Review by fekkot

"When I think of something cool to say here I'll add it in an update. Promise!"

Super Adventure Island is a Super Nintendo game released by Hudson Soft in the winter of 1992........ But more importantly, Shinobi Legions is a Sega Saturn game released by Vic Tokai at the tail end of 1995. It was one of the very first Saturn games released in the states. It's also the first of what has quickly become many titles I won off of Ebay (after failing three times, in which I finally realized I'd have to stop being a cheap-ass and just shell out the $25).

Since this was the final Shinobi game, and it doesn't look Sega's bringing it back (unless you count Revenge of Shinobi on Sega Smash Pack), I think a history lesson is in order. Shinobi has a mighty heritage. Its legacy has spanned across more systems than nearly any other I can name. It all started with Sega's classic 1987 arcade game that arguably reinvented the action genre. Unfortunately, despite valiant efforts, a truly competent translation only saw the light of day in the form of the EXTREMELY rare Turbo Grafx version ergo most had to cope with inferior translations on the C64, Master System and an abysmal one on the NES.

However, things got better in the console market in 1989 when Sega made a sequel (Revenge of Shinobi) on a system that could handle the Shinobi premise and in fact, even improve upon it- the (then) brand new Genesis (and let's not forget it was Yuzo Koshiro, the greatest console music producer of all time's US debut). In that same year, though, things got worse in the arcade when they released Shinobi's just-okay spin-off, Shadow Dancer then spread its pseudo-legacy of mediocrity to the Master System (NOOOOOW they had to make an accurate translation!). Fortunately, the Genesis Shadow Dancer released fairly soon afterwards was better as it was clever fusion of the two arcade games. After that there were the two Game Gear versions, which were the most distinct of the series. Last but not least, Sega made what is perhaps the most critically acclaimed entry in the series, Shinobi 3, which got big probably because of its being the easiest and flashiest game of the bunch. Either way, Shinobi is my all-time favorite series somewhat because it's the only one at the perfect medium, as Final Fantasy changes too radically and Street Fighter doesn't change enough.

Which brings us to the star game: as I've said before, the only truly bad Shinobi game is the NES version of the first, but Sega didn't disgrace the clan because Tengen bought the rights to it and did the translation. That's what made me feel truly skeptical; because after I got Legions I found out that it was made by a company with even less prestige to me than Tengen- Vic Tokai, the ones whom released the HORRIBLE Critcom on the Saturn around the same time. I had a bad feeling about how things would end up, but there was only one way to find out..........

Like the actual games, the Shinobi protagonists also have a rich heritage, from Musashi to Takashi to the Game Gear one simply named ''Red Ninja''. This time it's the ''Sengoku Period'', and the current inheritor of the Shinobi bloodline is named Tessai. Unlike all in the bloodline before him, Tessai only had a daughter instead of sons. So to keep it going, Tessai adopted two twins: Sho and Kazuma. As they grew, the twins learned all of the basic fighting arts such as ''The Art of Shuriken'' and ''The Art of Sword Fighting'' while the daughter got ripped off by just being taught ''The Way of Peace''.

Unfortunately, Tessai died and was no longer around to take care of the kiddies before he got the chance to name the heir. So one of the twins turned out to b- oh, I don't even need to TELL you that! So Kazuma, the evil twin soon started conquering lands and such with the soon-accumulated mighty, evil clan of Garzo while Sho vowed to stop him despite being related to him. Also despite being related, Kazuma kidnapped and threatened the life of his own sister to keep Sho out of his hair. Now Sho has to both rescue his sister and topple Kazuma's empire. He has his hands full, and it Sho's (I couldn't resist).

Not to worry, though because he also has his hands full of weapons. The first thing you'd probably notice is how Sho sports a full Katana blade without the help of a ''POW'' item like in the Genesis Shadow Dancer. But rather than simply brandishing like his ancestors, Sho has lots of fly sword moves at his disposal such as a three-slash combo, a 360-degree jump slice and even a way to deflect enemy shurikens! He can also slice in 6 directions (you can't slice straight up or down) and 7 if you count the downward jumping stab that replaced Shinobi 3's cheap-ass dive kick. As for the basics the hero can still toss a limited amount of shuriken depending on how many you select. Of course, he can also double-jump and toss the eight-pack of shurikens under him in the process, but now he can toss them above him too.

