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The Wii version of Tenchu: Shadow Assassins offered a solid experience for fans of the stealth action genre. The PSP version manages a rare feat, matching it on almost every point. Add in the fact that you can take it anywhere, and you have yourself a nifty beast of a game and a fine addition to the PSP library. As the game begins, threats of war are fomenting in feudal Japan and heroic ninja Rikimaru is sent to investigate and hopefully prevent conflict. Eventually, his sneaking adventures involve the equally stealthy but more scantily clad female ninja Ayame as well.
Unlike other Tenchu titles, Shadow Assassins isn't very open ended. There are usually only one or two ways you can proceed through any given area, and the game often feels less like an action game more of a puzzle. You'll spend less time hacking and slashing and much more waiting and watching for gaps in enemy patrols and opportunities to strike. Completed missions can be replayed, and bringing newly acquired items into an earlier level can often yield different ways to play it, but the game clearly favors particular strategies. Augmenting the value of the story mode are some fifty mini-missions dubbed “assignments” for you to play and conquer.
Your foes are none too bright, but devious unit placement and clever patrol patterns make up for Forrest Gump IQs. Your goal is to get past them and if you want, kill them. Killing is done primarily by sneaking up on your opponents and executing one of several bad ass kill actions that play out in gruesome cut scenes. Sneaking up into murder range or, if you prefer, avoiding an enemy altogether is a simple but still challenging affair of finding and exploiting shadows and cover that magically render you invisible to the eyes of your hapless foes.
If you do get caught, fighting is one of the less fun aspects of the game. Contrary to what Ninja Gaiden would have you believe, swordsmanship is apparently less about gravity defying acrobatics and more about directional arrows. Shadow Assassin's version of combat has you following arrows with the analog nub to defend yourself and then unleashing your wrath via furious button mashing. There is no skill involved and often the only way you'll lose is if the controls decide to stop responding, making you zig when you should have zagged.
While we’re listing the game's flaws, trial and error plays too big a role, and after awhile you may find yourself just charging into those dull sword fights because they seem less tedious than restarting a level for the forty-seventh time. Additionally, the game's visuals, while great, are a bit on the generic side. Essentially, if you saw The Last Samurai then you've already seen all of the environments in Shadow Assassins. This becomes a big problem during the story mode. Ayame's missions are basically a complete retread of the areas you just finished with Rikimaru. If that trial and error didn't piss you off the first time around, just wait until you're playing the same level again with more baddies to dodge.
The voice acting and dialogue are also heinous. Shadow Assassins treats you to Americans either trying to sound Japanese, or not trying at all. The dialogue does little to make up for this. It's hard to be intimidated by a samurai when the most threatening thing he says is “I can hear you!” or our personal favorite, “I can't until this is over so I can polish my tea set.”
Shadow Assassin's flaws are easily forgiven though because the end package is just too great to hold a grudge. Some GR staffers have even named it their favorite stealth title on PSP, arguably even better than the wonderful Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. If that can’t convince you to give it a try … well, we can’t help it if you just don’t like fun.
Apr 6, 2009