Tenchu: Dark Secret Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Tenchu: Dark Secret Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

A truly dark secret that should have remained one.

Tenchu: Dark Secret has a dark secret all its own – it’s 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.

Tenchu: Dark Secret screenshot

The idea for Tenchu: Dark Secret is a good one but it fails to deliver on almost every single element. It’s too easy, it’s too repetitive, it doesn’t make good use of the DS controls and it looks like crap – and that’s only a few of my complaints. To put this bluntly, I would expect better overall quality from a cell phone game.

Choose your sex. I’m 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 can’t take as many hits. It doesn’t 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.

Tenchu: Dark Secret screenshot

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 isn’t 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 you’ll unlock a cutscene that will give you some more insight into where you are and who you are fighting but it really doesn’t 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 that’s 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 you’ll chop them into sushi in no time. Where the game gets inventive is in the use of traps. It’s a good idea but it just doesn’t 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 it’s not unlimited. After a couple of hours you will pretty much have exhausted all of the possibilities. But if you’re 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.

Tenchu: Dark Secret screenshot

You really have to go out of your way to make this game interesting to play. It’s incredibly repetitive, even when you do take the road less traveled, but it’s 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. It’s 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 won’t 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 it’s 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 isn’t bad but it’s reduced to fragmented soundtrack soundbites. There are some grunts and whoops but no recorded dialog.

Tenchu: Dark Secret screenshot

Online play is limited to the local wireless system. It’s actually a lot better than the single-player mode as you finally get the option of confronting a formidable opponent, but it’s 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.


  • Stalk your enemies with sword in hand, plant explosive traps in the underbrush, or strike with an assortment of realistic ninja weaponry- the choice is yours! With over 40 single-player missions and the ability to construct your own weapons and items, Tenchu is sure to keep your sword hand busy for a long time.
  • Strike at a friend!: Prove your mettle with the metal by challenging friends to a local wireless multiplayer match! Tenchu: Dark Secret boasts three unique modes and a whole host of options to keep each match fresh and fun. Whether you’re creeping through a bamboo forest to imbed a dagger in your friend’s back or setting a trap to steal his precious dumplings, you’re going to need a towel to wipe the sweat from your hands!
  • Shop Online!: New a new bamboo trap? Short on shurikins? Just hop online! Tenchu: Dark Secret allows players to buy, sell and trade items via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can choose to transact with either friends or strangers.

    Rating out of 5 Rating Description


    I would expect better looking graphics on a cell phone.


    The controls are easy to pick-up-and-play but the lack depth. At least they are responsive.


    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    The sounds are very repetitive, making the game seem hollow.


    Play Value
    You will definitely want to try the multi-player mode if you’ve accidentally purchased this game but good luck finding another sucker.


    Overall Rating Poor
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
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