Review: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins

TenchuShadowAssassins.jpg After a decade of familiarity, Tenchu has undergone a radical shift in direction with Shadow Assassins, the new Wii and PSP installment in the popular stealth/action series. Original developer Acquire back at the helm, Shadow Assassins is a game that is sure to surprise many long-time Tenchu fans by just how different it is. Rikimaru and Ayame return for another silly quest in feudal Japan — this time rescuing Princess Kiku for Lord Goda — but series staples such as the grappling hook, rooftop stalking and real-time sword combat have all been dispatched and replaced by a Resident Evil 4-style over-the-shoulder camera perspective, a much more methodical pacing emphasizing sticking to the shadows (and creating your own if need be by dousing torches), and a simple first-person sword combat engine.

These changes to the familiar Tenchu formula feel strange at first, and I can certainly see some fans feeling alienated by them, but overall I found the adapted format to be a positive step forward for the series. The pacing and level designs are much more deliberate and straightforward, and the controls have been harnessed to match the slower gameplay, however using various ninja tools to achieve your objectives and stealth killing are still the overriding focus here, and the feeling of satisfaction gained from stalking a foe and successfully executing them without being spotted is as fulfilling as ever.

Like all Tenchus past, AI continues to be a weak point in Shadow Assassins. The game is actually pretty difficult for the most part, but once you know what you’re doing enemies become fairly easy to exploit. Individual enemies often seem lost in their own little worlds, frequently failing to recognize fellow guards being brutally assassinated in plain sight no more than a few feet away. If you have a hard time suspending belief, this is not the game for you.

Shadow Assassins is only 10 missions long – six as Rikimaru, four as Ayame – however completing those missions can take upwards of 10 hours depending on your skill. Your ninja skills are graded at the end of each mission as well, and by earning high grades you can unlock up to 50 bonus Assignments, optional side missions that test your stealth abilities in tighter, more focused levels. So there is pretty good replay value to squeeze out of this title.

As for differences across platforms, both the Wii and PSP versions have their own pluses and minuses, which I will break down for you now.

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins Wii Verdict:

TenchuShadowAssassinsWii.jpg Both versions showcase excellent graphics and impressive cut scenes, but obviously the Wii version comes out marginally ahead with crisper textures, a larger scale to the environments (the level layouts are identical on both platforms though), more visually dynamic lighting and particle effects, and a more technically polished presentation.

In terms of controls, the Wii version has its ups and downs. The basic movement controls feel tighter and more agile than the PSP, but some of the added motion-control mechanics are sloppily implemented. Some work fine, such as shaking the Nunchuk to do a quick turn and flicking the Wii Remote to perform different stealth kills, but others aren’t quite as responsive. Swinging the remote to do an evasive dash maneuver called a Hayate feels sluggish and the first-person combat, in which you take turns slashing the remote in different directions to attack and angling the remote to match on-screen prompts to defend, is imprecise and comes across as more of a gimmick than a sound game design concept.

Expected waggle gimmickry aside, the Wii version ultimately gets my nod as the better of the two versions. Since combat isn’t that prevalent, the main motion control quirks are minimal in the grand scheme of things. Plus, the Wii version is already down to around $20-30. That’s a great deal for what is overall a very solid stealth experience.

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Pros:
+ Tries and pulls off some new ideas; this isn’t just another retread Tenchu sequel
+ Satisfying stealth play mechanics
+ Great graphics and music
+ Provides a strong challenge and good replay value

Cons:
– Some sloppy motion controls
– Enemy AI can be pretty dumb
– Silly story and voice acting

Game Info:
Platform: Wii
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Acquire
Release Date: 2/3/09
Genre: Stealth
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins PSP Verdict:

TenchuShadowAssassinsPSP.jpg Unlike the Wii’s less substantial flaws, the PSP version is hit hard by technical imperfections that have a more prevalent negative impact on the gameplay experience. While the game looks and sounds great, poor optimization causes some nasty bugs to occur.

During outdoor scenes with lightning flashing in the sky and raining pouring down, the frame rate tends to dip noticeably, and when you’ve made nearby guards suspicious the game begins to sputter for a few seconds as the increased activity and adapted background music load in. Sometimes when you start a stealth kill the game has to stop and load for a split second as well. For whatever reason, the PSP version also suffers from occasional animation glitches. You’ll kill an enemy and their body will fall right through a nearby wall, for example, and here and there you may spot an odd stealth kill glitch where your character’s slash or stab doesn’t line up properly with the enemy character model.

As for the controls, the PSP version is exactly opposite from the Wii. The sword combat mechanics are much smoother and more intuitive with the analog nub, and most of the mechanics that require waggle gestures on the Wii feel more comfortable using the PSP’s face and shoulder buttons. However, in the PSP version the jumping mechanic almost seems broken at times and the character movement feels a hair slower and more tank-like.

These flaws are by no means game-breaking, but together they add up to show a serious lack of polish that will surely drive picky PSP gamers absolutely nuts. But if you don’t mind putting up with some annoying little load times and other minor technical gaffs you’re in for a satisfying bit of on-the-go ninja action.

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Pros:
+ Tries and pulls off some new ideas; this isn’t just another retread Tenchu sequel
+ Satisfying stealth play mechanics
+ Great graphics and music
+ Provides a strong challenge and good replay value

Cons:
– Plagued by lots of annoying little technical quirks
– Movement controls are a bit sluggish
– Enemy AI can be pretty dumb
– Silly story and voice acting

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Acquire
Release Date: 3/26/09
Genre: Stealth
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!