SEGA AGES Shinobi Review – A ninja classic that defies the ages


SEGA AGES continues to bring some of Sega’s best-kept games to life, allowing fans from the early 80s and late 90s to revisit their childhood nostalgia while bringing an entirely new generation into the fold. This time, with the classic ninja-themed side-scroller, Shinobi, on Nintendo Switch.

+Improved controls allow for an easier to enjoy the experience
+Ages mode is a very welcomed change, making it easier for older and newer fans to enjoy the game
+A port that actually, doesn’t feel like a port thanks to improved framerate and tweaks to controls

-Rewind features may deter fans of the classic title

Originally released in 1987 as a SEGA arcade title, Shinobi was a title that remained elusive as it was available. The game would rarely be available unless an arcade managed to receive or obtain a cabinet of the game, making M2’s critically-acclaimed title to sit around for several years before receiving a release on the SEGA Genesis Master System many years later.

However, it wasn’t like its predecessor in many ways. It wasn’t the arcade title we knew it as. There weren’t any prompts requesting another coin to continue, there wasn’t the ability to enjoy a slice of pizza while standing up, the sound of various other machines going off behind you. It, however, worked in the ways one would hope it would.

The game was still fun, it was (is) still a masterpiece, one that we’ve rarely seen pop into SEGA’s game collections such as their Sonic’s Sega Genesis Collection and even the Sega Classics Collection, and now the SEGA AGES series, which is all about bringing back classic games.


Shinobi is a classic that defies the ages

When I first got my hands on Shinobi, I’ll have to admit, it’s been over twenty years since the last time I had played the title. I was a kid the first time I got my hands on it, standing in our local arcade, Aladdin’s Castle, using a chair to stand up just so I could play the game (I was a really short kid). For me, it was something to the extent that left its mark. I fell in love with the series, jumping from one part of the map up to the balconies above, exploring what felt like a 2.5D title despite its side-scrolling antics.

Even though it has been years since the last time I played it, you can’t forget certain details, ones that would make one such title feel dated compared to its sibling titles. It didn’t have the screen scanning effect anymore the first time I booted it up on the Switch. The graphics instantly were clearer, they popped, but so did the sound itself. It wasn’t what some would consider an outdated 16-bit title.

Rather, it felt new again, making the game feel as amazing as it was the first time it released. I’m sure it would be the same way were it to boil down to games such as Ecco the DolphinEcco: The Tides of Time, and Genesis classics such as Beast Wrestler, which have all but disappeared in recent years.

However, that’s not the case with this one, but for those who have never played it, we do need to talk a bit about the game and what it is.


Shinobi is a classic ninja-themed side-scroller title that brings in beyond memorable gameplay

Since it had been so long since I played it, I had to shut down my expectations for the game, knowing that it had been well over 20 years since I’d played Shinobi on my dad’s SEGA Genesis Master System, which surprisingly enough, we still have to this very day. Now, if you haven’t really spent time in the 80s and 90s, you won’t know that there was a massive wave of ninja-themed games.

The 90s were all about the whole “ninja” and action craze. Trust me, I was there for it. Shinobi is no different when it puts you into the role of Joe Musashi, a shinobi (ninja) that has been hired to rescue children that have been taken by a terrorist-like organization, bringing your need to rescue them tot he forefront as you play the game.

If you’ve ever played Namco’s title Rolling Thunder, this might be a bit familiar to you, the similarities can be drawn in parallel between these two. The biggest difference? Nix being a secret agent and go with the ninja role instead, that’s all there is to really state for differences outside of aesthetical changes.

The only difference between these two outside of aesthetical changes is the weapons you use, Musashi has a thing for Shurikens and Ninjutsu’s that will help him along the way. Just don’t expect this game to be as long as it is challenging. Shinobi only hangs around for approximately 6-8 hours depending on how gung-ho you are about completionism and want to push your skills to the test.

Just don’t expect to always use shurikens and special ninjutsu techniques. You won’t get that chance. You will depend on some melee attacks to take out some of the enemies you’ll least expect to encounter during your time in the game. Of course, if you’ve played other Shinobi titles, such as my personal favorite – Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – you’ll be rather familiar with how the games actually play.


Since this is a retro game, do expect some retro issues, including difficulty – except they’re slightly alleviated

Now, one of the issues some classic purists may have here is a feature that I – personally – enjoyed, the new ‘Ages’ Mode, which makes the game feel as this is how it should have been when it launched over 30 years ago. The new ‘Ages’ Mode does lower down the difficulty, making the game something enjoyable for those not used to the insanely high difficulty and challenge that Shinobi came with 30 years ago.

Don’t worry, you actually do get to see this happen, slightly, when you play in Ages Mode as the game does decrease the damage you take, swapping out the original iconic black outfit with a more familiar one: The white outfit we know from Revenge of Shinobi  – the game that got rid of the one-hit-kill mechanics on player characters. It was a welcomed change.

However, those of you not wanting the Ages mode can still play the original Arcade mode, which has been well designed, albeit, difficult. M2 even added this feature in as a ninjutsu technique – in ways – rather than what might seem like a cheat code or an overall new experience to the game.

There is also a rewind function, which for you speedrunners out there, will allow you to go back in time 10 seconds, giving you the chance to correct the mistake you made. Just remember, this can get you killed again. Also, there’s an autosave feature, which for what it’s worth, will remember exactly what you did last time you played, giving you a chance to pick up right where you left off the last time around.

The biggest addition here is that you can play the game in both 4:3 and 16:9 options. Just note, the game only stretches the screen, it isn’t necessarily a different variant of the same screen, but rather, the same one just made a little bigger. There’s also the ability to use the option to smooth out the game, allowing for bilinear filtering so you don’t have to use the in-game scanlines, which honestly, are amazingly well done and not a bit overwhelming.


Conclusion – A shinobi’s job is never done

When it comes to games that are 30+ years old, it’s hard to really say what does and doesn’t work with them as they’ve imprinted memories we know and love. For me, it’s the very fact this game is a budget-friendly title, one that still lasts through the ages – probably why it’s part of the SEGA Ages program – while still mesmerizing fans both new and old.

Honestly, it’s a great title, one that benefits well from the Ages mode that allows us to play an easier, albeit alternative experience to the initial release, allowing for a breath of fresh air to be given to something that has defied the history of gaming. However, it does leave us wondering: Why aren’t we seeing a lot of their other games getting this treatment? Will we ever see games like Ecco the Dolphin or Beast Wrestler get a similar treatment?

SEGA Ages Shinobi
Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed:
Nintendo Switch
Sega AM1, M2
Release Date: 
Available Now

Regardless, this is one we can’t tell you not to give a shot as it is great – outstanding really and should already be in your collection at this point. If it’s not, give it a chance.

Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game for review. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


About the Writer(s):


Dustin is our native video game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable.  You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook where he interacts with his followers quite a bit!

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