TGS 2002: Hands-onShinobi

We check out the latest build of Sega's revival of Shinobi.

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Sega had an updated build of Shinobi for the PlayStation 2 on display at its TGS booth today. The game has come quite a ways since it was unveiled at this year's E3 in May. Following an opening cinematic sequence that introduces the game's hero, a troubled ninja called Hotsuma, we jumped into the game's first level, which is actually based on the playable level that was shown at E3. However, the simple level shown in May has been fleshed out and is almost unrecognizable now, thanks to a restructured level design, refined gameplay, and hordes of enemies.

Graphically, the game keeps looking better, with a ton of enemies flooding the screen and Hotsuma ably zipping around and dicing the lot of them--all at an impressively smooth frame rate. The enemies we faced in the first level ran the gamut from rabid dogs and evil ninjas to bizarre floating heads that shoot fireballs. Each of the demonic evildoers sports a detailed and stylized design and a respectable number of polygons. While the forces moving against Hotsuma may sound daunting, the troubled ninja is no pushover, thanks to his shuriken and ninja magic, the effects of which are capably depicted using a colorful array of special effects. The backdrops for your battles against evil are equally impressive, and the areas we battled though featured a moody color palette and forbidding structures that matched the game's dark themes.

As far as gameplay is concerned, Shinobi looks as though it's going to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued other 2D franchises as they have made the leap to 3D. The game manages to retain the speed and pacing of the original games without any making serious compromises. There's a new combo attack that rewards you with a cool cinematic and causes heavy damage to the enemies you've struck, and there have been some tweaks to the ninja magic you'll use--for example, Hotsuma will not be spontaneously combusting in order to damage enemies, as his sprite-based predecessor did. Though, none of the changes are so significant that they'd mortify longtime fans of the series.

Judging from what we've seen, Shinobi is coming together amazingly well. The series' transition to 3D appears to have been a smooth one, and the new game's solid graphics, tight controls, and "stealth be damned" action make for a very appealing experience. Shinobi is currently slated to ship this fall for the PlayStation 2 in the US. Look for more on the game soon.

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