Shinobi Legions, also known as Shinobi X in Europe, is the Shinobi franchise’s first foray into 32-bit territory on the Sega Saturn. The Shinobi series got its start in the arcades and on the Master System back in 1987, then found additional success with sequels released for the Sega Genesis in the early 90s. By the release of Shinobi Legions in 1995, Shinobi fans were ready for the next chapter. It made sense to continue the series on Sega’s 32-bit platform, even if Sonic himself wouldn’t have a true platformer on the short lived Saturn.
For better or for worse, Shinobi Legions is a slight departure from the earlier 2D hand drawn sprite titles as Sega took a different approach for its first disc based game in the series. Shinobi Legions utilizes digitized characters for your protagonist, Sho, as well as the various enemies you’ll face throughout the game. As a result, the character animations generally aren’t as smooth and the hit detection comes across a little funky at first, which is a trademark when digitized sprites are used. In addition, there is not only a live action opening scene to establish the plot of the game, but additional live action FMV cut scenes between each of the game’s 9 levels. Imagine Ninja Gaiden’s animated cut scenes but with live actors dressed in cheap looking costumes on sparsely decorated soundstages. They’re pretty bad but they really have nothing to do with the gameplay itself so there’s no use in harping on Shinobi Legions for doing something practically everyone was doing at the time anyway.
As for the gameplay, Shinobi Legions is a traditional side scrolling action platformer not unlike the prior entries in the series. Each level has a theme (the capital, Mt. Fuji, bio-lab, etc) and a plethora of enemies to dispatch of using primarily your sword and shuriken, which you have a limited supply of. Killing enemies is a more gruesome affair than before as Sho slices each enemy in half, complete with blood spurting out from the wounds (Rated T for teens!) The plot of Shinobi Legions has something to do with the kidnapping of Sho’s sister, Aya, by Sho’s twin brother, Kazuma (who is also Aya’s brother, of course). But honestly, who really cares? The plot of the game is only meant to explain the action taking place during each of the levels and the motivation for everyone involved. Despite the digitized graphics, the game plays fluidly and looks good overall with environments that can be manipulated and destroyed (tree limbs, wires, lamps, etc). There are a variety of offensive, defensive and jumping moves you can perform with Sho and all of them are easy to learn and master, especially if you’ve played games like Super Metroid, with it’s wall and double jump techniques. Additionally, there are orbs you can collect to try and earn an extra life, more shuriken for your arsenal, life bar recharges as well as a few Ninjutsu items, the Bishamon, the Thunder Dragon and basic invincibility. The number of Ninjutsu items is pared down slightly from previous Shinobi games, which may be a disappointment to some.
Shinobi Legions, despite some of the odd directions taken by Sega and the cheesy FMV cut scenes, is still a quality title worth owning for the Saturn. There is nothing broken about the gameplay and while it takes a little getting used to the controls of jumping, crouching and using your sword to defend enemy shuriken attacks, it comes to you pretty quickly after only a few plays. With 5 continues at your disposal, I would expect several hours of gaming for anyone who gives this game a try. I would recommend Shinobi Legions to any fan of the series and 2D platformers in general.
Currently in my collection: game, manual, case