Tenchu: Shadow Assassins - WII - Review
Despite knowing how to infiltrate a location with unparalleled stealth, Solid Snake and Sam Fisher don’t have to worry about getting caught. Though there’s always the chance they could get shot, both are expert fighters equipped with powerful weapons. They can sneak through a battlefield or dive in like a madman – the first choice may be safer, but the latter is certainly within their reach.
The same cannot be said for Rikimaru and Ayame, two ninja warriors whose lives depend on their ability to stay within the shadows. It’s far from an easy life, but it’s the one they have chosen, making for an excellent game within Tenchu: Shadow Assassins.
Based on the long-running Tenchu franchise but designed specifically for Wii, Shadow Assassins could easily be described as the best clunky game ever made. On its surface, that might not sound like a compliment. But after playing this intense and rewarding stealth-thriller, you’ll find that its controls are indeed clunky – and that the entertaining gameplay actually makes up for it.
“Now you see me. Now you…oh no, you saw me!”
Shadow Assassin’s enemies are not rocket scientists. They weren’t built with AI so intelligent you’ll have to get a Masters in Espionage just to get past them. But unlike our question mark-signaling friends over at Metal Gear Solid, these enemies don’t offer many visual cues. You’ll have to listen to them and, using a unique power called Mind’s Eye, determine the number of threats in the room and pinpoint the direction of their line of sight. If an enemy is looking in your direction, it’s not a good idea to leave the protective bush that is currently obstructing his view.
Should you make a mistake – and it’s only a matter of time before you do – the enemy that made the discovery will come rushing toward you. If equipped with a sword, a deadly battle will begin. Using the Wii remote in a way that harkens back to Red Steel, players must hold the remote (the sword) vertically or horizontally to block the impending attack. It’s easier said than done, and though enemies may endure a few cuts before death, Rikimaru will likely die after the first blow.
What if a sword isn’t available before this battle begins? Then it won’t – instead, you either have a second or two to flee (difficult but occasionally possible) or will automatically escape using the Cicada Technique. Also known as Utsusemi, the Cicada Technique covers the environment with magical dust and feather combo that enables Rikimaru or Ayame to escape. The mission starts again at the last checkpoint, allowing players to get their bearings straight before barreling back to their demise.
Most of the time, no matter how challenging it may seem, you won’t want it to come to this. Though it’s nearly impossible to realize at first, every stage has a stealthy solution. At first, your tasks are simple and linear: when approaching a few enemies whose vision is aided by candlelight, a simple water pump can be used to blow out the candle, creating a shadowy path to travel through. Upon the discovery of an enemy that’s looking straight ahead and whose line of sight is not aided by a light source that can be eliminated, only a well-aimed Shuriken will solve the problem.
This Place is Death
These simple tasks are quickly replaced with more puzzling moments that will encourage players to move more slowly and utilize Shadow Assassins’ cool Mind’s Eye feature. When activated (hold the Z button), Mind’s Eye pulls the camera back, locks your character (but not the camera, which is fully controllable) in place, and makes the location of every enemy crystal clear. Enemies are enhanced with a red silhouette; their line of sight creates a red streak that allows you to study their positions and make a move when they look away. Interactive objects, such as a barrel you can hide inside of or a bucket full of water (used to fill your water pump), are enhanced with a yellow glow. The transition between Mind’s Eye and the standard view is seamless.
Using this feature and every other aid available to Rikimaru and Ayame, players will quickly learn that stealth kills are a way of life. Though you may get through a stage or two in Metal Gear Solid without committing a single violent act, the only way to survive this game is to kill every enemy. You may be tempted to skip a kill every now and then, thinking it’s an unnecessary waste of time. But if at any moment you have to return to that area, the foe you left behind may cause serious problems. It’s better to eliminate an enemy when he is first seen than risk kindness.
Still, for a game as lethal as Shadow Assassins, its kills are frequently more laughable than serious. The death animations are conceptually cool (climb above an enemy, slither down and snap his neck; crawl through the bushes, pull an enemy inside and stab him through the chest), but their results are often met with awkward camera angles, horrible facial expressions, and an overall lack of graphical realism. This may be a Wii game, but it looks like it could have been developed for Dreamcast.
Consequently, Shadow Assassins doesn’t quite earn the M rating it received. But aside from the moments where they initiate a chuckle, the bad graphics are not distracting enough to ruin what is otherwise an exciting and demanding stealth-action game.
Review Scoring Details for Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
Exciting stealth-action gameplay that is distinctly different from the competition, Tenchu: Shadow Assassins lives up to the Tenchu name.
The grainy, washed out environments, choppy animations, oddball camera screw-ups and other technical issues make Shadow Assassins one of the most visually depressing games developed for Wii.
If you thought the death animations were unintentionally hilarious, wait till you hear what it sounds like to snap a neck while hanging upside down. The music is pretty good though, matching the action with a bit of interactivity.
Do you have what it takes to be an expert ninja?
Tenchu isn't a brand-new franchise, but the demanding, stealth-heavy missions were wonderfully developed.
The controls are a bit clunky (you can't stop after a run without skidding; you can't jump onto a box without being loud and obvious), using buttons and simple waving motions to execute most of the stealth moves. This flaw does not impair the gameplay too severely, though you might be frustrated by the sword combat, which requires more precision than the tutorial explains. Regardless, the game is still a blast – and one of the best Tenchu sequels ever made.