Tenchu Z Review

I’ve been a huge fan of the Tenchu series ever since the first game was released on the first PlayStation. At the time, there really weren’t a lot of ninja-based games out there that tried to make you feel as if you were a ninja, so it was a breath of fresh air. Since the first title, the series has gone through a slight downward spiral in terms of quality, and Fatal Shadows was an absolute abomination for anyone who was a fan of the oft-overlooked series. Time of the Assassins and Dark Secret did nothing to help rejuvenate the series, and it looked as if Tenchu might have finally been done for. Earlier this year, Microsoft made the announcement they would bring the 8th Tenchu title — Tenchu Z — to the US shores for their Xbox 360. While I still consider it a smart move on their part, sadly Tenchu Z is closer to the later games in the series rather than the earlier ones.

The first thing most people notice about Tenchu Z (and comment upon) are the last-gen looking graphics. To an extent, this is true, as the game certainly won’t be in the running for any "Best Graphics of 2007" awards. However, they aren’t that terrible. The draw distance is fairly impressive, and the amount of customization you can put into your character should give enough variety for people who are into that sort of thing. When you perform a stealth kill, you’re rewarded with a large spurt of blood, which is very reminiscent of the old campy ninja flicks from back in the day. Is it realistic? No, but any longtime ninja aficionado will appreciate that nod.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with the graphics is the framerate. The game seems to trudge along at times, which doesn’t make sense since it isn’t exactly pushing the hardware. The sluggish animation may be another well-done nod to campy ninja movies for all I know, but from a gaming standpoint it makes the game less fun when you’re trying to perform some badass ninja kill, and you’re rewarded with stuttering frames and slowdown on a game that could be considered an upscaled Xbox title.

Obviously, most fans of the Tenchu series won’t care too much about the graphics, because the series has never exactly been known for wowing the optical receptors; what fans care about is the gameplay. Tenchu Z is a mix of good and bad, much like previous titles. The biggest (and most exciting) addition to this one is the ability to play through missions (or in a versus-like mode) with friends over Xbox Live. A majority of the game’s 50 missions are available to play with up to three other people, and it’s a blast seeing four ninjas running around causing havoc.

As far as single player is concerned, it’s again something that will be extremely familiar to fans of the series (or genre), and will put off those not used to the title. You’re given 50 missions in various difficulties, along with various objectives for each (of course, they aren’t too dissimilar, which is sad). Unlike previous Tenchu titles, this time around you can make your own ninja, and you get your assignments from the former star, Rikimaru. Even though the 50 missions don’t give you a huge variety, they still vary enough that fans playing through the game won’t get pissed off about repeating things too many times; they also make it the largest Tenchu game yet.

Missions are the typical Tenchu fare, including objectives such as assassinations, theft, and transporting/guarding goods. While the assassination levels are obviously the most entertaining, I didn’t find myself hating the other objectives too much this time around.

Where the game will be made or broken, however, is in your playing style. It’s possible (but hard at times) to play this game by running through the map dodging enemies, and then taking care of your objective; but where’s the fun in that? Like the Hitman series, the true fun from Tenchu Z comes in setting up ambushes, finding the perfect moment to strike, and pulling off as many awesome stealth kills as you can. Unlike the popular ninja (thanks, Naruto), Tenchu is more based on real ninja tactics, and to enjoy this game you must employ stealth. New features such as chaining attacks and being forced to take into account the amount of blood on your clothes just heighten the feeling of stealth.

Unfortunately, the AI in this game is probably some of the worst I’ve ever seen, and definitely the worst yet in the Tenchu franchise. I’ve seen stupid AI before, but the enemies in Tenchu Z easily take the cake. It’s impossible to walk into an area, kill a guy, then run around and hide behind a wall, and eventually your pursuers will just give up. Um, what? I don’t know about you, but if I see a ninja pop out and kill somebody, and then can’t find him, I don’t go, "Oh well, guess he got away. Let’s go back to standing around!" Sometimes the enemy forgets about you in under 10 seconds, which is just ludicrous.

The dumbed down AI sadly negates most of the changes the developers made in regards to the stealth aspects in Tenchu Z. You don’t have to worry too much about smell, ki, hiding bodies, noise, etc., because the AI is so stupid it won’t even take note of the stack of corpses in the middle of its patrol route.

Tenchu Z is a fun game for Tenchu fans, and for fans of similar stealth-action titles. A few flaws and poor visuals detract from what otherwise would have been a resurrection for the Tenchu series. If you absolutely can’t wait until Ninja Gaiden Sigma or whatever the next Ninja Gaiden title will be and crave some ninja action, you could do much worse than Tenchu. If you aren’t a hardcore ninja fan and let the little things bug you, however, stay away from Tenchu Z, because you’ll absolutely hate it.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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