Date Released: 26th April, 1991
Date Reviewed: 15th May, 2010
Players: 1 player only
Length: 1 hour
Shinobi, or as it is better distinguished by it’s Japanese name as The G.G. Shinobi is the first handheld release of SEGA’s long running Shinobi series and was considered one of their biggest franchises in the late 80s and early 90s. It was developed by AM7’s Team Shinobi (or as they would go on to be known as ‘Overworks’ and most recently ‘SEGA WOW’), and is exclusive to the SEGA Game Gear. originalreviews
Story in The G.G. Shinobi is never gone into great detail inside the actual game, but this was common for the genre at the time. The Master of the Oboro School of Shinobi (who is never shown in-game) sends his best students that are trained in the arts of Ninjutsu are sent to investigate Neo City once rumors of terrorists attacks are heard. However, all of the shinobi that left are caught and put under spells that turn them into evil creatures. The Master then decides to send the oldest and strongest disciple, Joe Musashi as their last hope. Musashi, the red shinobi will need to use all of his abilities to save all of his comrades and combine their powers to destroy the “City of Fear”.
The G.G. Shinobi is designed similarly to that of Revenge of Shinobi in which it is a platformer with simple controls, ninjutsu techniques that give the player extra abilities and levels with multiple platforms atop one another, all with hidden items and enemies to be discovered. Different however is that the projectile gameplay the series is known for is somewhat replaced with attacks that are usually much shorter in distance. This change is largely due to the fact the Game Gear has a much smaller screen and less processing power than the Genesis/Mega Drive, so it would be necessary for the combat to remain within a smaller radius as well as there needing to be less images on screen at all times.
New additions also include four new playable characters that the player can switch between in gameplay once they are saved from the spell they were put under. Each shinobi can be switched on the fly from the pause menu and has his or her own attacks, abilities and ninjutsu techniques that allow them to reach other places within the levels the other characters may not be able to. The yellow shinobi is the only character that is not very useful as his attack needs to be charged up and is largely pointless outside of the ability to walk on water. This is not a major issue as the player can just simply change the character they use for the moment. This minor annoyance was fixed in the sequel The G.G. Shinobi: The Silent Fury, giving the yellow shinobi a boomerang that can be thrown in all directions instead.
Level progression in The G.G. Shinobi is unique to most of the franchise, in that the player can select what level they would prefer to go to and which color shinobi they wish to save. This setup is similar to the Capcom series Mega Man as once you save a shinobi you effectively get a new ability. Unlike Mega Man however, is that the new abilities you obtain will not make different bosses easier, instead they are mostly used for exploration and collecting within the levels. Each of the four main levels has their own boss and shinobi you must save, while the fifth level is significantly longer and requires use of every ability the player receives throughout the game.
The G.G. Shinobi‘s soundtrack is entirely composed by Yuzo Koshiro, which has been long known for his high quality work on the music from the Shinobi series. As the Game Gear is a much weaker platform than the Genesis/Mega Drive, the number of songs used and their actual length would not be able to be quite as long, which could have easily made the music annoying. This is not the case as the levels are designed to only be long enough for the music to repeat four to six times, with a new song being used for each section of a round. There are also a few remakes of songs found in Revenge of Shinobi.
Similar to most of the franchise, The G.G. Shinobi features very detailed graphics based on multiple settings with excellent art direction to back it up. Many of the levels have multiple characters running around backgrounds which also have animation and multiple layers of scrolling without any lag at all, something which was impressive for the time and was also completely unheard of for handhelds. Furthering the great graphics are expertly animated ‘cutscenes’ of sorts during the introduction of the game and every time the player uses a ninjutsu technique. The only real issue with the graphics are that all of the playable characters have the same overall sprite, only differentiated by colors and their attacks. With that said, the title remained one of the best looking games released on SEGA’s Game Gear and was never surpassed by any release on another handheld platform by any rival company up until SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color was released eight years later.
The G.G. Shinobi was SEGA’s attempt at making their Shinobi series more kid friendly as previous releases in the franchise were considered far too hard and sometimes too violent for younger users. Team Shinobi would slow development of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master instead to work on SEGA’s Game Gear handheld as it was selling extremely poorly in comparison to Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld. The popular Japanese television series Super Sentai (known as Power Rangers outside of Japan) was used as a base of design to hopefully interest younger players as well as bring sales of the Game Gear up. Each shinobi would have their own color, weapons and abilities and would have to work together to overcome monsters and save Neo City.
While not a failure, The G.G. Shinobi nor the Game Gear were able to ever top Nintendo’s Game Boy. However, a sequel titled The G.G. Shinobi II: The Silent Fury was released a year later on the same platform and was just as well received as the first game.
The G.G. Shinobi is a simpler and shorter release in the Shinobi franchise with still a lot of challenge and replay value. The easier difficulty makes it one of the more accessible in the series without being too easy to bore fans of the earlier titles. The level format gives players the chance to play the game the way they want and the great hit detection the series is known for make it ideal for players who want a challenge, but do not enjoy frustrating tedium. The gameplay, music and graphics all are extremely enjoyable, and should appeal to anyone who is a fan of the series or the platforming genre in general.
Format(s): Game Gear exclusive
It is recommended that The G.G. Shinobi be played on the original hardware instead of through emulators. Every emulator I have used have some graphical glitches in two or three short levels that may harm sensitive eyes.