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RELEASE DATE (NA): November 1989 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

One ninja. One canine. Two shadows. Zero dancing.

Ninjas are no-nonsense characters. So am I. So there will be no tip-toeing around today. We're going to stealthily crawl to that review right now.

Shadow Dancer is the sequel to Shinobi and helped string along a lengthy series of ninja-based games in its wake. Our beloved ninja (who seems to lack a solidified name in the game, but is known as Hayate) must stop the actions of the terrorist organization Asian Dawn, whose sole mission, for reasons still unknown, is to bomb various locations within... whatever city the game is set. I realize that this is an arcade game, and nobody really shows up to an arcade yearning for deep, intricate plotlines, but at least give some identification to the city you are saving... or, better yet, at LEAST the character you are controlling in-game. I don't feel the urge to aid "a random ninja in the big city". That's what ridiculous movies like "3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain" are meant for. Hayate will need to visit a total of 15 different areas (including four boss battles) and retrieve a bunch of bombs that are conveniently laying around in easy-to-spot areas before he can move on to the next level.

Just as was the case with Shinobi before it and many games in the series afterward, Hayate has a limited but nevertheless effective repertoire of moves at his disposal. He can jump around, including to different levels of platforms (above him and below him); he can fire off an infinite amount of shurikens, which he seems to keep in his magic pouch; he can slice and dice enemies if he's close enough; and he can let loose some wild ninja magic and wipe out most enemies on screen. But Hayate has one trick up his sleeve that different from most of these ninja platformers: he brought along man's best friend! Hayate's trusty sidekick, Yamato, can really save your behind when you need it. By holding down on the joystick and hitting your attack button, you can sic him on an enemy ahead and, while he's being attacked, Hayate can toss a quick shuriken and finish him off while he is temporarily incapacitated by a dog bite. That helps out tremendously against weaker enemies, though ones with a stronger defense will cause Yamato to bounce off in injury, transforming him into a little useless pup until you finish the level or pick up a bomb. (Don't ask how that works. I don't know.)

Is his bark worse than his bite? Not here.

With all these cool moves and gimmicks in your arsenal, Hayate would be all set for a simple romp through opposing enemy territory, right? Wrong, boy. Boy, you wrong! This game is difficult. No, I take it back. This game is borderline nightmarish at times. The developers exuded some painstaking effort to ensure that enemy placement was as irritating as possible, and that ninjas would randomly appear just when you thought you'd be safe, if only for a short period. Boss fights are usually fair enough, with the exception of the final boss, whose cheap shots pretty much ruin your chances of survival. And, unlike many platformers in the arcades, Shadow Dancer takes the rough'n'tough route: one hit and you die... and then start at the beginning of the stage again. Shadow Dancer is a quarter vacuum. You'd better take out a second mortgage on the house if you want to finish this one within your lifetime. The only way to get yourself some extra lives without the need to cough up tokens is via a bonus stage where you are in first-person mode, looking upward at a multi-story building as ninjas come out of the windows and hop their way down to you. Shooting a stream of shurikens should take care of them, but if one makes it all the way down to you, you're a goner and you win nothing except the shame of being told "YOU FAILED".

But if you're into the Shinobi or even Ninja Gaiden-style of gameplay, you'll find something to love in Shadow Dancer. For 1989, the game looks pretty decent as well, so if the constant barrage of death sequences fails to amuse you, the fun surroundings will (including the multiple direct references to Sega in the backgrounds). Shadow Dancer is tough as nails, and that may be a turn-off to most. But for those willing to look past the ulcer-aggravating difficulty level, there may just be something to enjoy.

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