Arcade Challenge Report – Shadow Dancer

A ninja and a dog go walking through the airport, but thugs won’t leave them alone. Is the dog a ninja, too? Can I control just the dog? I really like the dog. There’s a dog in this game. Shadow Dancer was released by Sega in 1989.

Shadow Dancer Marquee

“While there were many follow-ups that came out in quick succession on various platofrms, Shadow Dancer is the only true sequel to the original arcade Shinobi, as the gameplay is pretty much the same. The major difference is the obvious graphical upgrade, especially the main character’s drastic overhaul, where he now wears a cool white costume similar to the one in The Revenge of Shinobi. This time you play as Hayate, Joe’s son, as it’s set several years down the line. It runs on Sega’s System-18 board and is a considerable step up graphically from its predecessor. Casting ninja magic shows a cool cinematic close-up of Hayate, with a background of colored burning flames behind him.

New for this game is Hayate’s canine companion named Yamato, who follows him throughout the game and will periodically incapacitate foes, thus allowing for an easy take down.” – Hardcore Gaming 101

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Released: November 1989
Platforms: Arcade, Sega Master System, Amiga, Wii, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Sega Genesis

Shadow Dancer dance

It is important to pose as a ninja, Yamato.

What’s really going on here?

There is absolutely no way I was in an arcade that had Shadow Dancer because there’s no way I wouldn’t drop a quarter in just to see what the dog would do. They really should have marketed the game as Shinobi 2: Shadow Dancer because Shinobi had a great reputation and Shadow Dancer wasn’t obvious enough to get my attention as a kid. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

Shadow Dancer‘s gameplay is definitely familiar if you’ve played any of the side-scrolling action games inspired by Shinobi (which makes sense as a direct sequel). There are two planes your character can jump between to fight off bad guys and collect important items. Hayate can throw a mean shuriken. Seriously, he’s such a bad ass for the first half-dozen enemies because you can just mow them down with one shuriken a piece. Then, you hit your first crate and you find out that the dog is the the true bad ass here.

Your ninja is stuck crouching behind a box because some dude won’t stop shooting at you. There’s no time to close the gap and he keeps ducking anytime you throw your weapon. Yamato doesn’t give a shit though. Crouch down and hit attack to send your dog through projectiles and see him start tearing away at that annoying thug. You better finish off enemy, though, or Yamato is going down. Literally (and thankfully) your dog won’t die, but he will shrink back to the size of a puppy if he’s damaged enough. Then you have to fight dogless, and really, what kind of ninja are you at that point?

Shadow Dancer Screenshot

How did either side get through airport security?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the dog (if you couldn’t tell), but that’s just the beginning of the control problems in Shadow Dancer. It quickly gets frustrating thanks to the deliberate level design. Fighting dumb thugs on multiple vertical levels a pain in the ass. Challenge is good, frustration without reward is not fun. I couldn’t find a pay off for my troubles. Add in that I kept accidentally sending my dog to his doom (which has an emotional toll, come on) or getting trapped between an enemy one step above or below me without a good way to attack him. I’d just get impatient screw up by getting too close or try a risky jump that always seemed to land right in the way of a projectile of an enemy I forgot about just because I couldn’t climb up one step.

Even the satisfaction I had from unleashing ninja magic in similar games just didn’t feel as empowering here. Ninpo is still cool, but I’ve had better. The biggest improvement in Shadow Dancer (aside from the dog) was the first person shuriken game after boss fights. The perspective was a lot better than the original and I could throw shuriken at oncoming ninjas for hours on end. Maybe Shadow Dancer would have been better off as a dog attack and shuriken mini-game collection? That’s what I’ll remember it for as I play all of its better gameplay cousins instead.

Shadow Dancer Ninpo

Not at all worried about being engulfed in blue fire? Blue is pretty hot for fire.

The players have spoken

– Dogs in arcade games are cool.

– I lost because you killed 4 more guys than I did. I felt like I was fighting the mechanics more than it being a challenging game.

– I really just liked the dog gameplay mechanics. Being able to send him out while you take cover, but then I got really sad when I did it too much and he died/shrank.

– I played it once and character animation was so bad it distracted me.

– I was playing it like Shinobi so I died a lot. I don’t think I ever figured out how to do [the dog attack] on purpose.

– Maybe we should have paid better attention to the Lessons of Shadow Dancer.

Challenge Results
Winner = 55,000
2nd Place = 40,260
3rd Place = 35,800

Shadow Dancer Ad

Depth of Graphics is cool and all, but Dog of Graphics is better.

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