Shinobi (video game)

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Shinobi sales flyer.png
Shinobi sales flyer
Developer(s)Sega AM1
Director(s)Yutaka Sugano[1]
Composer(s)Yasuhiro Kawakami
November 16, 1987
  • Arcade
  • Master System
    • JP: June 19, 1988
    • NA: September 1988
    • EU: 1988[5]
    • KR: December 1989
    • NA: December 8, 1989
    PC Engine
    • JP: December 8, 1989
    IBM PC
    Virtual Console
    • JP: July 14, 2009
    • PAL: October 23, 2009
    • NA: December 7, 2009
    Xbox Live Arcade
    • NA: June 10, 2009
Genre(s)Hack and slash
Mode(s)Up to 2 players (alternating turns)
Arcade systemSega System 16

Shinobi () is a side-scrolling hack-and-slash action game produced by Sega, originally released for arcades in 1987. In Shinobi, the player controls a modern-day ninja named Joe Musashi who has to stop a terrorist organization named Zeed who are kidnapping the students of his clan.

Shinobi was a major commercial success in arcades; after topping the monthly Japanese table arcade charts in December 1987, it went on to become America's highest-grossing arcade conversion kit of 1988 and again one of America's top five conversion kits of 1989. Shinobi was later adapted by Sega to their Master System game console, followed by conversions to other platforms such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, PC Engine, and various home computers, as well as downloadable emulated versions of the original arcade game for the Wii and Xbox 360. A port of the arcade game joined the Nintendo Switch in January 2020 through the Sega Ages series. The success of Shinobi inspired the development of various sequels and spin-offs of the Shinobi series.


Stage 2–1, Musashi confronts an enemy keeping a kidnapped child hostage.

The controls of Shinobi consist of an eight-way joystick and three action buttons for attacking, jumping and using ninjutsu techniques (also called "ninja magic" in the game). In addition to the standard walk, the player can perform a crouching walk by pressing the joystick diagonally downward. The player can jump to higher or lower floors by pressing the jump button while holding the joystick up or down. The protagonist Joe Musashi's standard weapons are an unlimited supply of shurikens, along with punches and kicks when attacking at close range. Rescuing certain hostages in each stage will grant him an attack upgrade. When powered up, his throwing stars are replaced by a gun that fires large, explosive bullets, and his close-range attack becomes a katana slash. Musashi's ninjutsu techniques can only be used once per stage and will clear the screen of all enemies, or in the case of enemy bosses, greatly damage them. There are three ninjutsu techniques in the game (a thunderstorm, a tornado and a doppelganger attack) that vary depending on the stage, although the effect is the same no matter which technique Musashi uses (only the animation changes).

Enemy characters include punks, mercenaries, various kinds of ninjas clad in different colors and the Mongolian swordsmen who are guarding each hostage. Musashi can bump into most enemies without harm and can only be killed if he gets struck by an enemy's attack (such as a punch or a stab), gets hit by a projectile or falls into a bottomless hole. When that happens, the player must restart the stage from the beginning, although hostages that have already been saved do not need to be rescued again. When the player runs out of lives, they can insert additional coins and press start to continue the game. This option is not available during the final mission. The player has a time limit of three minutes to complete each stage. Bonus points are awarded based on how quickly the player clears the stage, along with additional bonuses if the player clears the stage without using a ninjutsu technique (except on the fifth level), or using only melee (close-range) attacks (that is, sword, punches, or kicks, but not stars or bullets). Extra lives are awarded by achieving certain scores, completing the bonus round, or when rescuing a special hostage.

Between missions, the player participates in a bonus round played from a first-person perspective where they must throw shurikens at incoming enemy ninjas without letting any of them get near him. If the player successfully completes a bonus round, they will be awarded with an extra life.[6]


The player controls a modern-day ninja named Joe Musashi who has to stop a criminal organization called "Zeed" who are kidnapping the children of his ninja clan. Through five missions (consisting of three stages in the first mission and four stages each in the rest), Musashi must make his way to Zeed's headquarters and free all the hostages in the first two or three stages before confronting the boss at the final stage of each mission. At the start of each mission, the player is shown their objective, followed by a file containing a photograph of the enemy boss and a map display pinpointing the location of the next stage.

Home versions[edit]

Master System[edit]

Sega produced its own home version of Shinobi for their Master System game console. It was released in Japan on June 19, 1988, with subsequent releases in North America and Europe. Some of the play mechanics from the original coin-op version were altered for this version. Instead of the one-hit kills from the arcade game, the player now has a health gauge that allows Musashi to sustain more damage before losing a life, although this comes with the trade-off that touching an enemy causes Musashi to lose health.

