white dog that follows you, but I don’t think it does anything of note.

You scroll to the right, basically shooting down foes with your shruikens, and avoiding their attacks/bullets. And it’s pretty damn important that you avoid their attacks, as one hit and it’s back to the start.

shadow dancer

This makes the game a lot more difficult than it would have been otherwise. Ducking usually allows you to avoid the bullets that come flying at you, but with no room for error, one mis-step can send you right back to the beginning of a stage.

Fortunately levels are quite short, and can be rattled through fairly quickly if you know what you’re doing. I believe you have to save a set amount of hostages held throughout the levels to progress, but they’re usually found along the path you’re going down anyway.

shadow dancer

There’s a decent range of ideas in the levels as well, such as one being ripped apart by an earthquake, and another allowing you to jump into both the fore and back ground.

The graphics are clear and detailed, and the animation is as fluid as you’d expect from a title with a Shinobi connections.

shadow dancer

Bosses are fairly simple, but are made a real challenge due to the ever present ‘one hit = death’ element.

It all adds up to a game that’s a challenge, but one you’ll end up relishing rather than rejecting. Although a genuine cart of the game will cost you a fair bit, it can be found in a few of those Blaze Mega Drive collections – which is nice.

Top Five MegaDrive Platform Games

megadrive2

Though popular since the 70’s, it was the late 80’s and early 90’s when gaming, particularly on consoles, really hit its stride, and like today there were a few genres that dominated release schedules. Among the most popular were shoot ’em ups but even more popular than these were of course platform games, and few if any consoles saw more examples of this genre than the MegaDrive. Most of them were average, some were horrifyingly bad, but there were still plenty of top-quality ones, and they took up a significant portion of my MegaDrive game-time.

I’ve owned and enjoyed dozens of them over the years so picking the best five is no easy task. To make it a little easier I decided to not to include any of the MD’s fantastic arcade conversions such as New Zealand Story, Rainbow Islands, etc, and the (at the time) splendid Sonic series only gets one nomination here too. Naturally, run ‘n’ gunners (Shinobi series, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Gunstar Heroes, etc) aren’t included either, and nor are arcade adventures such as Flashback, Puggsy, etc. These categories are all good enough and numerous enough to receive their own Top Fives at some point. So, with all that in mind, here is my five favourite Mega Drive platformers.

Games-Related Top Fives Disclaimer: I’ve traditionally stuck to the games I know and love so far, and these game-related top fives reflect that. One of the purposes of this blog is diversify my gaming experiences, to play games I haven’t played before, so I will do new game-related top fives in a few years to see how different they are!

If I review any MD platformers in my upcoming feature that get really high scores, they don’t appear in this Top Five because I hadn’t played them before! (a.k.a covering my arse!)

5. Wiz ‘n’ Liz (1993)

 

5 - Wiz n Liz

I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only fan this poor old game has! I’m not usually a fan of fast ‘n’ frantic, against-the-clock type games, but Wiz ‘n’ Liz is so happy and cheerful (not to mention addictive), I can’t help but love it anyway! The object is simple enough – one or two players must race through each of the themed worlds rescuing the many rabbits that populate each whilst also collecting magic fruits and other items with which to create spells and prolong your game. It definitely seems to be a ‘hidden gem’ in the MD’s back catalogue but I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s the lack of violence and destruction but for me this has always been a top game – nice graphics, fantastic music, addictive gameplay, and even a few original ideas, equals a winning formula in my book.

4. Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure (1990)

4 - Robocod

I’ve mentioned this great game before, and I’ll do a full review at some point, but for now be assured that it’s awesome! Most Western gamers will know it by the new name and identity given to it for its European and US release (Decapattack) but I much prefer this Japanese original which is perhaps more famous for its amusing name than anything else! It will be instantly familiar to fans of Psycho Fox on the Master System as they share many qualities, but this is no sequel or tarted-up port. It’s a pretty large game with some stages featuring multiple routes through them and there are many quirky features present in its stages. Magical Hat is a real charmer which constantly entices you to explore its strange world. If you’ve never played it, or even if you’re veteran of Decapattack, do yourself a favour and give it a try.

