Stealth skills, patience and practice. These are the prerequisites for Ubisoft’s Tenchu Shadow Assassins, which features amazing environments and an authentic, highly engaging plot. There are 10 missions as well as 50 side mission “assignment” adventures available. You get Rikimaru for the first half, then Ayame for the second half. Voice actor Liam O'Brian does a great job as Rikkimaru.
Dark environments and equally dark themes fill the ninja world, set in Japan, as the Azuma ninjas seeks justice against a kidnapper and his henchmen and unrest among the people. Your lord’s daughter has been kidnapped, so you must rescue her and quell the rising enemy – a standard plotline, which branches out a bit in the assignment missions.
This harrowing game doesn’t have brightness controls, so you better have good settings on your TV set (my 1993 Goldstar upstairs doesn’t quite cut it). Lighting and shadows are well done once you get those adjustments right. The visuals definitely stand out, as they should since they provide the canvas for your crucial movements, now oriented on a third person “over the shoulder” camera view.
Enemy kills utilize the Wii control scheme with thrusting motions and sideways shaking…getting to that point is the challenging part. Use the nunchuk for direction; A button for action, hold the Z button while moving for running and the C button for short jumps or a long jump as you run. Some “point and attack” style control functions for ranged weapons would be a great improvement for the next installment.
It also would be nice to have more customizations with the control scheme, but the variety helps. You move objects, hide bodies, throw smoke bombs and blow out flames as you progress through wide open environments. The open feeling from the visual layouts really gives you an authentic feel where you’re on your own without any backup defending your honor and your clan. Your results are based on time, enemies killed and how many times your enemy spots you.
You can carry three items including shurikens (a.k.a. throwing stars), a bamboo tube and a fishing rod…yes, a fishing rod, which is an entertaining way to grab items and pull enemies into, oh, let’s say a fire or deep hole. You don’t get the standard grappling hook to help you move around in this installment, the 8th in the series. You also get a cat…yes, a Shinobi cat who scouts, fetches items and spots baddies.
Swordplay is limited to defend and attacks when your stealth becomes not so stealthy. The precise timing and one hit deaths are authentic and challenging. Direct combat in this ninjutsu world definitely creates some build up. Finishing moves also pack a dramatic punch as you traverse high shelves and wade underwater to skillfully dispatch your foes.
The payoff for these moves are satisfying, especially after an average learning curve and above average trial-and-error execution. Extensive gaming experience in the stealth genre is a helpful prerequisite. Great experiences are there for the taking if you’re willing to put some work into it. Chokes, hangings and surprise attacks from hiding spots, like giant pots, entice you to learn the skills and ultimately master them.
This game could use more free roam gameplay as mistakes and mission demands can get taxing if you’re not prepared. Some dialogue bits are unintentionally hilarious due to the likely translation differences. This game lets you simmer in a nice, story filled stew which actually gets better in the second half.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for blood, suggestive themes and violence. This game can also be found on the PSP.