Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master was an amazing late-generation release for the Sega Mega Drive. It built off the excellent template established with Revenge of Shinobi that saw our hero Joe Musashi trade in his indigo pyjamas for a less inconspicuous white and red set and was well known for its awesome soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro. While Koshiro wouldn’t return for the final 16-bit entry (likely because he was busy with Streets of Rage 3 and Story of Thor), the game still managed to come out with a cracking soundtrack that played to the Mega Drive’s strengths.
This is where this interesting release from UK-based Data Discs comes into play. Recorded off a VA5 model Sega Mega Drive via direct RCA connections and sampled at 96khz/24-bit resolution, this vinyl mastering of Shinobi III is equal pomp and awesome. While it may seem reductive to record a video game console back to vinyl, keep in mind that the Mega Drive is ultimately a scaled-down Yamaha synthesiser and is very much an analogue instrument. While the system has received a poor reputation over time for the quality of its audio hardware, those that know how to use and apply its sound in the right way come up trumps and Data Discs have done well to choose Shinobi III as part of its first wave of releases.
Technically, it sounds lovely and warm – you still get some surface noise by virtue of the medium, but the way it rolls the melodies across the various synth instruments and the crushy drum samples sounds fantastic. Stereo separation sounds great too. Granted, some of this love is due to the fact I was listening to this via my turntable setup which is technically superior to my Mega Drive setup (which while running through a dedicated amp isn’t as nice as the lounge room setup), but an experience is as it is, and it was great to put an officially licensed slice of 180gm vinyl onto my platter for a spin.
Then of course there’s the packaging, one of the great things about analogue media. The cover utilises some high-quality production art and includes a fantastic bilingual sleeve with amazing nerd-attention to detail, going as far as use the Japanese title for the game rather than just translating the English version back again. Inside the cardboard packaging is a poster of the cover art in all its glory, and the delightful red vinyl is housed in a simple black sleeve. Data Discs also do different finishes to the vinyl, so pending availability you can pick and choose your proverbial poison.
Ultimately whether you think this is right for you depends on a couple of things. Do you enjoy listening to vinyl, and not just because you’re riding the hipster wave? Do you enjoy retro games and/or chiptunes? Are you a fan of Shinobi III? Work out your position and decide whether you take the plunge. I happen to fall into all three camps (my beard suggests hipster though I don’t think I’m cool enough to be one), so I really enjoyed checking it out. With more Sega releases in the wings (and a few to catch up on), I’m really excited about this one and am looking forward to indulging in a few more releases!
A review copy was provided by Data Discs to the author for the purpose of this review.