3. James Pond 2 Codename: Robocod (1991)

3 - Magical Hat

Games don’t come much more nonsensical than this one! The original James Pond was an original and entertaining romp but this sequel cranked everything up a notch and is now a full platform game too, thanks to the special suit that allows James to remain on land. The game takes place across many themed stages populated by some very strange enemies and seemingly random collectible items but, perhaps aside from its strangeness, it doesn’t really do anything that countless other games haven’t done before – it just does it better than most games! The graphics and sound are among the MegaDrive’s best and the many stages are packed with features and secrets. This is probably the most slick and polished of all MD platformers, and certainly the craziest non-Japanese one!

2. Ristar (1995)

2 - Ristar

Good old Sonic Team. Not only did they regale us with the wonders of their Sonic games, but they also found time to sneak in this gem late in the MD’s life. It actually started out as the game that would become Sonic before being resurrected with Ristar in command, and the first stage does feature similar graphics, but the gameplay differs quite a bit. The pace is a lot slower for one thing. Ristar clambers around the gorgeous stages using his arms as much as his legs. He can climb up walls, across ceilings, and around trees and logs, and it is by experimenting with these abilities that you’ll be able to fully explore his world. The more sedate pace really suits the game and the character, as does the laid back soundtrack, and gives you the opportunity to appreciate the lush graphics! Many gamers missed this, what with the Saturn and PlayStation being unveiled, but if you were one of the ones who did notice it, you’ll not need me to tell you how good it is!

1. Sonic 2 (1992)

 

1 - Sonic 2

Sorry but it had to be really, didn’t it? No other game got MegaDrive gamers whipped up into a frenzy like this one, nevermind any other platform games. Sega’s motives for creating Sonic may not have been the best but at least they made a great game for him, so the sequel had a lot to live up to. To say it did would be one of gaming’s biggest ever understatements! Sonic 2 features bigger stages and more of them, a tougher challenge, and perhaps the nicest graphics and sound the console has ever produced. I’m sure everyone who owned an MD had this game so I don’t even need to extol its virtues really. Suffice to say, everything here is so much flashier than the first game it’s almost as if they’re running on different consoles, and the gameplay so finely-honed that, sadly, no further games in the Sonic series would ever better it.

As mentioned, the MegaDrive was swamped in platform games, so picking the best five was tough, mainly because I had to leave out some other great games. So, honourable mentions also go to: Castle of Illusion, Rolo to the Rescue, Kid Chameleon, Flicky, Quackshot, Aladdin, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, goodness knows how many others…

Shinobi

Shinobi - Sega Master System

Shinobi (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega Master System First Day Score: 331,150
Also Available For: Arcade, Nintendo NES, PC Engine, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, Xbox 360 Live Arcade

The original version of Shinobi was a fantastic game for its day and proved to be extremely popular, but for many years the only version of it I knew was this version that Sega treated all of its loyal Master System customers to. It’s one of the few conversions handled by Sega themselves and happily it’s a splendid version of the arcade great, arguably the best, but it’s not identical. The game’s story is still the same, which involves the children of the Oboro clan (or of various world leaders, according to the Western versions, as I recall) being kidnapped, but unlike the arcade version where rescuing the children was mandatory, here you don’t actually have to rescue them. You can though, if you want, and it’s a very good idea to do so anyway, for each one bestows upon courageous Joe a reward of special magnificence!

Shinobi - Sega Master System

The biggest and most immediately obvious difference between this and the arcade version (as far as gameplay is concerned) is the existence of a life-meter. Poor Joe would keel over after a single hit in the harder, money-grabbing arcade version, but here you afford to be a little more reckless! This does make the game easier as you might expect, but don’t expect it to suddenly be a walkover because it’s not! This is still a pretty tough game and one that I never managed to complete in all my years of trying (although I could get to the final boss without too much trouble, after all the practise I had!). The actual stages themselves, though, are faithfully recreated and contain the same enemies and obstacles as their parent, and playing through them is pretty much unchanged.

Shinobi - Sega Master System

As previously mentioned, the poor, traumatised children being held hostage in positions of questionable strategic significance are apparently each in possession of a special reward that Joe will receive upon rescuing them. Unlike the arcade version in which Joe starts with shurikens before he obtains a gun, here the transition takes longer. His normal shurikens are first upgraded to a rapid-fire variety before being replaced by fast-firing knives, then small, bouncing bombs, before he finally receives the powerful gun, with each upgrade being provided by a child. There is also one each stage which will allow entry to the between-stage bonus round seen in the arcade version. Successful completion of this then rewards Joe with ninja magic, and if you manage to take out a blue ninja during this round, you’ll get two magics instead of one!

