Shadow Dancer

Sega Master System

Review by Rob "Dire 51"



Graphics: 8

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 6

Overall: 7

Shinobi has always been one of Sega's classic games. The original arcade game was fantastic, and the various other games in the series that have come out (mostly for home consoles) have ranged from great (The Revenge Of Shinobi) to eh (Shinobi Legions). Only one other Shinobi arcade game was ever made - Shadow Dancer. It was released in 1990, but it didn't seem to attract the attention that Shinobi did, despite being a bit better than it's predecessor. The addition of Musashi's attack dog, Yamato, was a nice plus (and one I really haven't seen duplicated in any action game to speak of), and elevated Shadow Dancer to a notch above Shinobi, IMO. A follow up to the arcade game, Shadow Dancer: The Secret Of Shinobi, was released for the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1991, but that too didn't seem to attract as much attention as the previous MD Shinobi game, The Revenge Of Shinobi, did. Both Shadow Dancer games seemed to fade away into obscurity, only being remembered by Sega nuts such as myself.

Until recently, I had thought that the only version of Shadow Dancer available for a home console was the MD game. Upon doing a search for Shadow Dancer on Yahoo! one day, I was surprised to learn of the existence of a Shadow Dancer for the Sega Master System - one that was a port of the original arcade game! It turns out that it was released when the SMS was in its death throes here in the U.S., and therefore only made it to Europe, Australia, and some other countries. The few reviews I read of it seemed pretty favorable, though, so on finding a copy being auctioned off on eBay, I jumped at the chance to get it - knowing full well that it wasn't going to be anywhere near the quality of the arcade game, due to the limitations of the SMS. After all, I'd seen SMS arcade ports before, ranging from pretty good (Outrun, R-Type, Space Harrier) to completely horrible (ESWAT, Strider). It may be pretty good for the SMS, but there was no way it was going to come close to the arcade game.

Boy, was I wrong.

Shadow Dancer is about as close to the arcade as you're going to get on an 8-bit system. It looks unbelievably close to the original arcade game. Since I've had a chance to play the original arcade game recently thanks to MAME, my memories of it are fairly fresh. I'm not sure how the programmers were able to squeeze the kind of graphics that they did out of the SMS, but they sure did a good job. Even the opening sequence is almost completely intact, right down to Yamato's barking (which actually sounds like a dog barking - quite the feat for the SMS's sound chip). The ability to use ninja magic, Yamato, and Musashi's katana are for the most part faithfully duplicated as well. The screen that comes up when you use ninja magic looks pretty damned sweet - you get a nice head shot of Musashi and hear his voice calling forth the destructive power at his command, which then eliminates every enemy onscreen. Nice. On top of that, Musashi looks almost exactly like he does in the arcade game, and the bosses are huge and very nicely detailed. Understandably, there's no way it's going to look exactly like the arcade (especially with some of the backgrounds in the arcade game being so detailed), but like I said - it comes pretty close.

The controls bring Shadow Dancer down a little, though. Musashi fires shurikens a lot faster than he did in the SMS port of Shinobi, which is nice, but when it comes to split-second turns to avoid projectiles or enemies, forget it. Musashi's fairly sluggish while turning, which can lead to some instant kills, but it's not so bad that the game is unplayable - it just takes a little getting used to. Musashi jumps without hesitation when you press the jump button, though, so that makes up for it somewhat. Having Yamato attack enemies and using ninja magic is a breeze, though - both are very painless to use. It was somewhat frustrating to use ninja magic in the SMS port of Shinobi, in contrast.

Musically, Shadow Dancer's okay. The music to the arcade original never really stood out in my head, and this one's music doesn't either. It sounds good for the SMS, it's just not as memorable as Shinobi, The Revenge Of Shinobi, or even the MD Shadow Dancer's music was. The difficulty is certainly up there - you have three lives to finish the game with. There are no continues to my knowledge. Since Musashi can only take one hit, this too can get frustrating. You can earn bonus lives in the bonus rounds between levels (the bonus rounds are also faithfully duplicated from the arcade original, and the bonus round from the MD Shadow Dancer is even included as a nice plus), but without continues, the going is pretty rough. One other problem is not with the game itself, but with the limitations of the SMS. Certain parts of each level from the arcade game are gone. There's one level per stage, and you proceed right from that one level to the boss. Considering the difficulty of the game, those other levels really aren't missed, but it would have been nice to have them, even though that simply wouldn't have been possible on the SMS.

While it's no substitute for the arcade (really, the Shadow Dancer arcade game - along with Shinobi, ESWAT and several other great classic Sega arcade games - needs to be released for a modern console in some form of deluxe pack or something), the SMS Shadow Dancer is a great attempt at porting an arcade game to an 8-bit system. Despite the minor control flaws and difficulty, it's still extremely fun to play. If you want to get a really good (and challenging) action title for your SMS and you can track this one down - by all means, pick it up. Hell, you can do a lot worse.


front cover

As a bonus, here's a side-by-side comparison of the SMS and arcade Shadow Dancers:

Pretty close, huh?

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:31 PM