If you’ve never played a Tenchu game, think of the plot of Kung Fu Panda. Except instead playing as a cuddly panda trying to master martial arts while making equally adorable animal friends, you are a skilled ninja hitman who must brutally maim and kill anyone foolish enough to oppose you. Hiding in the shadows with the help of your handy ninja stealth, you have numerous execution options to unleash on your unsuspecting foes. For example, if you’re hiding above a victim on a rafter you might pop on down Spider-Man style and snap his neck. If you’re underwater, you’ll pull a nearby enemy in and drown him. When approaching a target from behind, you have several options, the coolest of which is the ol’ reach-around-and-stab-him-in-the-chest-with-is-own-sword move.
One Wii novelty of Shadow Assassins is the first-person-view combat mode. When you are armed and confronted by an enemy, you see through the eyes of a ninja. Your sword is turned in the same direction as your remote, and you have a split second to match the angle of the remote picture onscreen before your enemy swings. After you execute a few successful blocks, you get a chance to strike back. Swinging the remote controls many other actions as well, such as jabbing forward to stab a fallen enemy through the chest or swinging forward to throw a ninja star. Even moving from cover to cover can occasionally be accomplished with a flick of the wrist, which makes darting across rafters particularly satisfying.
Movement is controlled with the nunchuk and is surprisingly clunky considering the overall polish of Tenchu. Jumping also feels a little awkward — although it’s rarely necessary, it looks very unninja like. But neither issue is debilitating and they will both be easily overlooked once you get accustomed to them. Pressing the Z button triggers Mind’s Eye mode, in which significant items are highlighted and your enemies’ range of vision can be seen. Mind’s Eye also allows you to rotate the camera and survey your surroundings.
Death is nearly nonexistent; unless you fall into a bottomless hole, you won’t die. If you lose in combat or get spotted without a sword, then you simply disappear all sneaky like to the beginning of the area. You don’t have to kill previously executed enemies all over again, but as punishment you are forced to watch recycled cut scenes of bewildered goons shrugging off the fact that a ninja was just trying to knife them.
Tenchu is extremely replayable, though. To get the best score for a level you must beat challenge times, never be seen, and kill every enemy. And the levels are supplemented with assignments that double as tutorials, rating your ability to perform a specific task. There are multiple playable characters as well, and finding and disposing of every adversary takes a considerable amount of time.
There aren’t many “Mature” games in the Wii’s library, and fortunately Tenchu is a welcome addition. It is incredibly linear and may require some trial and error, but this doesn’t keep Tenchu from being a gratifying experience, even without the pandas.