Name: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
Platform: Nintendo Wii
I consider myself a pretty faithful Tenchu fan. I’ve enjoyed just about every game in the series since its inception nearly 10 years ago. The hours my friends and I spent in feudal Japan far outweigh the hours we spent talking to girls, and I’m okay with that. Time has not been kind to the Tenchu series. The first next-gen title in the series, Tenchu Z, wasn’t very spectacular, and the franchise was looking like it needed a slap in the face to get back on track. Then came the announcement of a Wii Tenchu game. While my mind wasn’t exactly racing at the idea, at least something different was being tried. Whether or not it succeeded would be another question entirely.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins looks good. As soon as the game started, I was immediately impressed with the presentation. While the game may only be running in 480i, it’s undeniable how much effort was put into the look of the characters and environments. Cut-scenes are rendered with in-game graphics, so you’re never taken out of the element. While there aren’t exactly a ton of different looking enemies, there’s definitely some solid animations implemented to provide some changes level to level. Both Rikimaru and Ayame look better than they have in ages, and despite the limitations the developer placed on the characters movements, the two characters move rather smoothly while playing. The different stages of the game aren’t super-detailed, but there’s enough work done to show just how much attention was paid to the time period, and the ancient locales. While foliage doesn’t look like it should, once you understand that shrubbery looks the way it does as a part of the game mechanics, you won’t find an issue with it. The soundtrack for the game is also top notch, and while it’s certainly not something I’d throw on my Zune, it’s miles above most game scores, particularly those found on the Wii.
Now, the actual gameplay of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is absolutely nothing like the gameplay of previous games in the franchise. Aside from being stealthy, all the controls and methods of play have been completely overhauled to give Wii owners a completely unique experience. This is where I start to lose interest in the game. Before I list my issues with this version of Tenchu, I will say that there’s an interesting game here, but it’s not really a Tenchu game. Perhaps they’d have been better off calling it something like Ninja Maze or Puzzle Ninja, because that’s what this game plays like. Now, in typical Tenchu fashion, there are a few paths through any level from the one start point to the one end point. Most of the gameplay in older Tenchu games required players to stick to rooftops, and avoid as many of the guards as was possible. Here, rooftop maneuvering is almost non-existent. As is jumping up to the rooftops. It’s basically a non-option. No, the level design here is based around key shadowed areas where it’s safe for you to move without being seen. Things like bushes, the shadows under an overhang, or water are where you’ll be doing most of your hiding. Basically you can’t change levels on your foes. What that means is when you are noticed the game shoots you back to the beginning of the board to start over. There’s no running away to hide, or lure enemies into a more advantageous fighting position. It’s this game’s way of telling you you’ve hit a dead end in the maze, and now you need to start over.
While the strategies involved in completing a level are now much more important, the game becomes less about being a ninja who can fight their way out of any conflict, and more about trial and error memorization to complete a mission. There are ways to link together your movements through a level to remain unseen, and it’s pretty fun… for the first few tries. Eventually, you will get stuck on a path, and have to repeat it over and over again when you keep getting seen by the same guard. If you were lucky enough to find a sword, or some other melee weapon on your way through the level, you might get to engage the enemy who spotted you in a horrible first-person fight. Using the Wii controller as your weapon, you have to follow the prompts to hold the controller at the proper angle. One miss, and you’re tossed back to the beginning. It’s unfortunate that part of combat is such a waste since many of the stealth combat controls are actually pretty decent.
Utilizing some the motion controls, if you manage to sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy, you’ll be able to execute them in a variety of ways. There’s some pretty sweet moves available, including being able to dangle from rafters and snap their necks. There’s even a pretty sweet “ninja vision” technique activated by holding the Z button. While using “ninja vision,” you’re able to see heat signatures and lines of sight from the guards. It’s very helpful in executing a proper plan of escape, especially considering the restrictions the developers placed on combat. You can use this pretty much any time you’re in cover, as enemies can’t see you at all as long as you’re in a designated safe zone. Instead of a stealth meter, Shadow Assassins notifies you by having your character turning into total shadow while hidden in bushes or the water, or any of the other various hiding spots. It’s just as effective as any meter would be, but it’s also different, and gives the game it’s own visual identity when compared to other stealth games.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It gives gamers a unique experience that while not always successful, certainly gives its all. Once I stopped hoping the game would let me play my version of Tenchu, it actually ended up being a pretty entertaining game. Long-time Tenchu fans may be turned off by the new way in which they’re asked to play, but newcomers will get to experience something different that might get them interested in stealth-action games. Anything that can get more people interested in Tenchu games can’t be all that bad. Can it?