Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is the 2nd game in the Shinobi series that was released on the Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive for other parts of the world). It was developed and published by Sega in 1990 and has been re-released numerous times, including on the Wii’s Virtual Console and various collections for numerous different consoles. It is a 2D side-scrolling action game where the player takes up the role of a ninja with a white dog as a companion to help you throughout the game.
Gameplay and mechanics are largely the same as the arcade game Shadow Dancer, which this game is loosely based upon. Unlike other ninja games of the time (such as Ninja Gaiden for the NES), this game has a one hit death system, though to balance there are plenty of opportunities to gain extra lives as you progress through the levels. The player has a basic attack, which is either a throwing star or when close to an enemy becomes a sword slash. There is also a limited use special attack, Ninjitsu magic, that hits everything on the screen. The dog can also be used by holding the attack button and charging up an attack meter. When released, the dog will attack and hold the enemy in place for a time. If the enemy is too strong, or the player takes too long to attack the held enemy, the dog is damaged and becomes a sweet little puppy until powered back up. There are a few enemies that this is very effective on, such as the pistol shooting enemy. Other enemies seem to hit the dog immediately, like the jumping ninjas (of varying colors).
Throughout each level are hostages that require saving. Typically, they are stationed behind a tough enemy. Fortunately, once saved, they remain saved – even after a death. There is a little counter on the screen showing how many you have left to save.
Controls are extremely responsive and easy to pickup, which is a good thing when the action gets hectic. When you get good, you actually feel sort of like a ninja flying through the level. The player is also allowed to move between different planes by holding up or down and jumping. Sometimes this is a platform above or a 3D depth area, such as behind a fence. This adds a lot of diversity to the action and gives the player options on how to progress through each level. The video below will showcase this feature!
In the graphics department, this game holds up pretty well. It isn’t ultra flashy and there aren’t many ‘special effects’, but the art is solid and compares well to similar arcade titles for the time. The bosses are large and detailed sprites and there are a nice assortment of enemies throughout the levels. The levels themselves are colorful and well drawn, but again – also nothing real flashy going on.
The music and sound is a mixed bag. Overall, it is a moderate audio experience and technically close to arcade quality. The music ranges from catchy exciting to annoying. The sound effects are also decent, though the constant barking of the dog can become irritating, too.
Overall, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is a really fun arcade-style side-scrolling action game and I highly recommend playing if you never have tried it before. It is both easy to play and difficult to master. As you could see in my Let’s Play below, my first run was pretty terrible. But, by the second attempt, I was moving through the levels a little easier and got much further into the game.