When I say I'm a fan of the Tenchu series, what I mean is the very first one for Playstation, and to a slightly lesser extent the two that were released for PS2. Ever since From Software took over the primary rights from Sony/Activision back in 2004, they've given zero fucks about diluting the franchise with bunches of craptacular releases, mostly for portable systems.
Shadow Assassins is one of them! But this one is particularly noteworthy, in that they've somehow managed to turn Tenchu into a corridor shooter. Sorry, wait, I take that back ... corridor shooters generally have more interactivity and better control than this does.
We're back in the shoes of Rikimaru and Ayame, but their adventures bear little resemblance to the previous. I guess the game starting up with a weird out-of-place opera song should have been the first fair warning, instead of the unique fusion of traditional Japanese, American Western and funky 70s samurai movie brass the series has been known for. But the main problem here is that either the developers couldn't figure out how to make the free-roaming ninja style of the previous Tenchu games work better than it did in the lackluster Time Of The Assassins, or this is just a crappy port of a game originally plotted out for the Wii. My money's on the latter.
If you're new to Tenchu, let me explain what made the PS1 and PS2 games enjoyable. Each level was usually a fairly large environment, often broken up into multiple areas that you could move back and forth through freely. You were given a general overall objective - assassinate someone, rescue someone, simply escape - but were largely free to go about it however you saw fit. Want to sneak by everyone without being seen? Insist on going out of your way to "stealth kill" every guard in the joint? Want to feed everyone poisoned rice balls from the heavens, or blowdart them from a roof then disappear? Jump into the middle of a guard gathering and start a big brawl? Any combination of the above? Some approaches gave you a better score and ranking than others, but all were perfectly valid in getting through the game.
The games were also fun because you felt like a slightly-superhuman Master Ninjer; you could jump pretty high, and you had a grappling hook that allowed you to scale walls and zip yourself up to/between rooftops. Running from roof to roof over a bunch of oblivious guards plotting your stealthy approach and "death from above" tactics was one of the most enjoyable bits of the game.
Whoever developed this one apparently looked at those elements and said "Nope! Not necessary, time to move on." Your characters can barely jump now, and do so really stiffly. There's no more grappling hook; levels largely force you to stay on the ground, and herd you through linear corridors of scripted encounters that there's only one solution to getting through. I'm guessing this particular design choice was implemented due to not being able to figure out a way to allow you to freely rotate the camera to look at the environment; an EXTREMELY frustrating limitation when you're used to it being part of the core gameplay of a Tenchu game.
Instead they went for more of a "cinematic" approach, a la the Metal Gear Solid games ... with even, I shit you not, an unexplained "Codec" with some anachronistic white guy who serves as the instructor for a rather insulting tutorial at the outset of Story Mode. It's kinda like moving between a series of "puzzle rooms", where if you fuck up and get spotted, you're punished by being thrown into one of the most terrible combat systems ever. Now, handhelds have their limitations (as demonstrated by Time Of The Assassins), and this system still could have worked as "little brother Tenchu" were it not that the controls and design are just shit all around. Your jump is ineffective and terrible, they might as well have just had jumps only at scripted points that are done automatically for how much use you get out of it. Simply moving around is confusing and weird. Your default movement is a slow walk. Running requires awkwardly holding down the L shoulder button while using the nub, but it only seems to work in short bursts. There's a confusing new "shadow" system that you have to use to get through most corridors, involving clumsily holding R while sort of pushing in the direction of the next shadow area to hope that your character actually rolls to the right spot and not right out in front of a guard. Aiming a shuriken or one of your various tools is clunky and slow and requires you to come to a dead fixed stop while you grapple with it. Combat is what absolutely destroys everything though. You get thrown into this "fencing" duel that's kinda like a shitty Punch-Out. You start by attacking and have to press in the right direction to attack where the enemy isn't defending. Except the enemy seemingly takes a billion slashes with no problem, then you go into a mandatory "Defend" mode where you have to guess what direction they're going to swing from and press toward it ... I guess, anyway, because the game does a shit job of explaining how it works before it just goes ahead and kills you with it.
* Gameplay Video