As for items (which all still come out of boxes), there are new ''soul balls'' that are the equivalent to Sonic's rings or Mario's coins, except for that they appear less often and you only have to accumulate 10 of them for an extra life. The POW item was sort of replaced by the very effective Bushido Blade. No, that isn't Sho throwing Squaresoft games at enemies- it's him getting a blade that makes him glow for a few minutes and makes an enormous samurai spirit appear after every slice. That spirit constantly hits anything that walks into it until after a few seconds when it fades away. You also have a ''Fire Dragon'' item that operates like hit-all Ninjitsu on earlier Shinobi games (but you lose it when you lose a life). The other items are just remade from the last Shinobi's like trap bombs and extra shurikens. But I'm getting as tired of this part as you probably are, so on with the damn review!

CATEGORY LEGIONS

PLOT/DIALOGUE: 4

I already told you about the plot, and there's obviously nothing very special or original about it, but the dialogue is even worse. Before and after every level, you get 3-5 cutscenes showing how and why Sho advances to the next level. Every possible clich`e plot ''twist'' you can imagine is used. Like when a villain holds a knife to Aya's head demanding Sho to listen to him with Aya saying, ''Don't listen to him- it's a trap!''. Even worse yet, although they speak in Japanese with subtitles, you can tell that the acting is HORRIBLE. The actors aren't very skillful in the martial arts battle scenes either. The only fun thing about the cutscenes is listening to the characters say Japanese words that begin with fu and k.

GAMEPLAY: 9+

The first thing to point out here is that swordplay is FAR more important on this installment than any other game in the series. On this one, shurikens are weaker than ever and slower both in terms of throwing speed and flying speed. Don't even think about trying to fend off a group of four or five ninja that surround you with them unless you want to be on your back before your first shuriken even reaches its target. That's not to be saying that shurikens are useless, though, because there are certain distant enemies that you absolutely NEED them for if you don't want to take a hit. That being said, on this one you have an effective method to assail enemies in any position whatsoever except for perhaps those about an inch above you (which is a situation you don't get in very often).

The control isn't as responsive as any past Shinobi games (except for maybe Revenge), but it's more convenient. I thought it was long overdue to have separate buttons for swordplay and shurikens. As with every other game in the series besides the two Shadow Dancers, this game is ahead of its time in terms of technique, as your character has nearly 35 moves, which is a higher amount than ANY other action game I can name (and I bet you too!). Even with all of this, I truly miss the Ninjitsu factor. The cool thing about it was trying to use the right one at the right time to save your arse, wether it was floating above the last obstacles when time was running out or making the double-or-nothing bet with the self-sacrificing Mijin. I really wish the game kept that part of the engine, because just having one hit-everything Spell just doesn't cut it. Otherwise, the gameplay doesn't leave much to be desired.

DESIGN: 7

This installment is more focused on combat than any other, and that's saying quite a lot. You can't ever seem to go five steps without confronting an enemy. That aspect is where the main problems come in: the action can get VERY tedious. Even though you have over 20 attack moves, many times the myriad of meddlesome miscreants muster more melees than the main man has moves making them meager to maintain merriment! Don't get me wrong; I love being able to use so many moves on my opponents, but only after the first 50 ninja of the same freakin' type in a row!

That brings me to the enemies: there aren't enough types of them for how many and how long the levels are. Or at least- there aren't enough types of them USED. I'd say that a good 70% of the enemies are shuriken-throwing ninja with another 20% being variations (like slashing or bomb throwing ninja) with only 10% left to the rest early in the game. You are also given very few non-enemy obstacles and tough jumps/runs. I only said early in the game,though, because things pick up much more in the latter half, as you get to fight in surroundings ranging from a VERY annoying mine cart riding level to the clic`e but classic elevator stage that bombards you with nearly every enemy on the game. The enemies pick up too, as you get to fight eagles, bazookamen and serpents. The only thing enemy-wise this game completely lacks are the big frickin' robots!

GRAPHICS: 8

I've made it pretty clear in past reviews that I'm not a big fan of digitized graphics as they're usually filled with sloppy movement and glitches, but these are some of the best I've seen. While nearly everybody has that cheesy cross-legs-on-every-step Mortal Kombat walk, the animation is quite smooth (but slow). What's even better are the beautiful backgrounds like the vivid forest on Mount Fuji and the storm clouds surging through the moon on the opening stage. I also like the interactive parts of the backgrounds such as the bamboo trees to cut down, and hardly anything looks cooler than run-slashing through the stacks of boxes on the bay level!

