# of Players:
Live, HDTV, Dolby Digital 5.1
Ah, the lonely life of a ninja. Such things as creeping around in
the shadows, stealthily killing opponents, and looking for random
weapons strewn about the world allows for little time to focus on
more selfish aspirations. Itís really no wonder that you donít hear
much about them anymore, except for the occasional movie on the USA
Network. When you stop to think about it, being a ninja probably
wasnít all that fun.
Developer K2 tries to debunk that theory by introducing a remixed
version of PS2ís Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven for the Xbox in a
Live enabled version renamed Tenchu: Return from Darkness.
Widely considered a stealth game for the masses, Tenchu is
recognized for being a lot more forgiving than other games in the
genre, offering quick and dirty arcade action and relatively little
penalty for getting caught running between shadows.
As in most games of its ilk, Tenchuís plot is mostly forgettable and
stands as nothing more than the glue that connects levels together
in a stream of videogame consciousness. However, it is commendable
that the developer offers up different storylines and different
guard patrol layouts for each character, which adds some decent
replay value. Couple that with some excellent things to unlock,
level scoring, and multiplayer support over Xbox Live, and youíve
got a game that offers some excellent bang for your buck.
For the uninitiated, Tenchuís gameplay revolves around running (and
sneaking) about huge levels designed to allow the player to achieve
their goal by any means possible. While the game is far from being
truly open-ended, it does offer up quite a few different routes to
achieve your goal. For example, running around on the ground will
occasionally reveal crawlspaces to enter buildings, whereas another
route might be found jumping from rooftop to rooftop until you find
the main entrance. In the end, however, youíll still be forced to
follow a fairly linear path through winding, maze-like buildings or
Sneaking is handled relatively well, focusing on the fun aspect of
staying hidden above the trial and error aspect found in other
similar games where getting found typically means death. Guards have
a fairly short range of eyesight, meaning theyíre easy to sneak up
on, and if youíre spotted you can escape with relative ease. Simply
finding higher ledges to attach your grappling hook to will get you
up and out of the way in short order, and the guards typically give
up chase after a few seconds -usually in a grunt of often-repeated
dialog about the chase not being worth it-.
The best part of stealth is that a hidden attack means an instant
kill, usually in the form of a highlighted deathblow that includes a
close up, camera shifts, and lots of blood spray. These are
obviously the highlights of gameplay, and you are rewarded for
multiple stealth kills in the form of more brutal highlights, as
well as unlocking special moves and combos. Itís a great reward
system for stealthy gameplay, as if watching a successful kill
wasnít its own reward.
Unfortunately, despite a meter that lets you know when youíre
getting closer to an enemy, there are times where getting spotted
just seems unavoidable. For example, I found a couple of occasions
where it seemed as though I was seen through a wall while pressed
against it, or times when I thought I was well hidden only to be
spotted. Itís a kind of trial and error thing that some may find
they have to overcome if they want perfect scores, but hardly game
destroying for those who just enjoy the fun of it all.
Adding to the frustration of being spotted, the game includes a
feisty camera that can make seeing your enemy difficult at times.
Though it tries its best to keep up and aid you in instances where
it thinks youíll be looking a certain direction (down from a rooftop
when at the edge, for example), more often than not youíll find that
youíre consciously fighting it to get a good look around. Even
pressing the button for manual control isnít always helpful, and
youíll probably die more than a few times because of the problem.
Of course, the other option when being spotted is available in the
form of a little hand-to-hand combat. While Tenchu goes to great
lengths to impress with its stealthy killing, regular combat isnít
nearly as interesting. Typically consisting of brain dead AI, itís
usually a matter of blocking and finding an opening to combo them
into oblivion. There are exceptions to the rule, usually the boss
battles, but for the most part fighting is a piece of cake as long
as you donít run into multiple combatants.
The weakness of fighting becomes much more clear when playing the
game over Xbox Live. Despite the best intentions of the developer
and my desire to praise anyone with enough gumption to offer Live
support on a PS2 port (or anyone who offers Live support for
that matter), this just isnít the type of game conducive to that
style of gameplay. Multiplayer combat is overshadowed by the
simplicity of sword fighting in the game, and never really offers
much in terms of fun over an extended period of time. Meanwhile,
cooperative mode isnít nearly as fun with a stranger who doesnít
really want to play cooperatively with you. Of course, all this
assumes that youíll actually be able to find players, since Tenchu
is clearly not a fan favorite of Live players.
In terms of presentation, thereís not a whole lot to boast about.
The graphics are mostly made up of system-cleaned textures ported
from an already lackluster PS2 showing. Environment textures are
typically muddy and dark, sometimes making it difficult to see where
instant-death falls are located. Enemy design is kept at a minimal,
with very few instances of anything that stands out. Even your own
characters arenít that impressive in design. All said and done, it
comes across as nothing more than a cleaned up version of the
Playstation originals, right down to the jarringly bad running
Sound also falls a little short, but unlike the graphics there isnít
anything particularly offensive to the senses. The soundtrack is
perhaps the best of what the game has to offer, consisting of some
music that might even make you stop to think ďneatĒ as youíre
waiting for you opponent to walk within killing range. Sound effects
are basically straightforward clanks and whooshes, mimicking the
other games in the series pretty much in every way except for the
use of 5.1 support.
Fast paced, forgiving stealth gameplay
Good replay value
Brings little new to the long running series
In the end, Tenchu suffers by not offering much new in terms of both
graphics and gameplay, not to mention that the additions to the Xbox
version might not be worth the price difference when nearly the same
game is available for $20 on the PS2. Itís not that the game is bad
by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, newcomers annoyed with
the slow pacing of other stealth titles will likely find a lot to
like here. However, anyone whoís had their fill with the rest of the
series wonít likely find much reason to return with this iteration.
With a little bit of spit and polish, and a few tweaks to gameplay
mechanics, this game can make a resounding comeback. Until then,
this game is best recommended to die-hard fans of the series who
havenít played the PS2 version, and people who have never
experienced the series before and donít mind a few flaws for what is
ultimately a pretty good time. Tenchu proves that being a ninja can
be fun, but itís still not a pretty job.