We’ll get this out of the way first Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is not like the Tenchu games of the past. Acquire rebooted the series with a greater emphasis on stealth than swordplay. Rikimaru can’t run around haphazardly throwing smoke bombs and stabbing all of the guards. You have to play it cool and follow specific paths to keep yourself hidden in the shadows. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins feels much more like a puzzle game than it does ninja action.
The change is not necessarily a bad thing since Tenchu is supposed to be a ninja simulator, not Ninja Gaiden. You’re supposed to strike fast and without warning. Sort of like how From Software pulled the PSP version of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins out of a magic bag. That’s the version I’ve been playing.
In the beginning you’re introduced to the mechanics and the controls which had to be revised for the PSP. On the Wii you shake the remote to roll into bushes. On the PSP the same move is done by holding the R button and move the analog nub. Staying undercover is essential. While hidden you can dispatch guards with stealth kills by pressing square and then flicking the analog stick. It’s less visceral than moving the remote and nunchuck on the Wii, but it gets the job done. If a guard spots Rikimaru and he doesn’t have a katana equipped his only option is to retreat in a burst of smoke. After this move is automatically executed Rikimaru’s clothes are tattered warning players if he gets seen again he’s dead. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is pretty lenient about death, though. By “die” I mean you respawn at a checkpoint.
Once Rikimaru gets a sword he can fight back… sort of because you can’t be the aggressor. Combat comes up as a reaction to being spotted. Rikimaru must slay the guard that spotted him by following a series of button presses which feels like a QTE mini-game. I imagine fight scenes may have been more fun on the Wii since you could wave the remote as if it was Rikimaru’s katana. On the PSP they’re kind of bland and too easy. So, it might be possible to brute force your way to the end of a level in the PSP version, but that would suck all of the fun out of creeping behind your enemies.
Tenchu: Shadow Assassins also removes the grappling hook, a series staple. Instead of hooking on buildings and spying from a rooftop you need to find strategically hidden boxes to push. Take the first level as an example. One of the cardboard boxes you find is to the right of two guards. To grab it you have to roll in the bushes, blow out the lanterns (done by pressing a button from a pop-up command), roll some more and then you’re at the crate. When you get to the box you can pick it up, put it down, and use it as a stepping stool to climb to the rooftops.
It’s amusing to think that Rikimaru, an ace ninja, could have been defeated if he had no boxes to use as stepping stools.
While this thought may be wildly inconsistent from our concept of ninjas, Tenchu: Shadow Assassins isn’t a regular ninja game. Acquire made a series of trial and error brainteasers wrapped in a ninja theme.
Food for thought:
1.) Rikimaru’s clothes magically sew themselves together between checkpoints.
2.) Not sure if this exists in the American version, but you can turn blood off in the settings. Tenchu: Shadow Assassins can be the least violent ninja game this generation if you want it to be.
3.) Tenchu: Shadow Assassins is the first designed for Wii to PSP port. Acquire successfully rearranged the motion controls without stripping the game. What other Wii games could follow suit?