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Tenchu 4: Shadow Assassins review: How can a game with so many flaws still be so enjoyable?

heartRecently, I purchased Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, from a local used game store. The game, which came for the Wii and PSP, came out back in 2009 and has seem to have kinda flown under the radar since its release. Despite the many flaws with this game, I have still enjoyed it immensely. This will be my first attempt at a very in-depth review for a game, but I will also throw in my own impressions and memories about the game as well. As horrible as this game is I can't help but love it.

I have been a big Tenchu fan for a few years now. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, or Tenchu 3 as it is usually referred to as, for the PS2 is still one of my top 5 favorite games of all time. I've have never been a big fan of stealth games like the Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell series, but for some reason the Tenchu games just seemed to click for me. Maybe its because I've always had an interest in feudal Japan stuff or maybe it was wanting to be a ninja growing up; who knows? But enough of that, on with the review.

Although there have been a couple of games since Tenchu 3, Shadow Assassins is considered to be the real Tenchu 4. Sadly, the Tenchu series has seem to be going downhill in the last few years, what with the horrible abomination that was Tenchu Z for the Xbox 360 or the so-so game, Tenchu: Fatal Shadows for the PS2.

Let me just start off by saying that if you liked Tenchu 3, don't expect the same type of game from Shadow Assassins. What I mean by this is that T4 seems to focus more on the stealth aspect rather than direct combat. Now as redundant as that last statement may seem, its the best way to describe this game. In other games, when you are discovered by the enemy, you will have the option of fighting them directly or run away until you lose them. In T4, however, when you are discovered, you will simply do a type of disappearing act (if you posses a smoke bomb you will simply use that). The only time you will ever actually fight directly is during boss battles or if you have a sword equipped and the view is switched into 1st person mode. However, you cant just swing away at random; its more like taking turns hacking away. When its the enemy's turn, you must block by positioning the Wii remote at whatever angle the screen displays. This is harder than it sounds because the image appears for like a split second and sometimes the enemy has already swung before the image even comes up and you won't have time to block it. Personally, I don't even bother to equip a sword. The only thing they are really good for is breaking off locks, but there is always a key somewhere close by anyways, so there is really no point.

The story in this game is rather mediocre, which was kinda disappointing as I remembered Tenchu 3's story to be very rich in content. Like in T3 you have to play both Rikimaru and Ayame's levels, to get the whole story as both events happen at the same time and intertwine with each other. Honestly, I can't remember what the story was really about because it really wasn't that good. However, long time Tenchu fans will not want to miss out on the final scene and that's all I will say about that. Other than that, the story pretty much sucks.

The controls in T4, more often than not, are unreliable and sometimes don't even work. Killing people often involves shaking and twisting the Wii remote and nunchunk at the screen. You only have a few moments to do this before the enemy notices you. If performed correctly, you will hear a chime. Often times though, I noticed that even when I was shaking the controllers directly at the screen, it still wouldn't work. This mainly seemed to happen whenever I would try to jump down on an enemy. Movement is also an issue. Both characters move rather sluggish and slowly (Rikimaru more than Ayame). They turn rather slowly, which can hinder you sometimes in certain situations. You have the ability to run but its hard to control their movement unless you are running straight; turning while running is practically impossible. When crawling through a tunnel or under a walkway, the view switches to 1st person and the controls seem to get even worse. Sometimes you might get stuck on a wall even though it would appear that nothing is there. This one of the many glitches I have noticed while playing this game. There have been a couple times where I have ran beside a wall only to to be spotted by a guard, who is on the opposite side, and who could have never of had seen me otherwise. Hiding under benches and walkways also seems to cause glitches sometimes. Lets say you are a certain distance out from whatever you are hiding under; even though you are still laying down and your character is still completely black (this indicates that the player in is a shadowy area), you still may get spotted. Fortunately, this doesn't happen to often.

The game has 10 levels, with each level consisting of multiple sections. The levels are divided up between the two characters kinda rather unevenly. In levels 1-5, you take control of Rikimaru, the white haired ninja who has been the main male protagonist throughout the series. In levels 6-9, you will play as the other main protagonist in the series, the kunoichi (female ninja), Ayame. Then for the final level, you retake control of Rikimaru. In previous games, there has always been a big difference in the characters' abilities; Rikimaru has more strength but is rather sluggish in movement, while Ayame is weaker but is has faster speed. However, in T4, that doesn't seem the case. They both seem to be equal in all abilities, the only difference I ever saw was that Ayame carries bodies much slower than Rikimaru can. There are 2 different modes you can try: Regular and Shadow mode. Regular is just the normal version, while Shadow is a little more complicated. In Shadow more there are more enemies, less items on the ground (as well as less quantity of whatever item you pick up), and the enemy layout is different; meaning the enemies are in different places. Shadow mode also has some items that are not found in the other mode. The game also has a difficulty setting; easy, normal, hard, and hell (very hard). However, this only implies to when you are directly fighting someone with the sword; that's it. What the fuck was the point of that? I would recommend just using the default setting (normal), unless you really feel that the sword fights aren't that challenging.

