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Gamertell Review: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins for Wii

by Kirk Hiner on Mar 18, 2009 at 10:34 AM

Title: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
System: Nintendo Wii
Price: $39.99
Release Date: February 5, 2009
Publisher (Developer): Ubisoft (Acquire)
ESRB Rating: “M” (blood, suggestive themes, violence)
Pros: Unique style of gameplay, good use of Wii controls, classic story, excellent visuals
Cons: Too slow in parts, too much trial and error, sword fights are annoying, camera position makes some hiding spots useless
Overall Score: One thumb up, one down; 77/100; C+; **1/2 out of five

Ever since first seeing Action Theater Presents on Saturday afternoons in the mid ‘80s, I’ve loved a good Asian action movie. I also love a good video game, and Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, at times, feels like both.

Espionage

The Tenchu games center around stealth. Unlike most third-person action games where you run and fight and shoot pretty much everything you see, Tenchu requires you to hide in the shadows, rafters and barrels, waiting for the best moment to strike so you don’t actually have to fight. In fact, if you play this game just right, it’s rare you’ll have to confront anyone at all.

Only when you mistime an attack or are spotted will you have to pull out your sword for face to face combat. The rest of the game, you’ll be snapping the neck of your enemies before they’ve even felt your presence. That’s kind of what being a ninja’s all about, isn’t it?

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins focuses on two characters: the stealthy Rikimaru and the more aggressive Ayame. Both are involved in a plot set in feudal Japan where, of course, there is unrest across the land and, of course, the kingdom’s peaceful ruler is betrayed and, naturally, his daughter is kidnapped a, whoda thunk it, there’s a war.

The plot of Shadow Assassins is pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be but it’s not done in a mocking way. We have a serious story here that’s well written and well acted out (although I found the obviously western overdubs to be a bit jarring against the Japanese setting), and it really helps to generate interest in the game.

Assassination

Shadow Assassins makes great use of the Wii controls, even if the action doesn’t always reflect what’s happening onscreen. For example, you jump from rafter to rafter by flicking the WiiMote forward. Simple and effective. The kills are also well done, as a quick visual of what you’re to do with the Wii controls is shown on the screen after you attack an enemy by pressing A.

Execute the moves right, and you’ll get a nice kill. Fail, and you’re likely to be stuck in a sword fight, which nearly killed the game for me.

Normally, my reflexes are pretty good in games like this. But I’d managed to progress well into level four before I actually won a sword fight, or even really blocked an attack by anything other than luck. During sword fights, a line appears on screen to indicate how your opponent will attack. The WiiMote then flashes quickly on screen in the direction you’re to hold it. The combination of both visuals was confusing, but it also seemed that even when I managed to hold the WiiMote correctly, I’d instantly lose the fight.

I actually had better luck waggling the WiiMote back and forth quickly in hopes it’d be in the right spot at the right time. Get hit once, and you’re back at the last checkpoint. It can be quite frustrating, and will likely be enough to put some players off the game. Thankfully, the whole point of Shadow Assassins is to avoid sword fights, so this problem can mostly be avoided. Instead, you’ll be using items such as shuriken, bamboo shoots, smoke bombs, etc., that you find along the way.

I don’t like that you’re limited to only a few at a time and have to decide what to take with you before you start a new level, but you’ll always be able to locate what you need along the way.

Martial Arts

I found myself playing Shadow Assassins in shifts. I’d be into for a day or two, get frustrated, then come back a few days later and find myself enjoying it again. This is partly because the methodical, stealthy gameplay served as a nice break from the relentless action of Deadly Creatures and Onechanbara. It’s also because the graphics are pretty fantastic for the Wii (especially considering the game is stuck at 480i, not 480p, which the Wii pretty much needs to come close to today’s graphics standards), because the music borders on epic (dig that operatic opening), and because the level design is cinematic in scope. The weather and lighting effects are excellent, and one of my favorite early levels involved completing a mission beneath a fireworks display (or was it lightning?) that occasionally lit up my surroundings as I progressed. Very cool.

The same cinematic approach is also applied to the assassination sequences, which are very cool when performed properly. The first time I had to sneak up behind three guards and eliminate them all in a matter of seconds, I was cheering the television.

Illusion

In the end, I suppose I liked Tenchu: Shadow Assassins about as much as I expected to. It was an enjoyable enough experience but not one that’ll win me over to the stealth action genre. If it were the only game on my shelf, its methodical pacing and frustrating sword combat sequences would’ve put me off gaming for a bit. But mixed in with straight-on action games, it served as a break from the mind-numbing combat by requiring me to actually use my brain again.

That being said, the mature rating is there for a reason, as you’ll be violently killing many people, both armed and unarmed. I’d prefer if there was a way to just knock out some enemies, as I don’t see the point in snapping the neck of some servant woman just because she may have spotted me in the hallway.

Fans of this genre won’t be disappointed in Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, and the story and visuals will keep some others coming back until you’ve worked your way through the 10 levels that get you over ten hours of gameplay (and plenty more with the numerous restarts and side quests). But if you’re easily bored or easily frustrated, stick with Onechanbara for your Asian combat fix.

Site [Tenchu: Shadow Assassins]

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