Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a 1990 Sega Genesis game primarily based on Shadow Dancer, a 1989 arcade game. Given the era, SD:TSoS is very light on dialogue and text, and the most info we get on the plot is during the opening crawl: in the far-flung future of 1997, Union Lizard has conquered New York City, and only one ninja is capable of saving the, like, twenty survivors and vanquishing this apparently reptilian menace. Spoilers, eventually Shinobi wins, and it turns out Union Lizard was a giant robot shogun or something. That’s not what’s important here, though. What’s important is one simple question…
What the hell was “The Secret of Shinobi”?!
It’s not the dog
Shinobi’s dog contains secrets. This fluffy, white monster animal is capable of subduing fully grown men and ninja alike (ninja are their own genus), and follows Shinobi through everything. This is relevant, as the first area is literally on fire, and dogs generally aren’t into that. And the third level includes an open-air elevator. Have you ever accompanied a dog on an open-air elevator? If you haven’t, I just want to state that there’s submissively urinating, and then there’s submissively urinating. It is not a pleasant situation for anyone, but Shinobi Dog (real name: Joe Jr.) eats terrifying situations for kibble. Good dog.
However, the most fascinating thing about Shinobi Dog is that, if he accidently attacks a guarding enemy, he will shrink down to puppy size. This is simultaneously frightening (Does this dog contain the secret to eternal youth?) and adorable (Aw! Puppy!), but Shinobi Dog takes it in stride. He just sticks closely to his master, and, about ten seconds later, he’s fully grown and ready to maul once again. Look, I realize this is a medium where plumbers routinely change size thanks to brick-based mushrooms, but the threat of Union Lizard is very real, so why is Shinobi Dog randomly bopping around different ages? And why doesn’t Shinobi himself shrink down to child-size when hit? Because a kid ninja and his delightful puppy dog fighting lizards? I’d be all about that.
However, despite all of these mysteries, I’m forced to conclude that Shinobi Dog is not The Secret of Shinobi. Dogs do not contain secrets, only belly rubs. They are simple creatures.
It’s not the magic
Shinobi has very few offensive options. He’s got a sword, shurikens, the previously mentioned dog, and… that’s about it. Ninja stars may be some of the most potent weapons of the 8/16-bit era, but when you’re going up against an entire maybe-lizard army, it’s a good idea to pack at least a few blue lasers. I mean, the first enemy in this game has a gun. Do ninja have issues with firearms? Because, if not, head’s up, Shinobi, you are severely underequipped for taking down a crime syndicate that already conquered a population that subsists on street (hot) dogs.
But Shinobi does have one extra weapon: ninja magic. Once per stage (or life, if you’re into credits/reincarnation), Shinobi can use ninja magic to wreck up the place. Too many ninja got you down? Summon a big, honkin’ tornado to clear the area. Sentient wall attempting to crush your life force? Rain meteors down upon your hapless foes! And if you’re fighting through the crumbling, flaming ruins of New York anyway, why not summon your own firestorm to suppress the malcontents. It’s not like you’re doing any more damage to the place.
So is The Mystery of Shinobi why the hell didn’t Shinobi stop these lizards before they even got out of their hideout?! Dude can summon meteors! Conquering New York is tough, but dodging a tornado is harder. Does ninja magic have a limited pixel radius? Because if it doesn’t, Shinobi, man, how did you let things get this out of hand?
Unless Shinobi is the reason NYC is ablaze in the first place. Hm. Maybe we’re not supposed to ask this question.
It’s not the bosses
Aside from some sickly green morlocks, it seems that the general Union Lizard army is staffed with your typical mercenaries. You’ve got “random guys with guns”, some sort of boomerang blade man, and, of course, ninja. No obvious lizard men, which, considering the name, is a little weird, but, hey, not like Hydra is stocked exclusively with octopus people. They appear to at least be a union, so that should count for something.
But the “bosses” of this organization… are a little special. There’s one warrior woman that hangs out on top of the Statue of Liberty, and she’s about the only remotely human one in the lot. The first boss is a demon samurai-beetle monster, and he is not voiced by George Clooney, so he’s probably not going to turn out to be anyone’s kindly relative. Next up is a golem that appears to have control over an entire side of a New York building, which could mean an awful lot of bricks to the face. And there’s a demon wheel of fire headlining the cave stage. Who hires a wheel of fire as a boss? How did he even roll through the door?! Though this… character does seem to be the definitive answer to that “why is New York on fire” question…
And the head honcho of the whole organization, Union Lizard…. Never gets out of his chair. He rains fire on his opponents (sensing a theme here), and he transforms two ninja statues into many ninja minions, but he never, ya know, stands up. That’s… a choice. I realize that he’s practically invincible, and his only vulnerable point is hidden by his helmet, but why so lazy? Did you conquer New York because you were really offended by the myriad of walking tours? Is your armor too heavy? Aw, that’s it, isn’t it? You got super invincible armor, and it turns you into a colossal, vaguely-imposing paper weight. Well no wonder your plans failed, you can’t rely on minions for everything. That’s one mystery solved.
But The Secret of Shinobi appears to be one secret we’ll never solve. Shinobi is taking that secret to his grave. You’re welcome to ask him, but I’ll remind you he possess a shape-shifting dog and weaponized tornadoes… so approach at your own risk.
FGC #241 Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
- System: Sega Genesis. Also available on practically every modern system through Virtual Consoles or Sega Genesis Collections. It’s pretty much a port of the arcade game, so you could almost count the arcade version as well. This ninja has pretty far reach.
- Number of players: Wouldn’t it be cool if a second player could control Joe Jr. ala Tails from Sonic 2? Maybe next time. One player.
- Further mysteries: Apparently the American version of this game identifies “Shinobi” as Joe Higashi, while the Japanese version claims he is Joe’s son (Also Joe). For anyone concerned about the rich mythology of the Shinobi franchise, there’s something to argue about.
- Redundant: The bonus stage opens with the phrase “Kill All Ninjas”. I was already doing that!
- Favorite Ninja Power: I’m kind of disappointed that there seems to be a different ninja power every stage (or at least a rotation of three), but they all do the exact same thing (clear the screen of all enemies). You’d think a tornado would do a different kind of damage than a firestorm. That said, for killing dinosaurs or ninja, you can’t beat meteors.
- Did you know? There’s a “hard mode” that limits Shinobi to only his sword, and no shurikens. However, the game isn’t balanced for that at all, so ninja stars are returned to Shinobi for all boss battles. Thus, I want to say it’s impossible to do a “real” only-sword run, but I’m sure some random Youtuber has pulled it off…
- Would I play again: I’ve never been a big fan of the Shinobi series, mainly because I like to die in two, maybe three hits. Not one. As such, it’s unlikely I’ll join this ninja on his surprisingly fiery quest again anytime soon.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… DJ Hero! Wanna be a DJ Hero? If so, please look forward to it.