E3 2002Shinobi hands-on

Sega's classic ninja franchise is reborn on the PS2, and we have hands-on impressions.

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The PlayStation 2 version of Shinobi is fully playable at Sega's E3 booth this year, and we recently had a chance to check it out. The Overworks-developed action game feels quite fast-paced, though its relation to the classic Sega series seems a bit loose. You play the role of Hotsuma, the leader of the Tokyo-based Oboro ninja clan. As the story goes, a huge earthquake has razed the entire city, and demons and other evil spirits have begun stalking the ruined streets in its wake. They're after the Oboro clan, it turns out, which brings them into direct conflict with Hotsuma.

This modern iteration of Shinobi is a third-person action game, and if the mission playable at E3 is any indication, it'll be of the more linear sort. Camera views are far and wide enough to facilitate hectic hand-to-hand combat, though at least in some areas, they were fully customizable. Sega promises that Hotsuma will have a wide range of impressive abilities at its disposal, most of which were implemented into the E3 build. Slashing with your sword is your primary mode of attack, and this is accomplished with the square button. Plus, you can execute a chain of up to a three hits at this point. Jumping is accomplished with the circle button, and you have access to a double variety as well. You throw shuriken with the triangle button, and you get a finite amount. Shuriken don't seem to do damage when they hit enemies--instead, they stun them momentarily, letting you get a few open hits. The X button is used to execute your stealth dash, which is easily Hotsuma's most memorable move--a lot of the game's most enjoyable mechanics seem to be built around it. On top of letting you cover a considerable bit of space, executing a stealth dash makes you invincible for a split second. The graphical effect accompanying it is quite impressive--"ghost" images of Hotsuma are left behind him when he dashes, which dissipate after a few seconds. If you perform several dashes in the span of a few moments, a gang of Hotsuma shades will linger around. The effect is very neat. Hotsuma can also run on walls, and, just like on any other surface, he can dash on them.

The game's combat seems pretty straightforward at this point, though the Sega representatives we talked to mentioned that some of the system's key elements--namely, the "ninja magic"--have yet to be implemented. You're able to lock on to enemies with the R1 button, and if you execute stealth-dash and directional-input combos, you'll be able to phase around enemies quite quickly and then approach them from the rear. Depending on how many enemies you kill in battle, a meter lined with runes will start to gradually fill. Kill enough enemies consecutively, and, according to the Sega representative present, your sword will become more powerful. We didn't witness any of this directly, but when we did especially well, we were rewarded with some quick but fairly graphic cutscenes depicting Hotsuma performing ninja-style moves on the onscreen enemies.

Three enemy types populated the E3 demo of Shinobi: standard ninja grunts, dogs, and two giant demon warriors. The ninjas simply run at you and attack you in melee, while the dogs materialize atop certain statues and attempt to pounce on you. The demon warriors, finally, circle around you and slash at you with their heavy weapons. Combat overall was pretty fast-paced, and the variety of moves at our disposal kept it quite enjoyable. Until we get to play a build with ninja magic enabled, though, our impressions of combat will be incomplete.

In any event, if you're at all interested in this sort of fast-paced action, you'll do well to keep an eye on Shinobi. We'll have more information on it for you soon.

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