Tenchu: Shadow Assassins
For: Nintendo Wii
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood,
suggestive themes, violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
It's reset button time again for Tenchu, the stealthy ninja whose recent adventures have been something of a technical mess.
With "Tenchu: Shadow Assassins," the series returns to the arms of the developers who originally created it. That's the good news. The slightly baffling, not-so-good news? It appears exclusively on the console least capable of handling its fickle approach to stealth gameplay.
For those unfamiliar, "Tenchu" takes the complete opposite tack of most ninja games. Rather than carve your way through whole armies, you're lurking in the dark, traipsing from point to point and avoiding enemy contact whenever possible. You're capable of performing kills on unsuspecting enemies whose backs are turned, but if one of them sneaks a conscious glance at you and you aren't equipped with the right weaponry, you're dead to rights.
"Assassins" isn't quite as punishing as other "Tenchu" games, which simply marked you for death and sent you back to the start of the mission. This time around, getting caught unarmed sends you back (you automatically "escape"), but lets you keep whatever progress you've made in terms of stealth kills and environmental manipulations. Getting spotted with the right weaponry sends you into a so-so first-person swordplay mode, which either ends in their death or your escape.
That's generous, but it may not be enough to compensate for some annoying issues that the game's fickle nature merely exacerbates.
"Assassins'" control scheme includes a "Mind's Eye" view that lets you rotate the camera freely, but adjusting your viewpoint while in motion is impossible thanks to the Wii's controller setup, which also is responsible for some muddy mechanics with regards to sidling along walls and conducting business with a sword. Unfortunately, leaving the camera to its own devices only leads to different kinds of trouble _ and occasionally, straight into the arms of an enemy you never even saw.
Camera issues are devastating to any game that has you sneaking around out of enemy sight, but they're especially problematic when those enemies' A.I. patterns are so unpredictable. The things that trigger a response versus those that don't are sometimes comically random, turning stretches of some missions into a laborious trial-and-error exercise that's anything but amusing.
But this isn't news for "Tenchu" fans, who have and will continue to endure technical inconsistencies en route to mastering a game that takes its philosophy about stealth gameplay _ if not always the execution on that philosophy _ as seriously as any game out there. If that doesn't sound like you, heed this warning: "Assassins" won't change that one bit. Softies need not apply.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.