Review by Sinister187
"From Out Of The Shadows...They Strike!"
It is now the year 2009 and in this year we have a new TENCHU game for us ninja-lovers to enjoy. While past-efforts regarding sequels have been deemed mediocre to downright bad by some, I still enjoyed them. The first entry in the series is without doubt a classic and one of my favorite games of all-time. The ones that followed were not done by the original creators, so some things were obviously different, in-tone and game-play mostly. But now we have in our hands the latest installment, with the original team back at the helm, TENCHU: SHADOW ASSASSINS for the PSP and Nintendo Wii. This review refers to the PSP version of the video-game.
The storyline goes as such, the setting takes place during feudal Japan in the kingdom of Lord Goda Matsunoshin. One year has passed since an evil sorcerer had caused trouble throughout the land. Peace has since fallen, however rumors of betrayal still are abundant among subjects. People continue to conspire committing acts of crime and such, furthermore behind the scenes, Lord Goda suspects that something even more diabolical is going on. So he calls upon the Head-Ninja of the Azuma Clan, Rikimaru to find out the truth behind all these rumors. Meanwhile, Sekiya, the retainer of the Goda house arranges a meeting between Lord Goda and a fortune-teller from the region. Unknown to them however, she is an agent of darkness and kidnaps Goda's only daughter, Princess Kiku. Ayame, another ninja of the Azuma Clan speeds-off into the night after the fortune-teller in order to reclaim the Princess. Rikimaru is told to halt his pursuit in order to continue investigating the rumors circulating the Goda kingdom. Things have been put into motion, and terrible truths shall be unearthed as time passes, we get to see situations play-out from the eyes of both ninja, Rikimaru and Ayame. The story is told through some very-well constructed cinematic cut-scenes and keeps you interested until it is over.
As far as the game-play elements go, this one plays different from the past-titles in the long-running series. Gone is the staple grappling-hook, which was used to bring the ninjas onto the rooftops in order to get the drop on enemies from above. Gone are the controls and camera from the older-titles, which looked more like traditional third-person games from that era. This one is angled with the now seemingly standard, over-the-shoulder perspective. Also gone is the Ki-Meter, which had numbers that went up to one-hundred helping you detect nearby enemies. In this entry, the game plays less like an Action game and more like the Stealth game it had always intended on being. You have to utilize which way is best to get around the areas undetected and sneak-up on enemies to initiate a violent stealth-kill. They ways of doing this at first are usually trial-and-error, or at least when I did my play-through. The action is much-more ground-based this time around, which will divide purists. You can use a newly-implemented feature to the series called the 'Mind's-Eye' view, which allows you to see your surroundings better, highlight elements such as shadows (Where you can hide-in shrouded by darkness), enemies, objects to interact with and so on.
Items have been reduced as well and you can only carry a certain amount of them with you this time around. Thus, resulting in more difficult game-play, I enjoyed this aspect considering I never really used many of the weapons at your disposal in the older-games anyway. The ones given here are put to good use and benefit you immensely, such as the Shuriken, which can now provide one-hit kills if aimed correctly and be used to extinguish candles (Aside from blowing them out). As well as the Bamboo-Tube which allows you to breath underwater for an infinite time-period and can also be used to put out the flame on a candle. And like I said prior, the game-play now is much more ground-based, however there are times when you can use boxes to gain access to rafters above and snap the necks from unsuspecting guards below you. Or Poison meals and hide above before the person arrives to deliver it to the hungry enemy, these little additions provide much fun. You also have a compass, located on the lower-right side of the screen which will always point the way to the next area or target. And on the lower-left side of the screen is a Moon icon, one that helps you determine your status and the location of enemies.
The battle-system has been completely revamped, no longer are there third-person sword-fights if caught. Now it goes directly into first-person view and you go from taking 'Defending' and 'Attacking' positions. With arrows that flash on-screen prompting you to adjust the Analog-Stick in that direction. If your sword takes too much damage it will break and the game will end. This is one of the more disappointing aspects of the game, the Analog control can prove to be pretty clunky in this department and I just didn't really like the whole 'sword-fighting' in first-person scenario. But luckily these don't happen all that frequently if played right, usually if you are caught once you disappear and start the section from the beginning of the current area or last checkpoint of the level. This gives you the option of going-in again but maneuvering around your enemy better.
TENCHU: SHADOW ASSASSINS on the PSP looks incredible, no doubt, the graphics are very-sharp and highly-detailed for a hand-held game. Things from character models to the surrounding areas all look great, this is one game that shows off the power of the PSP, and the cut-scenes are excellent also. There is one minor consequence to this however, the load-times, which prove to be a little long and break-up the excitement of getting to the action sequences. The soundtrack is phenomenal as always, the TENCHU series has always had very-good music and this one is no exception. The voice-work, while over-the-top in some aspects is respectable all-around, while enemies let-out repetitive sentences here and there, it doesn't come off as a real annoyance.
Control-wise, TENCHU: SHADOW ASSASSINS is okay, it will take some getting used to, but overall it is just that. The characters move like tanks, feeling very heavy to turn and the jumping mechanics can prove to be a real pain at times. You also have the ability to run, but you cannot slash and run, or perform a roll when running and things of that nature. The sword-fighting elements like I mentioned earlier are a bit annoying at points considering you can be pressing in the selected direction but not always have it turn-out correct. The controls are as follows, the Analog-Stick moves your character while the 'X' button allows you to jump or grab ahold of ledges, running with the L-button can make you jump farther. It also selects options in menus, the Triangle button activates the 'Mind's Eye'. The Directional-Pad allows you to cycle-through, ready and drop items while the Circle button performs as the Context-Sensitive action button and also cancels selection while in menus. The L-button while being held-down allows your character to run or while moving the Analog-Stick allows you to walk laterally. The R-button is used while moving in a direction with the Analog-Stick and pressed to perform a quick dash in that direction (Hayate) or tapped-twice to perform a 180-degree turn. The Square button is used to perform stealth-kills (Hissatsu) and finally the Start button pauses the game and opens the menu screen.
The game itself is short but considering the difficulty it might seem longer, packing ten missions, Rikimaru has six while Ayame has four. Along the way you can collect pieces of a Map which unlocks something special when all the pieces have been located. And you can also replay the levels you have already cleared in order to get your end-rankings higher, which in turn unlock side-missions, there are fifty of those in total, so overall, the replay value on this one is up there.
TENCHU: SHADOW ASSASSINS has minor-flaws but in the end, it is has more well-crafted elements than bad-ones. It's very solid as a stealth-game and so-so as an Action-title, fans of the older-entries in the series will find much to like here, while probably being a little disappointed in some of the changes. As far as newcomers go, if you like stealth-games, check this one out, you'll be sure to find an entertaining and violent experience.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/03/09
Game Release: Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (US, 03/24/09)
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