Kenseiden: A lost treasure of the Sega Master System
Follow Genre: Action Platform
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: SMS

Kenseiden: A lost treasure of the Sega Master System

Good: Lush graphics, original concept, great design
Bad: Poor collision detection, extremely difficult in later levels
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In the 1980’s, the world was going through what could best be described as a “Ninja Renaissance.”  Ninjas were everywhere, in movies, cartoons, television shows, and toys.  With the rebirth of console gaming, there was yet another medium ripe for ninjas to have their stories told.  We had a TON of great games featuring ninjas, including Shinobi, Sega’s most famous ninja character, Ninja Gaiden, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Last Ninja.  There were a lot of choices for those of the warrior persuasion, and Kenseiden for the Sega Master System was no exception.  Being a Nintendo kid growing up, I had never heard of the game.  About 3 months ago, I scored a Master System in a box of games & systems for $100.  It didn’t have any games, and my wife, who grew up with a SMS, lit up and insisted that we track down a copy of Kenseiden.  Just by pure luck, the vinyl record store we were shopping at the next day actually had half a dozen SMS games, with Kenseiden being among them.  I laid my money down for all six games so I could take them home and see just exactly what the old Sega Master System was all about.  To say the least, I was not disappointed, and this game was part of the reason why.letstrythis

Following on the success of the arcade hit, Shinobi, in 1987, Kenseiden, was also developed and published by Sega for release on their home console, the Sega Master System.  Kenseiden put the player in the role of a 16th-Century Japanese Warrior named Hayato, in a quest to recover the Sword of the Dragon King, along with the 5 sacred scrolls of your family.  The culprits were evil Warlocks, who had also taken over your country.  Kensiden was a very traditional side scrolling action/platforming game which went far in taking advantage of the SMS’s capabilities.  While it lacked some of Shinobi’s features, such as magic, it didn’t pale in comparison by any means.  There were a variety of enemies as well as multiple attacks Hayato learns along his path to recover all of his family’s stolen property as well as liberating Japan.

kenseiden bridge fullsizeOne of the first things I want to say about this game is how impressed I was by its overall presentation.  I hadn’t played a Sega Master System since I was very young, and was taken aback by what I saw when I first started playing.  The graphics were very colorful with fluid animation, and the framerate for Hayato really made me take a second look.  If you pay attention, Hayato is left handed; even if you change direction, he still uses the left hand for his sword. Hey, its the little things.  I also liked the fact that Hayato stands taller than most platform game characters.  The enemies are original and very well presented.  Another thing I loved were the colorful backgrounds.  Graphically speaking, I felt this game was superior to what we were playing on the NES at that point in time.  There is a lot of depth to the game, with all the staircases and doorways you would access to move forward.  The boss battles were terrific; much of the same of what I said about Hayato applies to the bosses.

finally kensidenAs far as the sound goes, I felt some of the SFX such as the sword strikes, were lackluster and uninspired.  However the music was terrific, and with everything considered, it comes off as a nitpicky complaint.  There is a definite Medieval Japanese flavor to the music that fits the game well.  There is a part where you approach a waterfall, and the volume of the waterfall’s SFX increases as you approach.  That’s another example of taking advantage of the system’s capabilities.  Like I said, it’s the little things, people.  The controls are top notch, especially when you are using the SMS controller.  I felt like there was a slight delay when I played using a Genesis controller, so you’re better off sticking with the SMS controller if you have one.

kensiden flaming skullsThere are only a couple of things that I found where the game does fall short.  As well animated as I previously stated that Hayato appeared, I did find him to appear a little stiff.  He’s always standing up straight, even during jumps.  Maybe a little ‘ninja spin’ like the Ninja Turtles would have been nice.  The game also starts off easy, but the difficulty increases quickly as the game progresses.  This should be a standard for all video games, however, you only start with three lives and there are some serious jumps that require precision.  Thank God Sega allowed a continue code that allowed you to keep from starting at the beginning, especially after making it to the later stages of the game.  The only problem is that the code tends to only work when it wants to, and this can be extremely frustrating.  And finally, the collision detection has some serious issues; what looks like a clean hit from the katana blade doesn’t register and you take a hit when you shouldn’t.

skeleton fightAt the end of the day, Kenseiden isn’t perfect; that shouldn’t keep you away from this overall excellent game.  As I play through the SMS catalog, I feel more and more like I was missing out on something as a kid who grew up with the NES.  Its a real shame that the console was overshadowed by the NES in America, because there was a lot that the system had to offer.  The good news is that now that I’m an adult with disposable income, I can experience all of these games at my leisure, rather than at the mercy of my parent’s wallet.  If you’re a big fan of Shinobi and some of the other retro ninja games, Kenseiden is definitely worth a look.

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Kenseiden: A lost treasure of the Sega Master System, 8.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

I am a full time Firefighter/EMT living in the United States. In my spare time, I split my time between modern games on my Xbox and the rich universe of the systems we all grew up with.

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