Like in all Tenchu games, this game has a ranking system for each of the levels. There are six letter grades in total you can achieve for a level: S-Grand Master, A-Master, B-Expert Ninja, C-Ninja, D-Novice, and E-Thug(?) (not sure about this one). Your rank is determine by three parts: time, the number of times you get discovered, and number of Hissatsu (instant kills) you were able to perform. Each of these parts will get a letter on the mission summary screen. You don't have to get all the same letter for all three to get a good total grade. For example if you got S's on the # of times discovered and hissatsus, but went a little over on the time limit and got an A, you will still receive an S for your total score. The hardest part will be the number of times you are discovered; getting caught even once drops it down from an S to an A. Really, the only way to get a good score is to keep playing and replaying the level, until you get the map layout, the pattern movements of the guards, etc. down; which can be really time consuming and not all that fun, but with a little patience you'll get the hang of it.

In addition to the main story, you can do Assignments. These are mini-missions which you attempt at anytime you are at the main menu. You start out with 10 at the beginning, which serve as sort of a tutorial and goes over the basics of ninja movement. You can unlock more by getting better rankings in the main missions; there are 50 assignments in all, each getting more challenging as they go. I would advise on completing as many of these as you can because not only do give a better layout of the maps for the main missions, it also gives you practice using all the different items and honing your killing abilities. You also obtained ranks for assignments, but as long as you complete it once you can unlock more content (more on this later).

Now lets talk about the killing. The heart of every Tenchu game has always been the cool ways in which you can assassinate your opponents and this game doesn't disappoint on that front. This is the only aspect of the game that I feel has surpassed the previous titles. There are so many different ways to kill someone I can't even remember them all; drowning and impaling just to name a few. The most common form you will do is sneaking up behind someone and break their neck. There are some very cool ways to kill people. For example, if you see 2 guards and one is on a high ledge like a watchtower and the other is below him, pacing back in forth, you can actually time it to where if hit the guy on top, with any of the throwing items, he will crush the other guy when he falls down; a two birds with one stone (literally) type thing. The coolest hissatsu I ever performed was on the last level (which takes place in a burning castle so there is a lot of fire on the ground so you have to watch your step at all times); while sneaking up on an enemy ninja, I accidentally walked through some fire which caused me to come a flame, however if I was going to die, I wasn't going alone. So, I continued to sneak up on the guy, grabbed him from behind, and stabbed him with his own sword, but as I stabbed, he too caught on fire as he died; I was killed as well and had to start the whole level over, but it was totally worth it.

Weapons play big part in the game. There are over 17 items you can use as you make your way through the levels. Most are obvious what their uses are, while have some can be used in more ways than one. The best example of this is the bamboo tube. While its main function is to carry water so that you can dose the lights out around you, it can also be used as a breathing apparatus to make yourself completely invisible under water (if you don't have it when you're in the water you remain with your head above the surface and can easily be spotted by the enemy). You can also pour poison into it, which can triple your amount of poison you can carry to melt locks. There are 3 types of throwing weapons: shuriken, kunai, and rocks. These are a must for taking out lookouts and hidden ninjas. My favorite is the rock, which I have aptly dubbed “combat rock”. One time when I was playing in front of my friends, all I had was a few rocks and they keep saying, “how the hell are you going to win against all these guys with a rock?”, and started laughing. But after I picked off about 4 guys in a row with just the rock, the laughing stopped and respect of combat rock grew. There are also items, which you would think couldn't be used to take an enemy out but can, such as the fishing rod. While its main function is to snag items from far away, it can also be used to drag people into an open flame, into water or a pit. The kasugai is a tool that gives you the ability to scale up certain walls as well as lifting up old tatami mats to hid under. Smoke bombs are good for sneaking past undetected and for being able to take out large groups in one swoop. Ghostmakers (bombs) are a one hit kill to any enemy. However, it can also take you out in the process if you are not careful and will alert every enemy in the area to your location every time you use it. These should only be used as a last resort. One bad thing is that in T4, you can only carry 3 types of items at a time. This means that if you have all your weapon slots filled up and see and item you need to proceed, you have to drop/switch one of the items you already have out. After you use said item you can still go back and pick up the other item you dropped first. The bad thing is that this will cost you precious time and is just a pain in the ass all together.