While the player still rescues hostages in this version, it is now an optional task and not mandatory to complete the game. However, rescuing hostages allows the player to upgrade both their close and long-range weapons, as well as increase their maximum health gauge or restore it. Additionally, rescuing certain hostages is a requirement to access the game's bonus stages, which now occur after the regular stages instead of each boss fight. The ninjutsu skills are now obtained from completing these bonus rounds and the player may hold up to four stocks. The input method of performing these ninja arts is also different as well. The player can use between three different close-range weapons (in addition to the default punches and kicks), four long-range weapons (including an upgrade to the default shurikens), and six ninjutsu spells.

In October 1993,[7] Atari Corporation filed a lawsuit against Sega for an alleged infringement of a patent originally created by Atari Corp. in the 1980s,[8] with the former seeking a preliminary injunction to stop manufacturing, usage and sales of hardware and software for both Sega Genesis and Game Gear.[9] On September 28, 1994,[10][11][12][13][14][15][16] both parties reached a settlement in which it involved a cross-licensing agreement to publish up to five titles each year across their systems until 2001.[17][18][19][20][21][22] The Master System version of Shinobi was one of the first five titles approved from the deal by Sega in order to be converted for the Atari Jaguar, but it was never released.[9]

Home computers[edit]

In 1989, ports of Shinobi were released for the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum. All five conversions were developed by The Sales Curve and published by Virgin Mastertronic in Europe and by Sega in North America (with the exception of the Amstrad and Spectrum versions). An IBM PC version was also released in North America by Sega, developed by Micromosaics Inc.

PC Engine[edit]

A PC Engine version was released exclusively in Japan by Asmik on December 8, 1989. The graphics and play mechanics of the PC Engine version are similar to the arcade version's, but the close-range attacks and power-ups are missing and there are no bonus rounds (extra lives are instead given by getting a certain number of points). Although there is no life gauge, the time limit for finishing each stage from the arcade version was removed. Mission 2 is also completely omitted and all subsequent missions are renumbered as a result.

Nintendo Entertainment System[edit]

The Nintendo Entertainment System version of Shinobi was released by Tengen exclusively in North America as an unlicensed release in 1989. The play mechanics are based on the Master System's version, but Tengen removed all of the close-range weapons (the sword, the nunchaku, and the chain) and the grenades. Only the basic punches, kicks, throwing daggers, and pistol were kept. Unlike the Master System version, the player can only shoot one shuriken, dagger, or bullet on-screen at the same time, even after obtaining power-ups. The maximum stock of ninjutsu skills has been increased to five. All the vertical-scrolling stages (such as Mission 2-2 and Mission 3-2) were redesigned into horizontal-scrolling stages.

Wii and Xbox 360[edit]

The original coin-op version is available as a downloadable title for the Wii's Virtual Console and Xbox 360's Live Arcade services. Although both releases are emulated from the arcade game's code, slight graphical modifications were made due to licensing issues.

One of the enemy grunts in the second stage of Mission 1, a wall-crawling ninja who roughly resembles the comic book character Spider-Man, originally wore a blue bodysuit and mask with red gloves and boots, which was too close to Spider-Man's color scheme. In the Wii and Xbox 360 releases, his color scheme was changed to a green bodysuit and mask with yellow boots and gloves.

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection[edit]

Shinobi is also a hidden game in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. To access it, the player must complete the first round of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, without using a continue. Although the version included in the compilation was also an emulation of the arcade game, the graphical changes that were made in the Virtual Console and Xbox Live Arcade releases were not made in this compilation.


In Japan, Game Machine listed Shinobi on their December 15, 1987 issue as being the most-successful table arcade unit of the month.[23] In the United States, Shinobi was the highest-grossing arcade conversion kit of 1988,[24] and again one of the top five conversion kits of 1989.[25]

The arcade game received critical acclaim. Clare Edgeley of Computer and Video Games noted that it was one of several popular "martial arts simulation" games at London's Amusement Trades Exhibition International (ATEI) show in January 1988, along with Taito's Ninja Warriors and Data East's Vigilante; she said it plays similarly to Ninja Warriors, but that Shinobi also has elements from Namco's run-and-gun shooter Rolling Thunder (1986), introduces bonus stages, and is more challenging overall. She praised the "clean colourful graphics" with large "well defined" sprites, and the action gameplay for being fast-paced and challenging, concluding that the game is "well worth playing."[26] Nick Kelly of Commodore User rated it 8 out of 10, also noting similarities to Rolling Thunder but said Shinobi looks good, "plays brilliantly" and "combines several kinds of shoot'em and beat'em up action in one well-thought-out, well-executed game."[27] Retrospectively, Black Belt magazine in 2003 called Shinobi "one of the best martial arts arcade games of the 1980s."[28]

Sega's port of Shinobi for the Master System also received general critical acclaim. Computer and Video Games rated it 8 out of 10, praising the "well defined" graphics, good sound and "excellent" gameplay.[5] It was awarded 4 out of 5 stars in Dragon.[29] Classic Game Room's retrospective review of the game on the Master System reflected the view that the game is a classic, albeit less of a classic than the 16-bit sequel The Revenge of Shinobi.[30] Zach Gass of Screen Rant included Shinobi and its sequels in his list of ten "awesome" hack-and-slash games in 2020.[31]

Sequels and related games[edit]

In 1989, Sega released a sequel called The Revenge of Shinobi as one of the first titles for their new Mega Drive game console. In Japan this game was called The Super Shinobi. An arcade sequel called Shadow Dancer was also released in 1989. Shadow Dancer retains the same gameplay as the original, but gives the main character a canine companion.

