These days, From Software is pretty much a household name. With its extraordinarily successful Dark Souls series, From Software has created a whole new kind of “soulslikes” – making games widely acclaimed by audiences and critics. But, other than the Core Armored Core and possibly Dark Souls’ predecessor King’s Field, not much is known about FromSoft’s back catalog.
So there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Shadow Assault: Tenchu. Part of the Tenchu series, Shadow Assault was released on Xbox 360 Arcade in 2008 to mixed reviews and little to no fame. How do you hold up? Surprisingly good.
On the face of it, Shadow Assault is pretty unassuming. The graphics are standard fare for a 360 and the game doesn’t seem to have a plot. Upon starting, you’ll be taken to a menu screen where you can quickly jump into one of Shadow Assault’s 30 solo stages or select the multiplayer mode.
The gameplay is where Shadow Assault grabbed me. Levels are top-down affairs that run with a timer of just a few minutes. These stages are populated by a pair of enemies, who follow certain paths until you step into one of the yellow squares surrounding them (to denote their lines of sight) – at which point they’ll chase you before losing interest and returning to their path.
Your job is to use the tools on the stage to assassinate a specific target or kill every enemy in the level (unless the stage is about reaching a specific location, in which case running is more or less possible). While there are quite a few things that can be thrown, your main tactic is to find traps in the platform and place them in the enemy’s path. These traps can be layered on top of each other or strung together in a Rube-Goldberg-esque fashion (such as tossing an enemy through several spring traps or over spike pits) – which become essential during boss encounters as they will regenerate health if left alone for too long.
It’s basically Ninja Bomberman – especially with its top-down stages, destructible terrain elements, and path-sticking enemies. The parallels are stronger in multiplayer, where players gain points from damaging each other by setting a fast-paced trap. Shadow Assault is short and sweet with a unique premise as well as a great deal of development to its core idea that keeps the gameplay fresh – managed to evolve according to the concepts found in Bomberman.
An important part of that depth, and one of my favorite aspects of the game, is how Shadow Assault lets you use damaging tactics to your advantage. For example, sometimes you will have to blow yourself up with mines in order to destroy parts of the environment and enter further level. Another example is how some enemies will follow you through hazards when chasing you – or how you can walk over those hazards as a shortcut. Despite its simplicity, Shadow Assault has a few layers of mechanical complexity that add to the puzzle elements of the game.
Of course, the game is by no means perfect. Although the multiplayer is similar to the main game, it lacks the stealth aspect and makes trap placement messy as everyone (even AI players) can see the traps in this mode. On top of that, despite the sprinkling of mechanical depth, Shadow Assault is still pretty bare bones. I had no idea, for example, Why I was clipping inconspicuous martial artists whose only crime was patrolling around conveniently placed spike pits. However, this is not to say that any of this detracts significantly from the core experience.
Shadow Assault: Tenchu can be a bit repetitive, and it’s not an award-winning masterpiece – but it does offer some fast-paced fun with some decent mechanical depth. Anyone who wants to make art for any medium needs to spend some time in the mines to hone their skills and advance in the field. The idea of an auteur’s studio creating genre-defining experiences on its first try is largely a myth – with From Software as a prime example.
Overall, I’d recommend giving Shadow Assault a look. It’s a cheap game in the Xbox Store that’s worth trying out for some classic fun.
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