Rikimaru and Ayame are back in From Software's latest installment of the Tenchu Series, Tenchu: Shadow Assault, on Xbox Live Arcade. The Tenchu series first debuted on the PlayStation as a stealth assassination game which comes as no surprise as the game had as its subtitle: Stealth Assassins. Over the years, the series has gone through many iterations - making an appearance on nearly every gaming system - and throughout it all, it's always been about stealth action. This latest incarnation on XBLA is no different. However, with a game design that seems completely ripped off from the Bomberman series and repetitive gameplay, this latest addition to the Tenchu series is nothing to shout about.
The controls for Tenchu: Shadow Assault are very simple. You use the left joystick to move and the A button to lay down traps. If you've ever played any Bomberman game, it's the exact same concept. To complete missions, you run around the map gathering different kinds of weapons that you must strategically place in order to defeat your enemies. Weapons typically available include directional spring traps, mines, grenades and shurikens as well as others. Each bad guy on the map has a set number of hit points which you must reduce to 0. Traps can be laid in any way you see fit, but if you do it right, you can set up combination attacks that take away a lot of HP. Every enemy on the map walks in a preset pattern with a yellow awareness grid. If you're spotted, the grid turns red, and you'll be chased and attacked until you successfully evade them for a period of time where they will then return to their original pattern. The enemy attacks are powerful and you can easily get killed if you're detected so it's better to respect the stealth element of the game. After finishing a stage, you get a point tally based on your performance and unlock the next level.
The game offers a pair of modes, single and multiplayer. The single player mode has you working through thirty different levels, each with a different mission. But there is a substantial lack of variety as each mission involves either, stealthily killing everyone in the level, killing only the boss or evading detection, all before the time limit runs out. After a few stages, you'll have experienced everything the game has to offer so working through the remaining levels is more tedious than fun. On a bright note, the game does get more challenging as you get into the later stages so if you don't mind doing the same mission over and over again, you can at least look forward to higher difficulty.
The multiplayer mode, which can be hosted locally or online, is a free-for-all battle mode where up to four players can run around laying down traps and accumulating a point total. The problem with this mode is that most of the weapons in the game are traps. In order for them to be set off, someone needs to walk over them. And since the whole point is to avoid traps, maps become littered with them, to the extent that you run out of places to move. At its core, the multiplayer mode's failure is due to its flawed design, which unfortunately limits its own potential, and the game's replay value.
The look and style of the game is very similar to Bomberman. You have an overhead view of the entire map with weapons scattered throughout. The character models of Rikimaru and Ayame are nothing remarkable but for fans of the Tenchu series, it's fun to see them here. Keeping in touch with its Japanese roots, the music is appropriately inspired by ancient Japan and suits the arcade style of the game. Sound is adequately produced with dying yells, the occasional Japanese phrase, and weapon effects making up the majority of the audio catalogue.
In the end, Tenchu: Shadow Assault is nothing special. It's easy to play and it's challenging but with bland visuals, unimaginative design and a truly flawed multiplayer mode, the cons outweigh the pros.