Tenchu: Shadow Assassins [Available on Nintendo Wii]
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Release Date: February 3rd, 2009
Tenchu originally appeared about a decade ago on the original PlayStation. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was an innovative and fun game that helped popularize the stealth-action genre (Metal Gear Solid was certainly the forerunner). The concept gave birth to a proper video game rendition of a ninja’s true skills. Years later, many sequels have spawned, though most have been unfortunately underwhelming and lacking critical acclaim. Shadow Assassins is the latest entry, and while not amazing, it’s done well to restore some of the series’ dignity and deliver a fun experience.
SA puts the player in control of master ninja Rikimaru, or the beautiful and deadly Ayame. Both take different orders from lord Gohda. Ayame sets out to rescue the kidnapped princess Kiku without hesitation, whereas Rikimaru has an assignment of his own. Much of the game’s events hinge on betrayal and deception, branding the plot a classic ninja narrative. Every element remains faithful to the franchise’s Japanese heritage, as the team kept traditional titles such as Daimyo. The English dub is actually decent, but it’s odd that a Japanese option is absent considering the game’s roots. Still, the presentation is well-done with well-integrated cut-scenes to further the story and enhance the mood, as if you’re watching a live-action drama. The tone lacks gravity though due to humorous and even strangely-delivered lines. The only real annoyance is when guards spout the same dialogue over and over. It’s a great effort regardless, which is encouraging in light of the ridiculous presence of shovelware on Wii.
The gameplay feels somewhat borrowed from Resident Evil 4 regarding the over-the-shoulder camera. Movement is mapped to the analog stick, while the C button executes your jumping and the B trigger is used to run. “A” initiates context-sensitive actions, which also call upon the Wii-mote’s motion capabilities. Performing assassinations with a flick of the remote not only is straightforward, but surprisingly fun and intuitive. Assassination styles vary depending on your equipped weapon, the terrain and your target, which means plenty of unique kills are possible. For example, a sword-bearing foe can be stunned, disarmed and eliminated with that very weapon. In more sinister fashion, you could leap from a roof and snap the neck of an unsuspecting guard with a drop-kick. It’s very satisfying, and cements Tenchu’s place as a ninja stealth-action game.
Each level is comprised of separate sections, and while some exploration is possible, there’s generally an intended route. Everything is placed for a purpose, so sometimes progression boils down to trial and error to discover the best path. This may frustrate those who want to break the mold and do their own thing, but I favor the game forcing the player to consider all avenues and plan. Even then, there are always many ways to take out opponents. It is cool though, as stage sports unique, varied terrain and nuances, and you’re not simply thrown at the enemy; you must calculate out how to reach him. Basically, your job is to distinguish the enemy’s line of sight, and where the most effective vantage points are. Hiding in the shadows is a critical. After finding a dark spot, whether in the foliage or against a wall, your ninja is enshrouded in a mist and invisible. From here, the goal is to reach a target undetected. Also, with the touch of a button, a sort of “heightened senses” mode can be activated, which highlights that line of sight from before. This is crucial because opponents notice your slip-ups, and will investigate potential hiding areas. It’s not often to feel like you’ve failed however. Whenever you’re spotted, simply escape and try again. There isn’t much fear for death.
Throughout the story, items such as shurikens, stones, swords, poison, smoke bombs and more are available. Each serves a pretty typical purpose. For instance, water is necessary to extinguish torches in one stage, and a shuriken to pop a tower guard. Others like a sword can be employed whenever. If you’re caught, a quick-draw sword match is optional, and an event that I wish came with a tutorial. Turns are split for attacking and defending. On defense, the screen quickly prompts you to hold the Wii remote somewhere, and there isn’t much room for hesitation because rounds conclude in a flash. For offense, the idea is to target the areas pointed to on-screen to end a skirmish quickly. Engaging in one of these often results in a weak or broken sword, and most of the time they end so quickly that I was left scratching my head wondering what happened.
Visually, the character models are nicely detailed. Animations are a bit stiff though, and most noticeably after assassinations when victims may fall over into a heap. It just looks awkward. Clipping issues also abound, where the characters fall through objects and pieces of the environment when they die. On the flipside, area designs feature great architecture and effects. The soundtrack is also well-done, fitting with the Japanese historical-fiction angle with lots of traditional music that enhance the mood. The music contributes especially during tense sequences. But again, an option for Japanese voices would’ve been much-appreciated.
Other problems include stupid enemies that are easily assassinated. Jumping is also pitiful, as you’re at times better off not using it. Additionally, movement feels slow and stiff. I also don’t understand aiming and throwing wasn’t IR-supported. Nonetheless, the level designs are clever and the challenge feels just right; I liked having to think to solve most stages. The game’s real attraction though is the seamless blend of stealth and action gameplay; they balance out nicely. You can’t forget the satisfying assassinations either. In addition to the ten story missions (six with Rikimaru, three with Ayame), there are 50 optional “assignments” which can be completed to unlock secrets, concept art, music a gallery, etc. Interestingly enough, cheat codes also become available to advance further in SA, though this is hardly uncommon anymore. The adventure requires around ten hours to finish. Wii owners looking for a worthwhile single-player quest should consider Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, as it’s far from a bad choice.
Overall (Not an average): 8/10