The developers of the original Tenchu are the same people who are responsible for Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, and it really shows. I've only played the first PS1 game before, so I missed out on a few lackluster releases, but I really enjoyed Shadow Assassins. It's not quite the game I remember from my PS1 days, but the changes to the stealth kill gameplay fit the Wii hardware quite well, and while the controls aren't always the best (particularly during the swordplay segments), I had few issues once I wrapped my head around the different techniques to take out unsuspecting enemies.
There's a pretty solid plot wrapped around the game, and players get to be two of the popular ninja from the series, Rikimaru and Ayame. The opening stages are all played by Rikimaru, and about halfway through the title, you'll unlock the use of Ayame, but her levels feel like a bit of a retread from what you'd played earlier. As the game begins, the first stage will cover the basics, including moving stealthily, killing, climbing ledges, and using a few tools to keep you unseen and deadly.
Among your ninja abilities is a pretty useful skill that allows you to hold down the Z button and change into a view that will outline enemies in red, including their lines of sight, which constantly move around. You'll also see various spots that will conceal you in shadows so you can remain out of sight even when you're in a foe's line of sight, unless you've managed to put the guards and enemies into an alert state. The title actually reminds me of a far more effective version of Manhunt, with a heavy emphasis on keeping out of sight and performing specific Wii motions to pull off the cut scene kills on just about everyone you run into.
Along with the main story mode, there's a series of side challenges you can take, 50 in total, that will definitely help you hone your skills and are well worth checking out since they continue to unlock the game. Each of these challenges has a certain rank attached to it based on three different attributes, and they're all timed, removing the somewhat-plodding pace you're allowed in the main story. Also in story mode, you're pretty much given an unlimited number of chances to finish a level, so if you're spotted, you'll end up warping back to the beginning of the stage, with everyone you've killed still taken out, allowing you to slowly whittle away at enemy forces if you chose to do so (or if you're not particularly skilled). However, the challenges stay to a strict "two strikes" rule, and you'll only get one chance to warp back to the beginning of the stage, with the second failed attempt resulting in a "game over" screen.
The challenges provide the biggest enjoyment for the hardcore, since you can fumble your way through the story mode and still come out on top. I would've liked to see a few more of the challenge missions in Shadow Assassins, simply because they provide the most enjoyment for me. They work almost like puzzles, often requiring specific moves and abilities to overcome the enemies and obstacles within, while the story mode levels are a bit more open, giving you multiple paths to take in order to reach your goal. It's nice to see both of these modes present, and I think it helps to open up the game to both hardcore and casual players. That's not to say that the story mode is wicked easy because it provides quite a few challenges, but it's hardly as difficult as the challenge mode.
While Tenchu: Shadow Assassins won't win any awards for graphics, it's one of the better-looking titles on the Wii, with some solid environment visuals combined with decent character models both in and out of cut scenes. There could be more color variety, but I understand that a game that requires you to stick to the dark is only going to allow so much brightness to seep in.
Likewise, I found the audio to be equally solid, with a decent soundtrack, appropriate sound effects, and some adequate voice-over work that ups the presentation to near triple-A status. I'd still say Tenchu is a B-movie game as far as comparisons go, but it's certainly a different take on the ninja background than what we usually see. The stealth-based gameplay is fun and doesn't feel like a chore, which titles with these mechanics often do.
Shadow Assassins has a few pitfalls, one of which is the abysmal swordplay challenges. Certain enemies, usually boss fights, will switch you into a first-person mode, equip you with a sword, and have you duke it out with a single enemy. The idea is that you tilt the Wiimote to block sword strikes and then wait for an opening to slash away. During these instances, you'll get on-screen prompts in the form of a big Wiimote telling you which direction to tilt to perform the block, but the problem stems from the fact that the game doesn't give you nearly enough time to react, and it's difficult to read your opponent's stance with a big semi-transparent Wiimote icon in the way. More often than not, it comes down to luck about whether you fully deflect a blow or only partially bat it away, and you'll definitely run into some frustrating one-hit kills during these battles, which, oddly enough, you can never seem to perform against the enemy.
You can avoid most of these annoying combat segments, but certain boss fights require it, and that's definitely where the fun takes a serious nosedive. If it weren't for these annoying sections, the game would have garnered a higher score, but they did hinder my overall enjoyment and my desire to replay certain sections for a better score.
Aside from that, the movement takes a bit of getting used to, since your ninja feel a bit tank-like in their controls. Once you get a handle on when to run and when to hop from one shadow to the next, the title begins to flow a bit better, but the basic act of walking sometimes feels a little clunky. Along with that, the camera isn't always cooperative, mostly when you need to move from outdoor to indoor sections, or when you're trying to jump up or drop down to a platform. It can also be difficult to see enemies when you're peeking around corners before entering a room, leading to a bit of trial and error. Effective use of the sense ability will usually take care of the problem, but it'd be nice to actually see someone without having to switch views before walking through a door.
I really enjoyed Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, and I'm pretty happy to see that the pivotal stealth portion helps the title feel true to the original. There are certainly some control and camera issues, but they weren't enough to keep me from finishing the game and certainly not enough to keep me from going back for some hard-to-obtain "S" ranks in the challenge mode. Here's hoping a few things can be cleaned up for a second iteration on the Wii, and I'd definitely suggest that curious fans give Shadow Assassins a try.
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