The Revenge of Shinobi was a significant release for the Genesis as one of its first major new releases. Between the nuanced gameplay and fantastic production values it was incredible and of course everyone wanted a sequel. That game would not show up for another few years but in the mean time we got this interesting excursion. Shadow Dancer was the true sequel to the original arcade game and a title that I would only come to appreciate later. I expected a continuation of Revenge of Shinobi’s mechanics which was my own fault. As a more or less original title separate even from its arcade counterpart Shadow Dancer is pretty damn good.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who just assumed this was the sequel to Revenge of Shinobi. That confusion came from Sega of America. In Japan Revenge of Shinobi was called the Super Shinobi, signifying as its own branch. Shinobi III was called the Super Shinobi II as a result. For those coming fresh off of RoS I’m sure Shadow Dancer seemed like a step backwards. Even I was guilty of that assumption. When I finally took it on its own merits I really enjoyed it.
Although they share the same name the Genesis title is more inspired by the arcade game than a port. Mechanically they are similar with a few differences. Your canine companion now has a separate meter that is charged by holding the attack button. This allows you to move and charge, speeding up the game’s pace. He can also vault over boxes and other obstacles to restrain enemies too. You aren’t disarming bombs here and instead are back to rescuing hostages. Male hostages grant points while female prisoners increase your attack power until death.
Most of the levels are completely new with a few inspired by the arcade. The bridge and train yard look similar but have new layouts. The airport is replaced by an ascent up the Statue of Liberty. The finale is drastically different between the two. Where the home version merely features a series of rooms with more difficult enemies leading up to the final boss the arcade game takes place at a space shuttle launch. Both games are of comparable length although the Genesis has more level variety.
What the game loses in terms of interesting set pieces it makes up with better level design. The arcade game could almost be played as a run and gun action game like Contra. Here there is more though put into enemy placement and spawn points. Yamato is better woven into the game’s fabric with plenty of points where he is indispensable. Sadly the boss battles, while decent, lack the excitement of the coin op. It’s kind of hard to top fighting a tank and a moving train!
The new levels are nice in their design but can’t compete in terms of graphics. The sprites are smaller and the enemy variety isn’t as great. Certain levels like the Statue of Liberty and stage 1’s fiery ruins look great. But on the whole it is lacking even compared to its predecessor. Stages such as the airport and junkyard featured many beautiful layers of scrolling sold the illusion of depth. To see that reduced so heavily when the system is capable of better is sad. The soundtrack is so completely unmemorable it might as well not even exist.
While it isn’t as difficult as the arcade game Shadow Dancer puts up a worthy fight. The level design does a great job of placing enemies in precarious positions while not seeming cheap. Relying on Yamato becomes crucial toward the end of the game where enemies spawn in waves. It’s hard to go back to single hit deaths after RoS but the game wouldn’t work with a life bar. The boss battles, while not as epic, still pose a decent challenge, especially the final encounter. For those that want more there are various settings as well as a no shuriken mode. I’m not brave enough to give it a try but it does sound kind of cool.
As a follow-up to the classic arcade game Shadow Dancer is pretty great. As much as I want to avoid comparisons it can’t be helped. It isn’t as good as its direct predecessor. The game is also short. You’ll enjoy your time with it but it will also be brief.