Shinobi - Sega Master System

Others child power-ups include one which extends his life-gauge and another which refills it to maximum. Each stage features a power-up child, and one to bestow each of the other rewards mentioned. Any remaining children on a stage will award Joe with bonus points. Anyway, enough talk about children, that’s pretty much the only differences between the two versions other than the aesthetic. The humble MS does a decent job of replicating the graphics of the arcade version though. The sprites are understandably a bit smaller and suffer from some trademark MS flicker when a few are on the screen at once, but apart from that they’re a good match, and the backgrounds and bosses are all instantly recognisable too. The music is also reasonably accurate, although there are fewer tunes here, with the game instead repeating the same tune for most stages, but it’s a good one and is more prominent than the somewhat inconspicuous music of the arcade game. Sound effects are also superb here and very distinctive.

Shinobi - Sega Master System

As most of you already know, Shinobi is overall a fantastic game. It was perfectly suited to the era in which it was made, but of a high enough quality to remain just as enjoyable more than 20 years later. Most conversions of it were at least pretty decent – even the Speccy gave it a good go – but the best conversion is usually acknowledged to be the PC Engine version which, with the exception of the missing bonus stage, is close to arcade perfect. It has, however, always been this mighty fine Master System version that I’ve had the most affection for. It has good, colourful graphics, catchy music, and challenging and additive gameplay which it’s hard to fault. Impartial I may not be, but anyone can see that this is about as good as Shinobi could be on the MS, and that’s very good!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQxzYlxeNOM[/youtube]

RKS Score: 9/10

Memories of Gaming: II

Hayling Island Beach 2
Soon after my encounter with OutRun in Devon had seen in the birth of my passion for arcade games, I had developed a keen interest in the previously ignored amusement arcades in which they dwelt. Coincidentally, it wasn’t much longer before some good fortune befell me. My good friend Stu and his family had started taking family trips to nearby Hayling Island every Sunday so his dad could practise his windsurfing (indeed, Hayling is supposedly where the sport was invented), and he had kindly invited me to join them.

Hayling Island itself is a fairly small, roughly ‘upside-down T’ shaped island located next to Portsea Island on which the city of Portsmouth is located. Whilst mostly a residential island, it’s also home to some nice beaches (including a nice sandy one, unlike Portsmouth!) as well as some other facilities mostly used in the summer months such as cafes, beach huts, sand dunes, and the Beachlands funfair and arcade as well as several more arcades.

Hayling Island Beach

Although we spent some time watching Stu’s dad impress us with his windsurfing skills as well as generally larking about on the beach, and some more testing the structural integrity of the sand dunes, it was in the various arcades that we spent most of our time. Here, Stu would mostly restrict his gaming to the plethora of fruit machines on which he was highly skilled, but my attention was directly firmly toward the games.

It was here that my gaming heritage really took off, what with the amazing variety of top-quality games available in the arcades of Hayling from all the major manufacturers, and it’s this age of gaming that I miss the most. Arcades today are a depressing place most of the time. I haven’t been to Hayling for a good while but the arcades here in Portsmouth now contain mostly fruit machines, coin-pusher machines, fluffy-toy-grabbing machines, etc. The only game of note here is After Burner Climax, which admittedly is a fantastic game worthy of the great name, but it seems lonely amidst all the crappy novelty machines. Anyway, from the sad present back to happy memories while I remember some of my favourite arcades games (aside from the already-covered-OutRun) from those awesome trips to Hayling with Stu and his family (and a belated thanks to you, mate!) …

Chase HQ - Gameplay Screenshot

Chase HQ (1988)

What do you get if you combine OutRun with a late 70’s / early 80’s style buddy cop film? That’s right – this classic cops ‘n’ robbers racing game from Taito! Taking a graphical cue from Sega’s classic and combining it such a popular movie genre was a masterstroke, and it runs them both close for pure enjoyment. Chase HQ is super-fast, exciting, and, perhaps most importantly, remains one of the few arcade games I can actually finish!

Operation Wolf - Gameplay Screenshot

Operation Wolf (1987)

Another one from the splendid Taito, Op Wolf drew in all who saw it with its cabinet-mounted Uzi machine gun! Whilst rendering it almost impossible to play properly in the subsequent home conversions (except the excellent Master System version), the gun was obviously the main draw of this machine, and it was worth it! Spraying soldiers, armoured cars, helicopters, gunboats, and Lord knows what else with bullets and grenades had never been this much fun before!

