Reviewed on the Nintendo Wii
Ninjas come in all kinds of different varieties in the world of video games, from the classic presidential kidnappers of Bad Dudes, to the crazed cyborgs of Metal Gear Solid and the acrobatic slice-and-dicers of Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, though, aims for the “original flavor” ninja, the feudal Japanese stealth assassins and, for the most part, nails it.
The latest episode of the series on the Wii covers the usual territory: You, as Rikimaru or Ayame, two ninja in the service of Lord Goda, are sent out on missions to kill your target without being seen, and killing anyone else who gets in your way.
The biggest difference between this and previous versions of Tenchu is the total focus on stealth. Whereas in previous games if you were caught, you could still fight your way out with your Standard Issue Ninja Sword, in Shadow Assassins, stealth is everything. You’ll have to shut out the lights then use any kind of cover or darkness you can find to sneak up to and kill the guards on your way to the objective, and if they catch you, you’re pretty much done for.
If you have a sword, you can defend yourself in a little mini game, but suffice to say if it comes to that, you’ve screwed up somewhere. The exceptions to this are the boss fights, which are done using this mode. But, this can be a bit frustrating considering the very short window in which you’re expected to react.
The controls are well suited to the rather slow pace of the game, and moving around and using the action commands should be familiar to you if you’ve ever held a controller before. One problem with the controls though, is that the motion controls seemed an afterthought. To use any of your ninja items, you select them with the D-pad and aim using the analog stick before finally tossing it by flicking the Wiimote. Now can someone tell me, if you’ve got a controller which has a built in function specifically for aiming at the screen, why are you using the analog stick to aim?
You also use the motion controls for most of the stealth kills, where it’s generally a little more intuitive: In some instances, using different motions will get you a different style of kill, but for the most part you’re good with the standard flick. The controls work, and it was very rare that it didn’t register a waggle, but the items in particular feel like a wasted opportunity, and could have been done just as easily with simple button combos. The PSP version obviously doesn’t use the motion controls, which marks the biggest difference between them that I could find.
The graphics are good and detailed, and help you feel immersed in the missions. The enemies tend to vary from level to level, even if they’re all pretty similar within a level, and the environments are well put together, providing plenty of places to hide and sneak by. A nice touch is a sort of “ninja sense” view you can use that shows you where you’ll disappear in the shadows, highlights guards, and even shows you where their line of sight is, which is immensely helpful for getting around.
The sound design works well, and helps as much as the graphics to keep you abreast of what’s going on around you. The voice acting’s decent, even if the guards tend to repeat themselves all the time, and the music can be catchy. The music changes depending on the exact situation, whether an enemy’s near you, or alerted to you, or if you’re all by yourself.
Overall, Shadow Assassins is pretty well put together. The levels flow together logically, and you’re usually given several choices as to how to go about getting past the guards. The game gives you suggestions, sure, but you’re free to use the items you have however you want. The one major failing of the game in the Wii version, is that it doesn’t use the Wii’s unique controls in a meaningful unique way. Despite this flaw, Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is still an enjoyable experience.