I think it was when playing the seminal Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 that I first became accustomed to the pleasure that could be had from adopting a minimalist approach to my attitude towards slaying the bad guys. Minimal in terms of taking out guards – wherever possible – with just one bullet and minimal in respect of the satisfaction of completing an entire mission with as little blood shed as possible.
Lest you think this is a gaming pacifist writing, the pleasure wrought from this was more to do with a sense of delivering a clinically efficient and – dare I say it – professional game-playing performance, rather than any strange fixation with sparing the deaths of computer-generated non-playing characters.
When the Tenchu series of stealth ninja games first appeared on the Playstation back in the late 90s, the ability to achieve mission objectives with the minimum of fuss was hard-coded into the game’s objectives, and at first these constrictions made for a strangely liberating experience. No longer was the objective to get hold of as big a fragging gun and as much ammo as possible, instead, there was the freedom of guiding a character, mainly undetected through a gaming world. You could jump from roof to roof, skirt round buildings – basically go pretty much anywhere, just so long as you avoided the sight of the enemy.
This then is the problem with Tenchu Shadow Assassins, the new game by Ubisoft for the Nintendo Wii. Although the objective seems to be the same as ever – that sense of freedom has been stripped away.
First of all there is the obligatory tutorial in which you are gradually taught the game’s various moves. It doesn’t take long to realise that the manner in which you will be asked to achieve your various missions is going to be heavily prescribed. The dark areas of the level within which you can hide are signified by a slightly superfluous fog special effect, just to make sure you get the message, and the actual business of killing someone involves not much more than a click into a pre-rendered cut scene.
There’s no real opportunity for guile or cunning, or even to attempt to take on the game using various different tactics. The beauty of the aforementioned Goldeneye was that it allowed you to achieve your objective through sheer brutality, by elegantly sidestepping oncoming bad guys or a combination of both – it was your choice. With Tenchu Shadow Assassins you’re looking at a gaming experience not a million miles away from that old arcade “classic” Dragon’s Lair – complete with punitive instant death if you don’t hit the right combo at the right time.
Technically speaking there isn’t a whole lot to dazzle either. Most of the adversaries you face are physically identical to one another, and the level design is pretty basic. I note the horizon is kept conspicuously limited to ensure there is never a great deal of plotting and processing to be done by the game engine, and that rather sadly sums this game up – a title of limited horizons.
Tenchu Shadow Assassins is available now.