Tenchu: Shadow Assassins Review: A Return to Form
The original “Tenchu,” way back in 1998, was an influential step towards what the stealth genre has become today. While it may not have been as innovative as other titles, like “Metal Gear Solid,” it created an engrossing stealth experience on par with that of franchises with much larger budgets. Sadly, after the original, the franchise fell into the hands of different developers, and over time have strayed further away from what the core “Tenchu” experience was all about. “Tenchu: Shadow Assassins” does away with that trend and finally falls back into the hands of original developers Acquire, and the result is a thrilling journey through the “Tenchu” universe that brings back memories of the series roots.
“Shadow Assassins” has players taking the role of Rikimuru and Ayane, both of which have graced the “Tenchu” universe before. The game takes takes place in feudal Japan and has the two protagonists working for Lord Gohda, and taking upon them whatever tasks he needs of them. When Lord Gohda’s daughter is kidnapped, hell breaks loose within the Gohda dynasty, and he sends the two out to find his daughter and get to the bottom of the kidnapping.
The game, surprisingly, controls very similar to that of “Resident Evil.” Your character has many cool moves at his/her disposal, but does control like a tank. On the PSP this can become a problem, as the consoles nub can sometimes hinder your character’s already rigid movements, but it’s not something that will detract from the overall experience. Stealth is the name of the game here, and you will spend the majority of your time lurking in the shadows, darting from shrub to shrub, and slowly progressing through the water, all while looking for an advantageous position to quickly end your opponents life. Once you sneak up behind an enemy you’re given the option to dispose of them in four different ways, depending on which direction on the analog nub you press. The executions are sleek and satisfying, but it is somewhat disappointing that you aren’t given more options for extermination. There are environmental kills to mix things up a little, such as dragging enemies under water, or jamming them into a barrel, but for the majority of the time, you will be limited to four methods of disposal. Most levels have you offing a General or warlord that differs from a normal lackey at the end of your mission. The game truly stands out here as it usually offers interesting, unorthodox ways of taking out bosses using methods that you aren’t always able to do. For instance, one mission has you sneaking past a room of guards, going up in the rafters, and disposing of a warlord in the middle of the room. The warlord’s armor allows him protection from normal attacks from behind, which forces you to jump off of a ceiling beam and deliver justice from above. Another mission has you sneaking into a kitchen of sorts to poison the drink of an opposing Emperor. “Tenchu’s” constant assault of sneaking and killing can get repetitive, but if you have a keen eye, you will find more interesting ways to dispose of your enemies, other then the four main attacks.
The music in “Tenchu” is fantastic, and it’s so good that some fans may even want to look for the soundtrack outside of hearing the music strictly in game. While it may be argued that the English being spoken within the heart of Japan takes away from the story, the voice acting is still great, and really goes a long way to compliment a story that’s engaging and, at times, surprising. The graphics deliver as well, and look fantastic for a PSP game.
“Tenchu: Shadow Assasins” is a great step in the right direction for a series that has lacked the right direction for so long. You will, ultimately, get out of the game what you put into it. The game’s ten missions can be completed within 10 - 12 hours on your first playthrough. If you know the direct routes, and enemy walking patterns, you could finish much quicker, but there is a sufficient amount of content available. There are also 50 quick challenge missions for added replayability. Overall, it just great to see the “Tenchu” franchise finally go back to what worked for it so long ago. In an age where originality is consistently craved, going back to one’s roots is quite a risk. For the “Tenchu” franchise, “Shadow Assassins”’s a risk that has payed off.
“Tenchu: Shadow Assassins” was released for the PSP on March 24th, 2009. A Wii version was also released on February 5th, 2009, but this review is based on the PSP version.