*This is Part 2 of Ninja Month, where I, RayCarter, look at 4 games based off of ninjas (2 from Tenchu, 2 from Ninja Gaiden). I previously wrote a review for Tenchu Z for the XBox360 for Part 1. Hope you can check that out too!
Tenchu- Shadow Assassins is another game I’ve played that has terrible gameplay but has everything else well covered (like Sands of Destruction). On the one hand, you have a really good troupe of voice actors and an orchestral score that can cover virtually any mood imaginable. On the other side, however, you have an incredibly dated control scheme that really hinders player sfrom doing everything they want. It all adds up to a decent if inconsistent package.
It looks simple enough narratively. In this stealth game you play as the main Tenchu characters, Rikimaru and Ayame, in a story best described as a wild goose chase. The twosome first find out about a conspiracy to start a war, but soon after have to rescue Princess Kiku from another ninja… Only to draw swords with one another due to a framing attempt from the antagonists. Long story short, circumstances get out of hand, our heroes need to save the day, but at a great cost. The plot is in essence a fable of cloak, dagger and whodunit, but the game finishes very strong. I won’t spoil the finale here, but I’ll say this; it is more emotional and heartbreaking than anticipated, and the true colors of all the main characters come to the forefront.
What helps the story along is phenomenal sound work from top to bottom. The orchestral score is capable of capturing any mood, and excels are punctuating numerous tense situations like hiding from a nearby enemy. Even more importantly, the game has possibly the best troupe of voice actors from top to bottom. Everyone, from the young girl sold to slavery in stage 1 (and another woman dreaming out loud about poisoning her master’s food) to Rikimaru’s impression of a Christian Bale-Batman, has a voice to projects enough emotion to avoid the wooden label but not enough to be hammy. Ayame also deserves props as the sarcastic sidekick, while Princess Kiku is the young yet worldly monarch who comprises most of the cast’s emotional soul.
Finally, and this is a slight note, the game’s penchant for gruesome bloodshed is a good sign. The killing moves don’t get redundant because they are incredibly brutal in nature and many of the kills are situational and creative, such as:
- firing a shuriken at an enemy, forcing him into a well
- using a fishing pole to drag an enemy into a bonfire, killing him
- dragging an enemy into the water by the feet when the playable character is in it.
Sadly, that’s all I have to say about Tenchu: Shadow Assassins from a positive perspective. Everything else is either average or below that. The one major gripe I have with this game is the control scheme, the mechanics required to guide Rikimaru or Ayame near an unaware enemy and dust him. Good controls are a must and the game fails to deliver. Do you know why I called this review "Ninja Tanks"? Because that's how I feel when moving around! Characters move forward and backward but can only turn left and right rather than walking at that same direction. Not only that, but characters move like snails, further increasing the tedium. Therefore, taking cover away from enemy sight is very difficult. Too often I felt like I got caught sneaking around because the character is moving too slowly (you can run, but it’s just as unprecise and out of control). To be fair, Ayame is slightly faster than her veteran master, and so her stages are actually more enjoyable, albeit slightly.
But poor controls are just the tip of the iceberg. Too often I find myself repeating stages again and again because the whole game feels like a case of trial and error. There is no margin of error; if the enemy spots you , it’s back to the beginning of the map. Perhaps even more frustrating is that there are some moments where there is really no way around an enemy except to fight him. Once this happens a mini game occurs where you must move the joystick at a certain direction to block incoming sword attacks while you use the square button to counterattack. Thankfully these sections are relatively easy so the game can continue.
Thankfully, the main game ends in around 5 hours spread around 10 missions (6 for Rikimaru, 4 for Ayame). If you like more missions there are more unlockable missions that should get at least a couple more hours. There are even multiple endings for the truly devoted… But the game doesn’t encourage alot of exploring; The controls simply got in the way of my enjoyment, and its trial and error, no margin for error approach didn’t suit me, thus discouraging me. In the end, play the game because you want to see through its underrated plot and be immersed in beautiful orchestral music and realisitc voice acting.
+ Strong audio work, both in music and voice acting
+ Narratively finishes strong
+ Brutal and varied killing moves
- Poor controls
- Way too unforgiving for its own good
- relatively short shelf life (5-8 hours)
PS: Graphics are just OK. Not much to point out.
Final Verdict: 3 stars. This game would vault to the 3.5-4 star range if the controls were more functional.
That about does it for the Tenchu part of Ninja Month! The next two installments will cover 2 Ninja Gaiden Games. Stay tuned for my thoughts for Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the NDS