5 out of 5
Label: Data Discs
Produced by: Shaun Crook (vinyl master)
I dang love me some Streets of Rage, but The Revenge of Shinobi – despite the game not being a frequent play for me – might top it. Yuzo Koshiro is simply the master at wringing seemingly endless variations and genres from his limited electronics, whipping these tunes into insanely impressive frenzies but able to keep it tuneful. SOR very much stuck to a dancey, street-level vibe; Shinobi simply launches into the stratosphere, taking the casual sashay and dagger-toss gameplay and giving it a thousand extra layers of attitude. The ‘Rage vibe is still there, especially on side A, but the blasts of aggression and speed become more frequent, leading into a slew of amazing side B tracks.
‘Opening’ does just that – warms us up for what’s to come, already presenting some impressive keys jammed into 20 seconds before Long Distance gets going with its layered percussion – a staple throughout the album – and a sort of run and slash tone that makes playing (and visualizing) the game incredibly exciting. The Shinobi plays out with a very SOR street ethic, a grooving bop; Terrible Beat comes rushing in right after to punch us in the gut with, like, speed punk chiptune, which is totally forever a thing thanks to Koshiro. Some more classic Sega vibes via the jazzy Sunrise Blvd., something that sounds enjoyably like a slap bass on Make Me Dance, and then Like A Wind’s almost humorous stop-and-start dynamics, the kind of tune borne for a bonus round. But Side A isn’t done with us yet. Not without Koshiro spasming ADD-style over the keyboard with the appropriately named Run or Die.
The B side is simply genius. Ninja Step opens things up: an almost abstracted beat re-married to a 1:40 groove. China Town follows up with some soul; Over the Bay is an energetic brawler. And then, personal favorite: Labyrinth, a nigh-proggy masterwork that calls to mind the dynamics of a group like Behold… The Arctopus. I mean, I’m probably exaggerating, but not really. Ninja Master redoes Ninja Step into a tried and true 80s bad guy theme, again backed up by something moody, with the sad but celebratory My Lover. Some short game over tracks close things out.
Usual praise for Shaun Crook’s mastering. Usual praise for Data Discs’ wise selections. And then the extended praise for an album that truly deserves a wider audience, in order to marvel at the masterworks produced with a limited range of tools and for an audience who may have just ignored the tunes in favor button-mashing. A maybe thankless job. But: here we are now. Who’da thunk?