The Game Gear, SEGA’s answer to the almighty Game Boy; with true 8-bit color graphics, a backlit screen and the innards of a SEGA Master System, it outclassed the Game Boy’s technical specifications by miles. With an adapter, sold separately of course, it even had access to the Master System’s library… What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lack of first party support by SEGA with regards to original games, higher price tag than the Game Boy, and the Game Gear’s unquenchable thirst for its required 6 AA batteries helped expedite its demise; but does it have any great games? The answer is a resounding yes.
I’ve spent many a year tethered to my electrical outlet via the Game Gear’s short AC adapter playing the likes of Streets of Rage, Sonic Triple Trouble, Sonic Chaos, Ren and Stimpy: Quest for the Shaven Yak, and the shameless, yet incredibly fun Castlevania clone, Master of Darkness. There were however some gems I missed out on; that is, until I revisited the Game Gear as an adult. One of these games is The G.G. Shinobi II: Silent Fury.
Shinobi’s graphics are not the best on the Game Gear, but the sprite work is impressive and there is awesome animation when using ninja magic. The varied environments and rather visually stunning bosses help repel the dullness that can plague some older handheld titles.
The game also makes good use of the the Game Gear’s sub-par color screen; offering mildly vibrant backdrops without negatively effecting SEGA’s more “adult”-oriented branding scheme. Each level is distinct with their own visual motif incorporated directly into the level design; for example, a dilapidated old tower has collapsing sections of roof, a canyon’s flowing rivers slow the player’s movement, and a factory’s ventilation system lends to its labyrinthine level design. It is details like these that up the ante and deliver a presentation beyond what the art style could deliver on its own.
For an older, handheld title, this sound track is spectacular. After a rather generic title screen theme, Shinobi II: Silent Fury delivers hit after hit. Each track is fast paced and exciting, fitting the action on the screen well. I could not believe how much I enjoyed this soundtrack; that is until I found out the composer was Yuzo Koshiro. Koshiro was responsible for the previous Game Gear Shinobi game, Revenge of Shinobi, the Act Raiser series, Shenmue, Streets of Rage, as well as countless other classic soundtracks.
The quality of his work is stellar despite the limitations of the Game Gear. The level themes are all classics in my mind and really help drive the player forward, despite some being looped a bit too early. I feel that the music in this game is an essential part of the experience and really ramps up the action beyond what it would be without it.
This is unlike most Shinobi game I have previously played; it contains all of the expected platforming action with additional Mega Man-esque aspects that create a totally unique gameplay experience. These mechanics are a carry over from the previous Game Gear installment, but are a bit more fine tuned in this version. It is truly a Game Gear experience far beyond the usual port, built from the ground up with above average level design and finely tuned mechanics.
Shinobi II: Silent Fury opens with a level select screen that allows the player to choose between four locales that need to be cleared before they are granted access to the end-game. In most cases, it is essential to complete each of these levels twice; once to save Joe Musashi’s ninja colleagues, and once to retrieve a colored crystal using the skills of these newly acquired warriors.
The addition of the extra ninja allows both additional exploration, thanks to their unique abilities, and alternate play styles to cater to different gamer’s tastes. Each of these characters offer a different and useful skill set. Some can walk on water, double jump, use a grappling hook or even traverse the ceiling. These skills allow access to the crystals and permanent health power ups, which come particularly in handy in the final phase of the game. These color-coded ninja also use unique weapons such as swords, shuriken, bombs and the aforementioned grappling hook.
The alternate characters become essential in the final level, as each room is designed test the player’s mastery of the individual ninja’s skills. This is where the game really shines. While most of the game’s platforming is rather simple, this final level has some of the most ingenious level design I’ve seen on a handheld. It feels almost as if a puzzle platformer, nestled cozily in the final one-fifth of the game. This portion takes place across 26 rooms with branching pathways, abbreviated by 9 bosses. The boss rush including the four original bosses and five additional unique to the end-game. The experience is truly a challenge and very rewarding.
Overall, the game is a must-play for any Sega Game Gear owner. I am highly disappointed that I was unable to experience this earlier in my life. Do not underestimate the quality of this game, it is absolutely exceptional and I think it is criminal that this game has never been ported to newer systems (as of 2018). Luckily, its prequel, The G.G. Shinobi, is on the 3DS’ Virtual Console; so a similar, but overall less balanced experience is available on modern hardware.