Shinobi - Gameplay Screenshot

Shinobi (1987)

I had already given the Master System version of this a good thrashing before I found the arcade version, and the skills I gained doing so were invaluable as this arcade original is a lot tougher! Run ‘n’ gunners are rarely as playable as this one, and with a near-perfect difficulty curve, it’s also worryingly addictive! Nice graphics, authentic-sounding music, and varied enemies only help matters too. Plus, let’s face
facts – ninja’s are just cool, full stop!

Splatterhouse - Gameplay Screenshot

Splatterhouse (1988)

This fantastically-named game from Namco was controversial in its day and it’s easy to see why. As Rick, a student under the influence of an evil mask, you must you battle your way through a mansion filled with unimaginable horrors to rescue your girlfriend! If you take away all the gruesome creatures here, all you’re left with is a pretty basic beat ’em up, but that didn’t matter to most teenagers – the opportunity to slice up zombies and demons with a meat-cleaver was not one to be passed up!

Stun Runner - Gameplay Screenshot

S.T.U.N. Runner (1989)

Probably the first polygon-based game I ever really got into, this was, and still is in my opinion (on the rare occasion a machine can be found), one of the most exciting arcade experiences to be found anywhere! Sitting astride a S.T.U.N. Bike racing down tunnels at hundreds of miles per hours shooting other craft… What more could you ask?!

Gauntlet - Gameplay Screenshot

Gauntlet (1985)

The immortal Gauntlet was already a couple of years old by the time I discovered it but time had not dulled its splendour! Yes, it’s primarily a multi-player game but I still loved ploughing through the endless dungeons, even if it was on my own. It was always exciting to see if I could break my records, and if I could get someone to join me – even better. As long as they weren’t Thyra the Valkyrie. This was superbly converted to almost every system imaginable but nothing beats playing it in an arcade.

Saint Dragon - Gameplay Screenshot

Saint Dragon (1989)

It is just me who likes this one? Perpetually an under-appreciated gem in my view, this horizontal-scroller from Jaleco is among my favourite on any system. I’m not sure about the story as I’ve never owned a home version, but you take control of some sort of metallic dragon creature and must blast the crap out of various other metallic creatures. The dragon’s tale can be positioned to protect its head from enemy fire too. Plus, he just looks awesome! Decent story or not, this is a top game full of non-stop blasting action, and is nicely rounded off with lovely graphics. It also reminds me of the mighty Thunder Force 3 somewhat too.

Golden Axe - Gameplay Screenshot

Golden Axe (1989)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played this through to the end, but it never gets boring! I still haven’t played a better hack ‘n’ slasher and I’ve been looking, believe me! Everyone know the best character is Gilius Thunderhead and rampaging through the game, slicing up all the stupid Buffalo’s and Grandad’s with his axe is immensely satisfying! I know it’s a bit of a love/hate game, but I’m definitely in the camp
of the former.

Metal Hawk - Gameplay Screenshot

Metal Hawk (1988)

Now this is a more curious one. I used to play it every time I went to Hayling but I’ve never seen it anywhere else, and no one I’ve spoken to has even heard of it! Subsequent research has revealed that it was apparently only released on Japan so quite how one managed to end up in a Hayling arcade remains a mystery! Nonetheless, for those who didn’t live near Hayling (or Japan), Metal Hawk is an overhead-viewed shmup by Namco. You control a pretty mean attack chopper, and it’s free-roaming so you can fly wherever you like shooting planes, other choppers, etc. But there’s something different about this one – the cab also features an altitude control enabling you to descend to near-ground level to shoot up enemy installations and ground-based weapons before returning to the clouds to take out more airborne targets. It’s a novel twist on the genre and features some nice Mode 7-esque graphical effects. Lost oddity or not, I loved playing the unique game!

Flying Shark - Gameplay Screenshot

Flying Shark (1987)

More than twenty years old and still the lord of the vertical scrollers to many! It may not have invented everything that it contains, but it popularised a lot of it – super-powered biplane, formation-flying squadrons of bad guys, ground-based enemies such as tanks, gun turrets, some of whom sneakily hide under the trees, etc. It’s such an iconic shooter and despite some cracking conversions, the arcade was, and still is the best place to play Flying Shark. You can always use the home versions for practise though, this is a pretty tough game! I still can’t finish it!

