Shinobi (SMS) Review

Click here to view the Shinobi (SMS) description page for walkthroughs, screenshots, and more information.

Quick Review 

~Review by tankMage (January 2020)

Score: C

Here’s a short breakdown of Shinobi’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.


-Well planned out and designed stages.

-Contextual melee and ranged attacks. Joe will use choose range weapons when near an enemy and distance weapons the rest of the time.


-Ugly color scheme for many stages.

-Horrible music.

-Magic is pointless for the most part.

-No continues, no save feature.

-Some of the bosses are really lame.

Full Review

Welcome to ninja hell!

    I really didn’t like Shinobi at all and I’m surprised that this game was so well received. Out of the handful of Sega Master System games I played, this one is my least favorite. I would have given it a D or an F if had not been fairly well designed and free of bugs. Aside from good controls and stages that are fairly challenging, this game sucks. The music is terrible, the color scheme can make your eyes bleed at times, boss fights are a mess, and the ending is an insult. I’m really not sure why this game is well thought of, maybe it’s because it’s Shinobi and the other games are pretty good. 

    Joe Mushashi, a master ninja, has been called upon by the government to rescue the kidnapped children of several world leaders. An evil gang of martial artists called the Ring of Five is behind the dastardly deed. Why they kidnapped the kids is not explained in the short background story provided in the manual and I’m not sure I want to know their motivations. Outside of a file with the name of the current stage’s boss and a map that displays between levels, there’s really no exposition. While that’s fine by me, the ending is absolutely terrible (spoiler incoming!) because all the player gets to see is a “Game Over” screen, which is also what you get to see every time you run out of lives. Gee, thanks Sega.

    And trust me, you will get a lot of Game Overs unless you are using cheats or happen to be blessed with superhuman reflexes, because this game gets tough. In fact, for much of my time playing this game I was stuck on a boss called Mandara. This was in part due to the fact that technique required for beating this guy isn’t something that’s easy to pick up on (something I’m cool with) and the fact that you will have to play the game from the very start again if you run out of lives. Imagine being caught in some Hellish loop where you get to a boss, fail to kill it, then have to go back through the entire game after a couple of tries, only so you can fail again. Thanks again Sega.

   Shinobi itself is fairly simple in premise. Players have to make their way through each stage avoiding or dispatching enemies, while saving hostages that have been carelessly left out in plain sight by the villains. The stages are fairly well put together and you will need to use your reflexes and brain to get through them, because enemies are often placed very strategically. Joe uses shurikens to best his opponents and can upgrade his throwing stars by rescuing certain hostages. The shuriken can be upgraded to a knife, bomb, and “pistol” that looks more like a handheld rocket launcher. Joe also punches or kicks enemies when he is close to them, which was pretty clever for the time since both attacks are executed by hitting the 1 Button. Melee attacks also get upgrades from time to time as Joe rescues hostages. These upgrades improve Joe’s close quarters combat damage and vary from swords to nun-chaku.

    After clearing a few short levels, the player will get to do battle with one of the game’s five bosses. For the most part, the bosses are fairly easy and kind of poorly designed, with the exception of the last boss. Two of the bosses are laughably easy, particularly Lobster who runs at you blindly and gets knocked back whenever he is hit in the face, which makes it possible to defeat him on the first try without even getting hit. On the other hand Mandara and the final boss are rather tough, especially Mandara, whose first form is a stack of statues that Joe has to destroy as fast as possible to avoid dying from being pushed into what looks like a lightning bolt. This is easier said than done, because there’s a trick to destroying all of the Mandara in time and it’s not self evident by any means.

    Finally, there’s the magic system, which is one of the most poorly thought out mechanics I’ve ever seen. Players can earn magic by completing rather annoying shooting gallery bonus stages that are unlocked by saving hostages. Magic spells allow Joe to fly, become invincible, or clear the screen of enemies. While the concept is cool, there are several problems with its execution. First off, merely getting a spell from a bonus stage requires a fair bit of skill. Once you have a spell, you cannot merely use it, that would be too easy! Instead, you must first defeat ten enemies in the current stage to charge the spell up. If you manage to fulfil all of these prerequisites, you can cast a spell, but by that point the stage is almost over and the spell will become inactive again if you do not use it. In the end, magic turned out to be useless, because I did not need it once I was good enough to get it.

    Now let’s get to Shinobi’s aesthetics. In short, this game is ugly. Joe, the enemies, and most of the bosses look fine, but the settings look horrendous. The artist somehow managed to pick colors that clashed awfully and stages are often eyesores. In one stage, Joe’s belt blends into the skyline, making him look like he was sawed in half, you’d think they could have chosen a different color for the sky or the belt. The music is also atrocious thanks to the main theme song that drones away in every goddamn stage. What’s worse is some of the songs are alright, but there’s so few of them and they had to pick the worst one to play in every level. According to a fantastic site, , several songs and jingles were cut from Shinobi for whatever reason, so the music could have at least been a bit more varied had the devs bothered to implement it.

Final Thoughts

I really didn’t like this game much, but I figure it at least deserves a C, because the experience wasn’t totally miserable and the game works fairly well. I really appreciated the level designs and getting through the last few stages felt rewarding. In the end, Shinobi didn’t have all that much to offer and I doubt I’ll play it again, though its sequels look promising.


Most gamers should skip Shinobi. 

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