Other Shinobi sequels also appeared for the Game Gear, Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, the PlayStation 2, and the Nintendo 3DS. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World is a parody of Shinobi with former Sega mascot Alex Kidd as the main character, released for the Master System in 1990.


  1. ^ Legend of Joe Musashi: SHINOBI Music Collection (booklet). p. 7.
  2. ^ "Video Game Flyers: Shinobi, Sega (USA)". The Arcade Flyer Archive. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  3. ^ "Video Game Flyers: Shinobi, Sega (EU)". The Arcade Flyer Archive. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  4. ^ "Shinobi (Registration Number PA0000347209)". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Mean Machines: Shinobi". Computer and Video Games. No. 84 (October 1988). 16 September 1988. p. 119.
  6. ^ Kalata, Kurt. "Shinobi". Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  7. ^ "Atari Corp. v. Sega of America, Inc., 869 F. Supp. 783 (N.D. Cal. 1994)". August 12, 1994. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  8. ^ "ProNews: Atari Sues Sega". GamePro. No. 54. IDG. January 1994. p. 258. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  9. ^ a b CRV (August 6, 2017). "Blog:Legal Brief: Atari vs. Sega". Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  10. ^ Tramiel, Garry (September 28, 1994). "To Our Valued Customer". Archived from the original on September 19, 2000. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  11. ^ "Sega And Atari Announce Long-Term Licensing Agreements, Equity Investment, and Resolution of Disputes". September 28, 1994. Archived from the original on September 19, 2000. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  12. ^ "Overseas Readers Column - Atari Drops Sega Charges For $90M". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 483. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 November 1994. p. 26.
  13. ^ "The Enter*Active File - Entertainment Industry News Of Info Systems, Video Games & Retail-Tech Media". Billboard. Vol. 106 no. 49. Lynne Segall. December 3, 1994. p. 82.
  14. ^ "ProNews: Sega, Atari Settle Differences". GamePro. No. 65. IDG. December 1994. p. 282. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  15. ^ Peers, Nick (December 1994). "The News - The Latest News - Atari Vs Sega". ST Format. No. 65. Future plc. p. 11. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  16. ^ "Ultimate Update - A legal battle over..." Ultimate Future Games. No. 1. Future Publishing. December 1994. p. 20. Retrieved 2019-05-25.
  17. ^ "Reportage - Le Japon En Direct - Jaguar: Coup De Griffe Sur Le Japon! - Atari Et Sega". Consoles + (in French). No. 39. M.E.R.7. January 1995. p. 26. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  18. ^ "News - Front Page - Sega buys into Atari". Game Players. No. 68. Signal Research. February 1995. p. 14.
  19. ^ "Special - Atari: from boom to bust and back again". Edge. No. 18. Future plc. March 1995. pp. 58–65. Archived from the original on 2019-01-18. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  20. ^ "Special - Atari: from boom to bust and back again". Next Generation. No. 4. Imagine Media. April 1995. pp. 34–41.
  21. ^ "CVG News - Atari's Cat Gets The CD Cream - Big Cat Claws EA Deal". Computer and Video Games. No. 163. Future Publishing. June 1995. pp. 12–13. Archived from the original on 2018-10-18. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  22. ^ "At Last, Atari". Ultimate Gamer. No. 4. Larry Flynt Publications. November 1995. pp. 34–37.
  23. ^ "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - テーブル型TVゲーム機 (Table Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 322. Amusement Press, Inc. 15 December 1987. p. 25.
  24. ^ "Coin Machine: AMOA Jukebox, Games & Cig Vending Awards Winners". Cash Box. November 26, 1988. p. 30.
  25. ^ "Coin Machine: AMOA Games Awards Nominees Announced". Cash Box. July 29, 1989. p. 25.
  26. ^ "Arcade Action". Computer and Video Games. No. 77 (March 1988). February 1988. pp. 90–3.
  27. ^ "Arcades: Shinobi". Commodore User. No. 54 (March 1988). 26 February 1988. p. 104.
  28. ^ "Shinobi". Black Belt. Active Interest Media, Inc. 41 (9): 132. September 2003.
  29. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia & Lesser, Kirk (February 1993). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (190): 55–60.
  30. ^ "Classic Game Room HD - Shinobi for Sega Master System". Inecom Company. 21 November 2008. Archived from the original on 2014-09-27. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  31. ^ Gass, Zach (11 May 2020). "10 Awesome Hack and Slash Games That Aren't God of War". Screen Rant. Retrieved 11 April 2021.

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