Shinobi is hard. As in "you have only five tries to beat this 20-minute level packed with enemies and tricky platforming challenges" hard. Yet as challenging as this action platformer is, it remains approachable despite its formidable challenge. That's because Shinobi's throwback design is laced with modern scoring hooks and accessibility options that keep you coming back for more punishment. It's a hard but fair game, and it's stuffed with content.
The story stars Jiro Musashi, father of Joe Musashi, the hero of earlier Shinobi games. If you're not up on your Shinobi lore, there's a handy guide to the series in the extras menu, complete with goofy box art and cheeky commentary. The developers seem aware that the series' continuity is spotty at best, and they use it to have some fun with the plot. When a mysterious force attacks Jiro's ancient Japanese town, the agile white-clad ninja springs into action and then promptly gets sucked into a weird time vortex. Jiro gets spit out the other side more than a few hundred years later and, without missing a beat, continues down the path of justice. No, it doesn't make sense even a little bit, but it is a good excuse to get a cool-looking ninja into some cool-looking environments. Those environments are packed with a wide variety of enemies and environmental hazards. You jump over spike pits in a factory, fight off cyborg thugs on a moving train, slice up ninja robo-aliens in space, and more. It takes sharp reflexes and a mastery of Jiro's large moveset to get to, and beat, the game's final boss.
Navigating those enemy-laden levels is manageable thanks to the sharp, responsive controls. All the classic Shinobi moves are here, and then some. As Jiro, you can double jump, slide, slice dudes up with some quick sword combos, throw shurikens, grapple-hook onto platforms, and use some magical ninja powers. While all the moves have their specific uses, none is more useful than the parry. A quick tap of the R button brings up Jiro's sword for a parry. You can defend against nearly every attack, from shurikens to rockets to energy blasts, as long as you time your button press properly. That means getting intimately familiar with the attack patterns of Shinobi's many, many enemies. It's a system that rewards skill and punishes carelessness.
Practicing your way to a perfect parry is crucial if you want to take on the game's more challenging difficulty levels. On the lowest setting, beginner, you get unlimited lives, unlimited continues, more midlevel checkpoints, and weaker enemies. Dying in this mode sets you back a bit in the current level, but it never outright ends your progress. Beginner mode is accessible, but it's no walk in the park; you still get swarmed with enemies and forced through some precarious platforming sections. The higher difficulties introduce life limits, continue limits, tougher enemies, and even a more pronounced hit animation for Jiro. Run through all your lives in a level, and it's back to the beginning, which can be a huge bummer on some of the lengthier levels. So why even play the tougher difficulties? Achievements, new challenges, and some interesting unlockables await the skilled player.