The characters are somewhere in between visually. While they're large, hardly any of have any kind of special design to them. The ninja don't look as cool on here as on any other Shinobi game and neither do the bosses even despite this being a 32-bit game. Speaking of looks, the FMV scenes have very corny-looking characters, but look surprisingly good animation-wise for some on a 1995 Saturn game, but as I pointed out before, it doesn't matter because they suck.

SOUND: 8

There's nothing bad here but nothing unusual either. You hear all the basic sounds like stabbing, slicing, shooting, exploding, grunting and etceteraing. They all sound exactly how they're supposed to. The voices on the cutscenes are very clear too (which is a good or a bad thing). We all need a short category or two, don't we?

MUSIC: 7

Much like the level design, the music seems to get better as more and more levels pass. It's mostly ninja-theme music that you'd expect somewhat. However, it lost the techno aspects, which was cleverly fused into the ninja themes on every one of the prequels. Some of this game's old-Japan style music is very catchy, but a lot of them sound too similar and seem to use the same keys. All of that aside, the bottom line is that soundtrack isn't anywhere near on the same level without that techno flair.

CHALLENGE: 6+-8/COOLNESS IN CHALLENGE: 7+

This game can be quite difficult at times, but sometimes it's hard to tell why you keep dying. The bosses are very tough at times, but it can't all be their faults. It could be because this one starts you back further away than any other game in the series when you die (although the Genesis Shadow Dancer comes close). It could also be because of the many one-hit-wonders on the later parts of the game like lakes and cliffs. Or, the scariest thought, maybe it could be because of your gradually getting bored, thus losing skill from slaying ninja #1 to ninja #90...... Or maybe it could just be because you use a very cheap strategy of getting 14 soul balls on a certain level, purposely jumping off a cliff then getting 14 more. For that reason, incompetence even pays on certain levels! Even so, the average game has enough continues and lives on normal mode to get through this in about 3 tries.

REPLAY VALUE: 7

Due to the severe decline of shuriken effectiveness, it hardly matters how many you select to start with. The lack of Ninjitsu also takes its toll. So the only way to get new thrills from this one is having a few less continues and having the enemies take a few more hits than they did on a previous finish. However, this is pretty long for an action game and nearly 35 moves should last you for a while, even with the enemy repetition. Over a decade ago, I was challenging people to beat Shinobi without using shurikens (except on bosses). Now I'm doing the exact opposite and challenging experts to beat it with no sword and ONLY shurikens! In terms of replay value, this is the second weakest link in the Shinobi armor, but that's not saying anything too bad seeing how massive of an amount the rest of the series has.

GOOD KARMA

*More technique than ANY other side-scroller!
*Beautiful background graphics
*A fine amount of challenge
*The later levels can get VERY enjoyable
*Great, realistic sound
*Laughable cutscenes

DISHONORS

*The first levels can get VERY redundant
*No more Ninjitsu magic
*The music lost the techno edge famous with the series
*Laughable cutscenes
*I keep repeating myslef
*I keep repeating myself

KEY MOMENT

Making tricky jumps while trying to bring ninja down at every step on the bay stage. It could also be the hilarious ''continue'' screen FMV.

WAY OF THE NINJA

If you're bombarded by ninja, wait for them to toss their shuriken and patiently block until they're near through so you'll be able to deflect the last few and have more time to let em' have it.

SAY WHAT?

I still remain hopeful that Sega will bring the classic series back some day, but they seem to be leaving all of the best to rot. It's a shame that they felt like bringing back Ecco while they didn't bother with Shinobi, Streets of Rage or Shining Force. Perhaps they'll get on them again some day soon now that they don't have to worry about selling consoles anymore.

HOW DID THE ''SENGOKU PERIOD'' GO?

Sho, Aya, and not even Kazuma have disgraced the Shinobi heritage (the ancestors don't care who's good and who's evil, they just want a good show put on!), but they have not surpassed it either. It isn't the strongest or flimsiest branch on the family tree. It's.... Just a.... Branch.

---
Dedicated to Terra Brandford. R.I.P.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/10/01, Updated 09/10/01


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