Review: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (Nintendo Wii)

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
Genre: Stealth Action / Puzzle
Developer: Acquire
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 02/03/2009

The Tenchu series has been a popular one with several of my friends. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is the fourth installment of the Tenchu series and the first release for the Wii platform. I had been looking forward to seeing what the Wii controls would bring to the the gameplay of stealth and assassination.

Ubisoft had the following to say:

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins continues the saga of elite ninjas, Rikimaru and Ayame, who must use their lethal skills to keep the peace in feudal Japan. Playing as both stealthy Rikimaru and aggressive and acrobatic Ayame, players will fight their way through more than 10 missions and 50 side quests. Use the Wii Remoteā„¢ to fight like a ninja with more than 17 historically accurate ninja weapons and tools, each with its own Wii motion.”

Sweet. Ninjas in miniskirts. Sounds fun!


tenchu-iv-screens-ec-05

Story / Modes

As you might suspect, the game starts out thusly:

“S’up ninja? Go and kill people. Thanks.”

There are two main features in this title. Story mode and extra bonus side missions.

The tutorial in this game is notably weak. I had to research how to play this game, because frankly, the game didn’t tell me.

Now, it’s quite possible that I am Tenchu retarded, but seriously, if I have to go and find the game developers walk-thru to figure out the tutorial mission, something is wrong.

Developer Demo

Additional Gameplay

After some additional exploration through the game and getting over my disappointment that this wasn’t like the open world design of past Tenchu titles, I started to get into it. I realized that this is not really a stealth action game, but is really a puzzle game with ninjas. Once you make this mental leap, it can be fun again.

The story isn’t very inspired, but entertaining enough to make things interesting. I did actually laugh when the princess was immediately stolen after the tutorial. I’m sorry, ninja! The princess is in another castle, so please kill everyone! I hope this was intentional gamer humor, because I laughed at the tiredness of the concept.

Rikimaru and Ayame start off in the storyline after stolen Princess Kiku and unravel a hidden plot that only truly awesome ninjas like them can disarm by dispensing heavens judgement.

They keep the story simple by having the Lord Goda be the idealistic noble leader and the bad guys very deserving of death. No moral quandaries in this title, only easily justified dispatching of bad guys and their minions.

Story Rating: Enjoyable


Graphics

The very first thing I noticed was that there was no brightness control. I was able to fiddle around with the brightness levels on my completely modern HDTV, but it didn’t quite work very well. What the hell? It’s a stealth game with no brightness level adjustment in the game. That is just stupid.

The character and environmental animation is above average for the Wii platform. Reactions for the ninjas, the guards, and other objects in the game are well orchestrated and convincing.

The assassination sequences are generally bloodless and cartoony, so I’m a little mystified why this title picked up a Mature rating from the ESRB.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre


Sound

tenchu-iv-screens-ec-04No surprises here. The cardboard cutout guard characters are all extras from a biker game that have traded in their leathers for kimonos and swords. They grunt, they make repetitive stupid jokes, they all make the same sounds when you snap their necks or impale them on their own weapons.

The background and environmental music is on par with my expectations from the title.

For a Wii, title the effects are generally above average in quality, the soundtrack is not distracting, and both add to the gameplay experience.

Sound Rating: Above Average


Control and Gameplay

So you’re a ninja. You sneak around using the Wiichuck and try to remain unseen. You are graded on each level by total time, amount of hissatsu (stealth kills) performed, and secrets discovered. If you get a good grade, the game unlocks side missions which are accessible at the main menu.tenchu-iv-screens-ec-06

This edition of Tenchu removes a lot of the exploration and variability and focuses on tools and moving avoiding the eye-beams of the guards who wander around.

Eye beams? What am I talking about, you ask? Allow me to explain.

When you press the Z button on the Wiichuck, you activate the heightened senses of your ninja. It’s ninjavision! Enemies glow red and radiate lasers in the direction that they’re looking so that you, the player can determine how far they can see and where they may be able to detect you. Usable objects are bright yellow and weapons and items a stark high-contrast white. Navigation hints have also been provided by the level designers in the form of animated footprints for the paths that they suggest you take in order to most effectively pass the level.

When you screw up your Tenchu stealth tactics here, you usually enter conventional combat in a kind of turn-based lightsabre-ish sword fighting sub game. There is a serious learning curve here where Tenchu reminds you that you should really be stealthy and not engage your enemies in stand-up fights as it isn’t very easy to guard yourself or attack your opponents. Even better, if you alrert one of the guards, all of the nearby guards line up to poke you with their swords. If you lose, your ninja character will throw a smoke bomb and you start back at the beginning of the level again.

You as the player do not need to play by the rules in this game, but it is a requirement that if you want to score well and unlock extras, you will need to act stealthy, be speedy, and perform hissatsu.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable


Replayability

With the mission grading, lots of unlockable content and features, optional side quests which are irrelevant to the storyline, there is a lot to play and re-play.

I expect that this will be a title that I will break out again and again from my game collection when I have one of those, “I would like to play a game for a little while” moments.

Acquire gave some quality thought into their unlockables and replayability in this title.

More could have been done, but this is a good effort.

Replayability Rating: Good


Balancetenchu-iv-screens-ec-03

You’re a ninja and you’re going to kill everyone. If you get caught, you can still kill everyone in a stand up sword fight. If you fail at that as well, everyone that you did manage to kill is still dead and your ninja character returns to the beginning of the level in a cloud of smoke. This is not a difficult game, but greater levels of difficulty, which I have not yet had the opportunity to play, can be unlocked to increase the challenge of the experience.

Balance Rating: Mediocre


Originality

In the fourth iteration of this series, Tenchu: Shadow Assassins delivers the expected. It makes mediocre use of the Wii controls and loses a lot of the fun of a open world game for the novelty of a puzzle game with ninjas.

Originality Rating: Decent


Addictiveness

This title is not overly challenging, but maxing out one’s ninja rating was not a simple task. The levels are fun and entertaining and play can accommodate a long or short amount of time.

Though appealing, I do not see this title attracting the obsessive and enthusiastic players of the Tenchu series.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre


Appeal Factor

tenchu-iv-screens-ec-02Stealth kills, scantly clad ninjas dispatching chumps, and being the long awaited update to the series will assure interest in Tenchu: Shadow Assassins.

Players should not expect a stealth action game on par with Metal Gear Solid or much of a continuation of the feel of the previous series. Tenchu is more of a puzzle, timing, and special manipulation title. If gamers enjoy those types of games, they should be pleased with this release of Tenchu.

Appeal Factor: Above Average


Miscellaneous

I had some small hope that there would be a Japanese audio option. I had hoped that the controls would offer something a bit more interesting to the gameplay experience. It feels like a bit of a rushed or uninspired title that is inconsistent with the legacy of the series.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor


The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance:
Mediocre
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness:
Mediocre
Appeal Factor:
Above Average
Miscellaneous:
Poor
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
This is a very poor stealth action game, but is a pretty enjoyable puzzle game with ninja characters. It was not what I expected from a Tenchu title, but was fun and enjoyable in an unexpected way.

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