So… there are a few of the games I most enjoyed in the arcades during pretty much the only period I’ve had to regularly visit them. There were a lot more games there of course, including some of the all-time greats like Bubble Bobble, After Burner, Star Wars, etc, and I remember watching people play Time Traveller, the 3D hologram game by Sega (never really fancied playing it myself. though). Finding all these great games there, spending my paper round money on them, running out of money, waiting for the home conversions, getting some of the games for Christmas for my Speccy… It was a great time to be a gamer and I miss it.

My Favorite Games: Part 9

It looks like the R3Play report will have to wait a day or two, the pictures are a pain in the arse to upload and my opportunities to do so are limited. There’s really not a great deal to see anyway, unless you were there and want to see if you can spot yourself! So in the meantime… continuing with My Favourite Games, here’s the penultimate list:

Blast Corps – Nintendo 64 (1997)

Blast Corps - Nintendo 64

This was Rare’s first game for the N64 and what a start! It would also end up being the first in a long, amazingly successful run for the company on that console which many said rivalled that of Nintendo themselves, and with titles like this on offer it’s hard to argue. The premise was simple – a truck with leaking nuclear missiles has been set on a straight path to a safe detonation area. Your job is to demolish everything in its way. Yes, it sounded awesome and happily it played awesome too! Featuring eight unique vehicles custom-built for the express purpose of destroying stuff including three robotic suits, there can’t be anyone who didn’t enjoy the mayhem offered by this game, and the stages were punctuated by time trial stages which featured yet more vehicles and usually involved a race of some sort. Amazingly playable, superb fun, and a thoroughly unique and brilliant soundtrack too!

Fantasy World Dizzy – Spectrum (1989)

Fantasy World Dizzy - Spectrum

Poor old Dizzy seems to be the subject of a lot of vitriol among certain sections of gamers but I, and I’m pretty sure many others, loved his flick-screen, budget-priced adventures. They were available on most other computers of the time but the Spectrum is where the Dizzy games were most at home and it’s here that I played them. The first two were great but the Oliver twins really hit their stride with this third game. Featuring the largest gameworld yet, a broader variety of locations, a more forgiving difficulty curve, hidden secrets, and perhaps most importantly, the introduction of The Yolkfolk, Dizzy’s third adventure put many full-price releases to shame! It would also be the final game in the series to be handled by the Olivers and later games suffered as a result.

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure – MegaDrive (1990)

Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure - MegaDrive

Psycho Fox has always been one of my favourite platformers and I was disappointed it never got a sequel, so imagine my joy at discovering that its creators, Vic Tokai, had released a similar game on the MegaDrive! This splendidly-named game had many of the features of Psycho Fox (including, perhaps most importantly, the bendy poles) and wrapped them up in a different setting. Replacing our collection of useful animals here is a boy wearing the ‘magical hat’ of the title, which doesn’t really let him fly but it does enable him to float, Bomb Jack style. Magical Hat was released in the West too, but with a radical overhaul of its graphics and theme. The renamed Decapattack instead uses a cartoony-horror theme and is still a great game, but I prefer this Japanese original any day of the week.

Shinobi – Master System (1987)

Shinobi - Master System

This first Shinobi game may have eventually been a little overshadowed by Revenge of Shinobi on the MegaDrive but it’s still a fantastic game, and this Master System version is my favourite. It’s impressively faithful as a conversion whilst also making life a bit easier for us by adding a life-meter as opposed to the one-hit deaths of the arcade game. It does suffer a bit from sprite-flicker (although you could say that about most MS games) but that’s pretty much the only criticism you could level at this classic run n gunner with its five, dual-plane, ninja-infested stages. It’s unquestionably the best game of its type on the system and still plays as good as it ever did. Now if only I could beat that damn final boss!

Starflight – MegaDrive (1991)

Starflight - MegaDrive

Those who know me will be aware that my favourite game of all-time is Star Control 2 on the 3DO, but if it wasn’t for Starflight, I may never have even discovered it! I’ve only ever played the MD version which arrived some five years after the PC original, but it certainly appears that this is where some of the inspiration for SC2 came from. It too is an epic space-exploration game featuring tons and tons of star systems containing varying numbers of explorable planets and features alien races, some friendly, some hostile. It’s not on the sheer scale of SC2, with less stars, less aliens, etc, and doesn’t have the hours of speech or top music of Toys For Bob’s great game, but, considering when it was made it’s arguably even more impressive. Starflight is an engrossing and original adventure and one that it’s still easy to get sucked into today.

I’m not really in an R3Play mood at the moment, so the last part of what will be my Top 50 Favourite Games will be posted tomorrow! 🙂