As the game progresses more and more ninja will be rescued allowing access to new areas and permitting new plays styles. There are 5 colors: Red, Blue, Yellow, Pink, and Green. Knowing the special abilities of each warrior are crucial in progressing through the Silent Fury, but the game gives very little indication of what their skills actually are. The attributes of each Shinobi are detailed below:
Joe Musashi (Red)
The Red Ninja has the shortest range in the game, but the Katana’s slash provides a large vertical attack arc. Despite being a bit generic, I stuck with Joe for most of the platforming sections, because I was very comfortable with the speed of his strikes and his lacking range by the time I explored using the other ninja.
Ninja Magic: Warp. Allows him to warp to the exit or entrance of a stage. Not way to useful since the levels are short to begin with.
Ability: No special abilities.
Weapon: Chain Whip
Hailing from the Belmont Ninja Clan, the Blue Ninja attacks with a chain whip that deals as much damage as the Katana, but from a safer distance. Probably objectively better than the Red Ninja, possibly the best overall ninja.
Ninja Magic: Tornado
This allows the Blue Ninja to morph into a tornado to damage enemies and allows free travel across obstacles. Movement can be controlled with D-Pad and is unaffected by the game’s gravity physics. This magic is incredibly useful if the player gets stuck at a difficult platforming section and is essential in locating some of the game’s key items.
The Chain Whip doubles as a grappling hook that can be used to swing across gaps, much like a simpler version of Super Castlevania IV’s mechanic. This leads to some incredible platforming, especially in the final level.
Weapon: Boomerang Shuriken
The Yellow Ninja throws a large shuriken that returns to him after damaging enemies. The return can also deliver a second hit, which makes this ninja particularly useful in certain boss fights. The damage output is pretty much equivalent to the other weapons, so offense does not have to be sacrificed for the sake of a multi-hit attack.
Ninja Magic: Invincibility
Temporary invulnerability. Pretty self explanatory.
Ability: Walk on Water
Probably the coolest ability in the game, though its not used terribly often. The Yellow Ninja literally walks on the surface of water allowing access to hidden areas.
The Pink Ninja hurls bombs in a low arc. I typically avoid this ninja in the normal stages, unless he is required for his ceiling crawl ability. Against bosses this ninja is definitely more useful, as the trajectory of the bomb when released from mid-air is near perfect for striking these large monsters from a comfortable distance. This same trajectory however, can hinder this ninja in some boss fights where the enemy stays high on the screen.
Ninja Magic: Flash Bang
A bright flash immobilizes all non-boss enemies and brightens up dark rooms. This is probably the least useful magic in the game, with only 2 dark rooms in the game and the attack’s rather useless stun ability.
Ability: Ceiling Crawl
It would have been more awesome if he could climb walls as well, but the ceiling crawl permits access to hidden areas and helps set the stage for some innovative platforming in the final level.
The Green Ninja fires smaller shuriken in rapid succession. This provides a long-ranged quick strike at the expense of damage output. The Green Ninja’s shuriken are the weakest of all the weapons. The shuriken can also be released as a multi-directional spray if attacking from a double jump. Overall, I never used this ninja for any real battle scenarios; my only use for him were the sections in which he was absolutely required. Easily the least useful ninja.
Ninja Magic: Earthquake
A major tremor that destroys everything on the screen. It also destroys green-colored breakable walls, permitting access to otherwise inaccessible areas. This magic is a requirement in the game’s final level.
Ability: Double Jump
As awesome as a double jump usually is, I find this one to be a bit underwhelming. It is truly only useful when it is required by the stage. The double jump also just doesn’t feel right to me, perhaps my “2” button isn’t responsive enough, or perhaps it is the fault of the game.
Useful Passwords from My Playthrough
- All Ninja, No Crystals: 70CFC
- All Ninja, All Crystals, All Health Pick Ups: BF9DA
Shinobi II: Silent Fury Facts
- Released in 1992
- Only this game and its prequel, The G.G. Shinobi, feature a cast of multiple ninja with unique abilities
- Though its entitled Shinobi II, it is actually the 7th entry in the Shinobi Series
Is this the best platformer on the Game Gear or do you prefer the more difficult prequel? Comment Below.