To say that Shinobi III for the Sega Genesis is a 2D action game is an understatement. It's a game in which you play a ninja who goes around killing other ninjas while running through forests, riding atop horses, and dangling from giant flying fortresses. Those are some awesome credentials, and they go a good ways toward making up for the game's paltry length.
As the legendary Shinobi, Joe Musashi, your job is to hack-and-slash your way through seven levels full of ninja bad guys. Your weapons are a sword, a limited number of throwing knives, and four different magical abilities. There's never a shortage of goons to kill, and some of the climbing and jumping segments will keep you on your toes. So will the bosses waiting at the end of each level. However, the thing that makes Shinobi III a classic is how utterly imaginative the levels are. In the first scene, enemy ninjas are attacking you from treetops. In the second, you're on horseback and they're jumping at you or flying past on kites. Another level replaces the horse with a jet-powered surfboard and the kites with flying tanks. The game's final scene has you climbing all over the outside and inside of a massive flying fortress.
The 16-bit graphics and audio have aged, sure, but they still hold up thanks to the ridiculousness of it all. Musashi and his ninja enemies are fluidly animated, and the scrolling background layers impart each level with a healthy sense of depth. It's quite a sight to watch the background scroll by as you ride on horseback or jetboard, especially once you notice the leaves and splash going by in the foreground. In the jetboard level, enemies appear in the distance before they move into position to attack you in the foreground. In some levels, aliens and mutants leap out of green goop or bust out of the scenery right in front of your eyes. All throughout, the soundtrack is this crazy mix of guitar riffs, fast beats, and traditional Japanese themes that rocks so hard it'll have you throwing up the horns.
Like most things that rock hard, Shinobi III is short-lived. Unless you crank the difficulty, you'll probably beat it in an hour or two. Regardless, this sort of ninja fun-time begs to be played over and over again. In that respect, you'll probably feel as if you got your money's worth out of the 800 Wii points it cost you to download the game from the Virtual Console.