20 Apr

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Stealth games were made for me and I was made for them. I hope that doesn’t say much about my personal character, but there something I totally love about outsmarting my enemies, sneaking up on them and dispatching them without being noticed. It fills me with a sense of satisfaction that I don’t get while playing other types of video games. It’s almost adrenaline. So when I hear a stealth game has been released, I try to snatch it up as soon as possible. I give all of them a fair chance—even the abysmal Vampire Rain: Altered Species—hoping that I’ll discover a sleeper-hit.

This weekend I was at a crossroad. I could either; A.) play Tenchu: Shadow Assassins for the Wii., B.) play Fable 2 for the Xbox 360, C.) work on site updates, D.) go to a friend’s house for a huge barbecue, or E.) do graphic design work for my clients. I caught the flu Friday night, so I crossed letters C, D, and E off my list. Mats had already done a Fable 2 review for our site last week. So I was left to play Tenchu. I was hoping that silently killing a few rogue samurai and escaping on castle rooftops would brighten my spirits since I was stuck inside on one of the nicest days of year here in the DC area.

Tenchu wastes no time in throwing you right into the action. Noticeably, the story and the voice acting are a little lacking, but I rarely play this type of game for its gripping storyline. You play as Azuma Ninjas Rikimaru and Ayame once again. Lord Gohda’s daughter, Princess Kiku has been kidnapped and it’s up to them to rescue her. It’s a typical videogame storyline, but it serves its purpose in driving the plot forward.

The controls for the Wii are considerably different than they have been for every other Tenchu title. You control your character much like Leon Kennedy from Resident Evil 4. And being a tank doesn’t exactly work well for a pair of ultra-stealthy ninjas. I was hoping for more celerity and less lethargy. The button mapping on the Wii-remote and nunchuk could have been better. I found myself clumsily jumping when I meant to strafe, strafing when I meant to run, and running when I meant to jump. There were too many instances where I found myself wishing that I was playing the game with a regular controller. There are a few motion-control specific points in the gameplay, like during the sword fights, but otherwise, they’re worthless.

Along with the change in controls came a large change in gameplay. In past Tenchu titles, your characters had full use of weapons and a grappling hook. Most of the gameplay would take place stalking your enemies from rooftops and tree limbs. In Tenchu: Shadow Assassins however you are missing your sword, grappling hook, the ability to crouch and the ability to double jump. At first I thought I was going to acquire these items and abilities in the beginning stages, but stage after stage passed and I quickly gave up hope that I would have those items and skills in my permanent arsenal. Instead of navigating your way through open levels of cityscapes and treetops, you skulk through shadows in the streets and inside buildings. Compared to former Tenchu titles, the game feels claustrophobic and entirely too linear. The experience is so linear; it doesn’t feel like I’m being stealthy at all, but rather solving stealth puzzles instead.

As always, the stealth kills are fairly entertaining and one of the highlights of the game. You execute your enemies with either your bare hands or your enemy’s own sword. If discovered, you can either use a smoke bomb to escape or you can use your temporary sword to defend yourself. If you have no other means of defense, instead of coming into direct hand to hand contact with the enemy, you simply exclaim “damn”, your shirt explodes into a fury of crow feathers and you disappear back to the starting point of the level. There is no real punishment for getting caught and returning to the beginning of the stage. There is no real dying. There is only retrying.

The boss fights are entertaining. They are reminiscent of the lightsaber duel with Darth Vader in the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (1998) game in which your enemy will unleash a series of blows that you must block using the Wii-remote. It’s a mechanic that would be successful, but the directional sensitivity is too sensitive. If you’re even off by a millimeter, the enemy will strike a blow against you and you’ll lose a considerable measure of your life. Once the enemy finishes his fury of attacks, it’s your turn to waggle the remote like mad and attack back.

All in all, this entry to the Tenchu series lacks the drama and grandeur of its brethren. It’s too violent to play in front of kids. There’s no co-op to play with friends. It’s boring to play alone and it’s missing some of the best concepts the series was founded on. It has some sweet stealth kill animations, but they don’t make up for the rest of the game’s inadequacies. The game really isn’t worth renting, and it certainly isn’t worth your hard earned money. Avoid it.