E3 2011: Shinobi Hands-On Preview

We take our first few steps down the path of the ninja with Shinobi for the 3DS.


Sega recently announced that its storied ninja franchise, Shinobi, is finally getting a new game after many years of inactivity. Simply called Shinobi, the new game is being developed by Griptonite Games for the 3DS and is a return to the side-scrolling roots of the series. We got a chance to play the game today at Sega's booth here at E3 2011.

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The visuals have a striking simplicity that reminded us of the stylized look of the original Prince of Persia. The animations are graceful, and on the first stage we played, explosions in the background suggested a raging battle.

You play as Jiro Musashi, father of Joe Musashi, the hero of earlier Shinobi games. Jiro's grace made him fun to control; he can double jump, wall jump, go hand over hand along ropes he's hanging from, and make use of a grappling hook. And he's as lethal as he is graceful; he can throw kunai, unleash quick strikes with his katana, or perform a more powerful katana strike that takes a moment to charge. He can also parry, and it was clear that combat in the game would reward defensive skill and precise timing. Earlier Shinobi games weren't known for being pushovers, and it seems that Shinobi for the 3DS will offer a wide range of difficulty levels so that those looking for a serious challenge can have it, while those looking for an easier time will find the game accessible. We didn't come away from the demo feeling like a ninja master, but we felt like the skills would start to come more naturally to us over time, and it seemed like mastering Musashi's moves and becoming a better killing machine would be intrinsically rewarding. If you prefer external rewards, you might be happy to know that the game has an achievement system that recognizes such feats as getting through a level without getting hit.

After completing the first side-scrolling stage of the demo, the perspective shifted to a level that had Jiro charging forward on horseback. There was an exciting sense of speed as the horse sped through a forest. It was our job to steer him left or right and make the horse leap over obstacles and to slash the occasional enemy foolish enough to ride up alongside us. We came away with the sense that interludes like this will crop up frequently during the full game, which should keep the adventure varied. The rep we spoke with during our demo hinted that one such interlude may be a clear reference to the famous first-person shuriken-throwing sequence from the original Shinobi.

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After our time with the game, we were pleased that it seemed to be a true Shinobi game in spirit and gameplay--not just in name. We're eager to spend more time with Shinobi honing our ninja skills, and we'll bring you more on the game as its projected September release date approaches.

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