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Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – Sega Genesis

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master – Sega Genesis

shinobi 3Platform: Sega Genesis

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Release Date (NA): July 22, 1993

Genre: Action, Platformer

Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Nerdberry

Good games are tough to find. Great games are even tougher to find. But no game is more elusive than a near perfect video game. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master is one such video game. Shinobi III is the pinnacle of all Shinobi games before or after it, and I don’t make bold statements like that halfheartedly. Moving the series forward, Sega made some radical changes to this installment in the Shinobi series, and good thing they did. Whether you’ve played the previous Shinobi games or not, you will fall in love with Shinobi III as its presentation and polish will leave you breathless from the get-go.

Shinobi is one of Sega’s flagship series, and for a long time was alongside Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd as Sega mascots. The series is famous for its exceptional music, graphics, and gameplay, as well as its insane difficulty. While Shinobi III was originally intended to be released in 1992 with a fully complete version ready to be mass produced, Sega eventually delayed the release to make some radical changes to its gameplay and more. The final result saw some major improvements in controls and difficulty, the latter of which was praised by some and criticized by others.

shinobi 3 mountains

Having been defeated twice before in Shinobi and The Revenge of Shinobi, a new leader, known as Shadow Master, has brought back the evil Neo Zeed syndicate to once again take over the world. Joe Musashi (the Shinobi) returns yet again to defeat the Neo Zeed clan once and for all. Being that Musashi is the last known keeper of the Oboro Ninjitsu fighting techniques, only he is capable of defeating such evil powers. Shinobi III features an engaging, yet somewhat unoriginal story. I feel as if they could have devoted a little more time to create something entirely new and different, yet we’re presented with an almost identical story to its precursor. But I don’t want this to ruin your perception of the game at all. While the story might be a bit weak, it does what it is intended to do.

shinobi 3 horse

One thing the Sega Genesis was known for was its ability to render excellent graphics, but that capability alone has to be utilized properly by the developers. Thank God that Shinobi III was developed by Sega because they utilized it to perfection. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve seen a Genesis game with better graphics than Shinobi III. It is possible that graphically-superior games exist, but I’d still argue that Shinobi III is of the highest caliber. Each level is crafted with masterful consideration for variety. While some structures might be similar (such as the horse riding and the futuristic jet surfboard thingamajigger), the visual presentation is entirely different to the point where you wouldn’t even realize just how similar those levels are. There is just no denying how beautiful some of the levels are as each are wildly unique and loaded with excellent color and shading.

Seriously... fuck this boss.

Seriously… fuck this boss.

The music in the Shinobi series has always been one of its strongest aspects, and Shinobi III is no exception. When you hear the music for the first time, you’ll instantly recognize it as purely Sega-made. While the music was not composed by Yuzo Koshiro who is famous for his progressive techno style compositions (it was composed by Hirofumi Murasaki, Morihiko Akiyami, and Masayuki Nagao), Shinobi III‘s composers remained faithful to the style and feel that Koshiro crafted for Revenge of Shinobi, the previous title in the series. The entire soundtrack is high on energy and especially high on bass, and the tone matches perfectly with the settings. Koshiro is a genius and one of the best, if not the best, chiptune composers of the ’80s and ’90s. And even though it was a different group of composers, their emulation of Koshiro’s style is downright impressive.

shinobi 3 fire

Shinobi III takes all the excellent features of its precursor (Revenge of Shinobi) and tightens them up in all of the best ways. Revenge of Shinobi set the standard for how Shinobi games should look, sound, play, and feel and is typically used as a reference point for comparisons. This always blows my mind because I feel that Shinobi III outdoes Revenge of Shinobi in so many ways. One such way is the gameplay. The controls are very responsive and tight and they feature a variety of options not typically seen on a game that is played with just 3 action buttons. Joe Musashi has a wide arsenal of attack moves that was somewhat unprecedented for a 16-bit game. Aside from being able to throw shurikens (it’s sort of like a ninja star), he has a few close-proximity attacks that are very useful when attempting to conserve shuriken inventory. If you are struggling with hitting a moving target, or you have a large number of enemies in front of you, you can perform a jumping/spinning shuriken attack where he will throw a whole slew of shurikens covering a lot of the area. But perhaps his most badass move is his running-slash attack.

shinobi 3 boss 2

Shinobi III has some pretty neat features, but one such move sees its first appearance right here. Shinobi now has the ability to jump-scale walls, and it’s not just for fun as the developers made required usage out of it. This adds an entirely new layer of difficulty and skill to an already challenging game. But to be honest, the difficulty was toned down quite a bit from previous Shinobi games. One can only speculate, but I think that it was done to satisfy Western audiences since we’re not as tolerant of overly difficult video games. The Genesis was massively popular in North America, so maybe Sega wanted to make sure this game sold well in its biggest market. While the difficulty might be on the lower end comparatively, it can still be quite challenging at times, especially the tricky bosses and the side-scrolling levels.

Overall, Shinobi III is one hell of a video game that stands the test of time exceptionally well. Pairing the incredible gameplay and pace along with the outstanding techno music creates a game that bounces around with untamed energy that has yet to be topped by any successive Shinobi game. Sega had a great thing going here and they wisely delayed this game’s release to make some changes. Shinobi III represents the pinnacle of the series and one can only hope that Sega brings Shinobi back, in 2D fashion of course. Not enough people are familiar with Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. But you can own this outstanding game in multiple ways: Nintendo’s Virtual Console, Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection on the PS3 or Xbox 360, Sega Genesis Collection on the PS2 and PSP, from the eShop on the 3DS, for iPhone, and from Steam for PC. No excuses folks! Now’s the time!

Nerd Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Nerdberry

Written by Nerdberry


What’s up yall? David “Nerdberry” here! I am the founder of Nerd Bacon and the current co-owner (and CEO) along with partner David “theWatchman!” I hail from North Carolina, hence my love for all things pork! Oh, you’re not familiar with NC? Well I’m not 100% sure, but I am pretty confident that NC and VA lead the nation in pork production. I could be wrong, but even if I am, I still love bacon!

Come enjoy some bacon and games with us yall.


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