Tenchu: Shadow Assassins Review
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins box art
System: Wii Review Rating Legend
Dev: Acquire 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Ubisoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Feb. 3, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

Since its excellent debut on the original PlayStation just over a decade ago, the Tenchu series has had a tumultuous ride. It seems after the first few games, the quality of the series continued to gradually degrade with each new installment. After a lengthy absence, the original development team at Acquire thankfully returns for Tenchu's first entry on the Wii. While Tenchu: Shadow Assassins breaks from the traditional formula slightly, it's one of the better titles to grace the series in recent memory.

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins screenshot

If ninjas are stealthy, deadly, silent assassins, then why are they so often depicted as everything but? As entertaining as it is to bloodily flay your way through hordes of adversaries and demons with all manner of bladed instruments of destruction without the slightest bit of subtlety, the true art of the ninja lies in their ability to leap forth from the darkness and dispatch foes with great speed and accuracy before returning invisibly to the shadows. For ninja game fans that prefer the latter approach over a ballistic, sword-swinging onslaught, the extreme level of stealth required to achieve your full assassination potential in Shadow Assassins should amply get the blood pumping.

As can be expected from a Tenchu title, Shadow Assassins' story is a grim, dark, and moody affair full of honor, betrayal, and countless samurai impaled upon their own blades. The body-strewn tale revolves around a series of power struggles that play out against the shadowy backdrop of feudal Japan. With plans for a war brewing beneath the surface, Lord Gohda struggles to defend his realm and keep his beloved daughter from harm. Dutifully protecting their liege and his daughter, Azuma Clan ninjas Rikimaru and Ayame must engage in a series of assassinations and stealth missions to unravel a diabolical plot that brings death and destruction to the once-peaceful land. Playing as both characters at different points in the story, you'll find plenty of opportunity to sneak about and assassinate with glee.

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Ditching the open-ended levels of earlier games in the series, Shadow Assassins features a more cramped, linear design that forces you to use every single shadow, hiding place, and method of obfuscation at your disposal as you proceed along the path to the exit of each area. Every mission is comprised of a series of smaller areas strung together; the goal is to cunningly make your way to the end unseen and with the maximum number of enemy bodies lying in your wake. This straightforward approach to progression may be a turn off to some series veterans who enjoyed the freedom to roam about in past titles, but it perfectly suits the unflinching requirement of being completely stealthy at all times. Every time you're discovered, you're sent back to the beginning of the current area (fortunately, slain foes stay dead).

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins screenshot

Though there are moments of tense action and lots of chances to slice and dice from the safety of the shadows, navigating each level takes on a puzzle-like quality. Open space and light are your enemies. Working your way through the well-designed levels, you'll hide in giant pots, duck into cupboards, slide under hidden panels, climb up and sneak across the rafters, dive underwater, and roll through shrubbery, among other things. Light sources can be extinguished with a shuriken or a jet of water. As you creep along, it's easy to tell when you're completely hidden or visible to enemies, thanks to a moon gauge. Also, using you're Minds Eye ability heightens senses, allowing you to view potential sources of shadowy cover, highlight enemies in bright red, and show where their line of sights are directed. Staying undetected keeps you alive.

Deadly foes armed with swords, daggers, and worse prowl the corridors, tunnels, alleyways, and other locales you'll stalk through. Most of the time, being discovered sends you back to the beginning of the current area - expect this to become irritatingly common. Direct combat is a rare occurrence in Shadow Assassins. When you're within reach of an enemy while hiding in shadows, you can trigger one of many different bloody and awesome assassination moves with a few flicks of the Wii Remote. These gruesome maneuvers include grabbing an opponent's sword and running them through with their own blade, dropping down from the rafter to choke a victim, dragging them underwater to drown, and snapping their neck from behind…to name a few.

Tenchu: Shadow Assassins screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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