Unlike past titles, which have a more otherworldly focus, Tenchu 4 seems more down earth. What this means is that all the enemies are humans; there are no devils, spirits, etc. to kill. The only otherworldly aspect of the game is this a big-tittied bitch who can shape-shift. The is one demon in the game who does serve as the final boss, but I wont tell you who it is. However, if you are familiar with the series you've probably already guessed who it is. There are 5 types of foes: ronin, marksman, ninja, samurai, and targets. Ronin are the grunts; the easiest to fool and to take out. Marksman look exactly like ronin except they have guns and can see extremely far distances well. However, they are usually posted on watchtowers or roofs and can be taken out easily with any throwing weapon. Ninjas are usually hidden and that is their biggest weakness because even if they are stationed on the ground, such as in a bush, they, like marksmen, can be taken out with just a throwing weapon. Then there is the samurais. There is no amount of words nor paper to describe how much I hate these fuckers. Samurais are the cream of the corp; the elite. They are dressed in full battle armor, which makes killing them with throwing weapons impossible with the exception of ghostmakers and burning shurikens (a very rare weapon found only in Shadow Mode). You can not sneak up on them because they will hear you and turn round before you can even get close. They can also see you when you're hidden in the shadows if they walk by you, as well as being able to see you when you are looking around a corner. Really, the only ways to kill these bastards is getting up on rafters to hang down and break their necks or using items such as the ninja veil to conceal yourself and wait till they pass by then kill them really fast. Another, but rather more risky approach, is to jump down from up high but you must keep pounding the A button in order to pull it off. The samurais will caused you the most trouble and will be the main reason for continuously having to restart the level if you are going for an S-rank. Lastly, there are the targets. These are usually enemy daimyos and always your main objective in missions. Killing them will always end the level, even if there are still other enemies in the same room. It is best to save them for last so you can still rack up points for the other kills. Sometimes the objective is just to get to the end, so not every level will have a target to take out.

As for Unlockables, don't get your hopes up. Besides earning better rankings in the main missions; which unlock more assignments, there really isn't that much to look forward to. Most of the things to unlock revolve around completing the Assignments. There are 50 in total, and you unlock something for every 10 that you beat. However, the first 2 things are something that I feel should have just come already available; art gallery and sound gallery. After unlocking these, sometimes enemies will drop a scroll or CD (yes that's not a typo, its really a CD), these will add pictures and sounds to your galleries. Funny side note I actually had my roommate convinced that there was something called a “Ninja Walkman” in the game and that was why I had to collect all those CD's. You can also unlock forbidden hissatsu techniques, but these are merely just extended versions of regular killing techniques. Plus, they don't even work half the time and in order to perform them you have to do extra movement with the Wii controllers; which have a hard time being read by the sensor as it is. At 40, you just unlock all the cut-scenes in the game that you can view at anytime. Once you beat all 50, you get something called “Colored Rice”, using this will allow to be in ninja mode at all times. In Regular mode there are 20 map pieces; 2 per level. Getting all 20 will allow you to see the extended ending as well as obtaining the ultimate weapons for both characters. In Shadow mode, there are 20 masks pieces (2 per level as well); which will net you the Devil Mask, another item that if used will prevent you from earning a high rank. There is also something called “Ultimate Ninja Power”; which I am still unsure on how you get it, but you probably have to completely beat everything in the game to earn it.

My last quibble with this game is the god-awful voice acting. I'm not sure if it was intentional or just suppose to be a joke; who knows, maybe its suppose to be kind of a homage to the bad voice dubbing work old Japanese movies, like the old Godzilla movies. The point is, that the voice acting sucks ass. Rikimaru sounds like Christian Bale's god-awful Batman voice! I kept waiting for him to say something like, “I'm not the one wearing hockey pants!” or some shit. Ayame's just a straight up bitch in this game. I remembered that she always had kind of smart-ass mouth, but her personality seems to taken a complete 180 degrees from what it has been in past titles. The guards are even worse. I swear to god, a couple of times, I heard them making laser sounds (you know like “Pwchoo” “Pwchoo”).

In conclusion, despite the shitty controls, crappy content, god-awful voice acting, and nowhere story, Shadow Assassins is still a fun game if you're looking to kill a few hours. Seeing how many different ways you can take out enemies never seems to get old, no matter many times you do it. I enjoyed playing immensely, despite all it's flaws. It's pretty cheap too; I found my copy for only about $15. Definitely check it out at least once, if you love ninjas then you'll definitely enjoy this game. I've gotten a lot of good memories from this game, and hopefully you will too.

My rating: 3½ out of 5 burning shurikens

  • Posted by Son_Gara

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