|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: From Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Aug 2006||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|Review by Mike||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
By Mike Chasselwaite
Tenchu: Dark Secret has a dark secret all its own its the kind of secret that would embarrass or even destroy an entire family. Tenchu: Dark Secret could single-handedly spoil the reputation of the ever-popular Tenchu series.
The idea for Tenchu: Dark Secret is a good one but it fails to deliver on almost every single element. Its too easy, its too repetitive, it doesnt make good use of the DS controls and it looks like crap and thats only a few of my complaints. To put this bluntly, I would expect better overall quality from a cell phone game.
Choose your sex. Im talking about whether you want to play as a man or woman ninja. The man is more powerful but less agile whereas the woman is more lithe but cant take as many hits. It doesnt really matter what character you choose because the AI is so unintelligent they should just be call A. Not only are the controls easy but the core gameplay can be broken down into three basic components: Waiting, hack and slash, and trap setting. The classic Tenchu gameplay involved stealth and intense ninja-style combat. In this version, killing enemies is as easy as waiting until they turn their back so that you can sneak up behind them and kill them with a period-specific weapon such as a sword, shiruken or bamboo spear. Stealth has been reduced to a formula. There are other interesting ways to kill your enemies but even that gets redundant after a while.
As a ninja of honor you are required to fight for the life of your princess who has been captured by enemy forces. Events take place in Feudal Japan as you will be reminded by some of the historic environments, music and weapons. There isnt much of a story to the single-player game, just a continual branching of missions that you select from as you complete new ones. Every now and then youll unlock a cutscene that will give you some more insight into where you are and who you are fighting but it really doesnt matter considering that every mission requires that you kill the enemies that stand in your way from start to finish.
At the top of the screen is the action which is rendered in faux 3D with an awful isometric perspective that eliminates any first-person intimacy. The top-down, overhead view affords us way too much of a view, as though we are an omnipotent God able to see the entire environment at one glance. There is no sense of suspense when you know exactly where the enemies are. And if thats not enough, they are even highlighted on the map that appears on the lower screen. Using the stylus, you move your character through the map while an arrow will indicate your direction. Your inventory which consists of weapons, traps and ingredients used to make new hybrids is also displayed on the bottom of the screen.
Aside from sneaking up on your enemy and slicing their throats, you can alert them to your presence and find yourself in a melee with other guards alerted to your presence. At least you get a little action this way, but the enemies are no match for your hack and slash skills and youll chop them into sushi in no time. Where the game gets inventive is in the use of traps. Its a good idea but it just doesnt have enough depth to keep it interesting. Traps can consist of spikes, bombs, water wells, and even food to bait the enemy. With money redeemed from kills, you can purchase different traps to put in the path of the guards. By collecting ingredients that downed enemies leave behind, you can create hybrids of traps, weapons and other items such as health potions. Experimenting with different combinations is fun but its not unlimited. After a couple of hours you will pretty much have exhausted all of the possibilities. But if youre too lazy to do all the work yourself, you can trade concoctions with other players online. Not only did I manage to find one other person online but it took forever to download some virtually useless blade he had to offer. My only wish at the time was that it was a real blade so that I could commit hari kari and not have to play the rest of this game.
You really have to go out of your way to make this game interesting to play. Its incredibly repetitive, even when you do take the road less traveled, but its hard not to want to just continue sneaking up behind enemies and killing them the easiest way possible so that you can obtain more cash which you will erringly imagine will be used to buy items that will make the game more exciting. Such is not the case. Its just too easy to kill the enemy with any process. Even when you are standing next to them, trying to figure out a pattern, they often wont see you. And once they do all you have to do is press the block button to shield yourself from their attack. Had the developers made the AI more challenging this game might have stood a chance, but then there is the graphics to contend with.
This is one sorry looking game. The environments are filled with terrible looking boulders and plants sometimes its even difficult to tell them apart. Not only are the textures low-res but the colors appear to run into each other like a watercolor painting in a carwash. The character animations are clunky and wooden. There is no sense of finesse with the animations or controls, and even though they are responsive they are basically on or off. The music isnt bad but its reduced to fragmented soundtrack soundbites. There are some grunts and whoops but no recorded dialog.
Online play is limited to the local wireless system. Its actually a lot better than the single-player mode as you finally get the option of confronting a formidable opponent, but its definitely not worth the price of admission.
The best thing that you can do is to forget that Dark Secret was ever considered part of the Tenchu series and go on from here, blissfully ignorant.
CCC Freelance Writer