Don't forget your history!
For those uninformed, The Revenge of Shinobi was released in the later parts of 1989, one of Sega's earliest titles. What made ROS stand apart from the rest of Sega's library was its visuals, music, and originality in source material. While other Genesis/Mega Drive games were mostly arcade ports, this took an existing arcade name and made a full-fledged, original console title. The result was a benchmark for 2D side-scrolling video games.
You play as Joe Musashi, protagonist and ninja hero. Your quest is to save your fiancée, save the world, and destroy the evil crime syndicate Neo Zeed. You are equipped with shuriken and sword of mystical properties; 8 levels await you with gruesome challenge. The simple premise seems aged but in juxtaposition with other action titles both old and new, ROS held the standard by which all side-scrolling videos are compared. The proof is in the pudding and ROS has butterscotch.
The finer details – the player uses shuriken as a form of projectile by pressing B; each use dispenses one shuriken, which can be replenished by items found in the game. When the player is close to an enemy, instead of dispersing a shuriken of forward momentum, he will perform a melee attack which does not cost any shuriken. The player can also jump by pressing C, along with a follow-up input of the same button for a somersault at the apex of the jump. This technique is the most important in the game, as double-jumping allows to reach far ledges, change between planes from foreground to background, and the ability to perform an 8 Shuriken Whirlwind attack that damages anything within a 90 degree angle. Lastly, the player has Ninjitsu techniques that apply damage to an entire screen, offer temporary invincibility, augmented jumping abilities, and substantial damage at the expense of the player's life.
While the above seems simple and intuitive enough, an intense and brilliantly laid level design is required for any of this to shine through; thankfully, such is the case for ROS. The levels offer variety and tight handling of shuriken throwing and double-jumping. Common complaints of ROS are that the levels are too tough and demanding; I offer a converse opinion, which states that ROS stands the test of time because of its uncompromising challenge. While it is popular today to claim Shinobi 3 is the better game, Shinobi 3 offers smooth handling in sacrifice for difficulty, resulting in a very easy game that can be completed on the first sitting. While many state ROS feels clunky in comparison, the level design uses Musashi abilities perfectly, demanding sharp reflexes and memorization from the player for progression to be made. It may not look as flashy, but the end product of ROS professes a strong bond between gamer and the game than its sequel does.
To quickly note, the graphics and music are excellent in ROS. While the visuals are dated, the art direction is still comparable to current attempts replicating feudal-Asian locales. The music was composed by Yuzo Koshiro; if you have no idea who he is than you have not heard the Genesis's true potential in sound production.
I am an enemy of score-based reviews, so don't take the numbers above as seriously as my words here: The Revenge of Shinobi is one of the best games you will play on Sega Genesis. For many, this is the best game that exists. In 1989, this was the killer-application for Sega's flagship console; today it stands as a marker for which other games of its kin must attempt to flank.