A Ninja always knows when to strike!
June 20, 2007 – The Tenchu name is unmistakable. With a new ninja-flavored fury coming out almost every year with the Tenchu insignia, it’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia and history of the series. However, sometimes games aren’t as good as they could be. Tenchu Z is an excellent example of a superb franchise that slowly slid backwards while no one was looking. Not to say it’s descended into videogame Hades or anything, but it has definitely taken a hit in overall quality since it’s heyday with Wrath of Heaven almost four years ago.
Once you finish the opening scene, the game throws you right into creating a character. You can choose male or female and different faces. I personally wanted to be a female, but all the faces they had looked just plain weird, so I backtracked a little and created the most bishie-like male I could. No small feat, I assure you, considering you don’t really have much to choose from, but I digress.
Once you’re done creating your ninja, you’re thrown directly into an ultra-frustrating training mode. First things first, the training part comes in the form of little helpful hints at the top of the screen showing you what buttons to press and how to execute certain moves. Trouble is, these little hints only appear for a second or two, and then you’ll have to do a little happy dance of confusion if you want them back. Another problem with the training mode is that it gives you completely misleading instructions. There’s an inescapable water dungeon that I ended up in and got extremely frustrated with because I thought I had to escape. Turned out there was only some backtracking involved. But the map and the instructions that are given made it seem like there was some vital goal just ahead. Which brings me to my next gripe with the tutorial mode. It doesn’t even tell you it’s a tutorial mode! I spent so much time on this “level” and didn’t even realize what it was until I exited.
But once you get past the tutorial mode (or you can escape from it at any time, it’s completely unnecessary for you to move forward) You can start the 50-mission “story” mode. Now I use the term “story” here lightly because it’s more like “disjointed missions which all have something to do with drug trafficking in your town.” But we’ll call it story mode for now. Anyways, you’ll get your plot points in little digestible tidbits before and after most missions. At first, I was of the impression that there actually was no story, which I would have been fine with (nothing wrong with an arcade-style random-fest) but the disjointed mess that was expected to run smoothly and cohesively for the gamer really disappointed me.
But weak story aside, once you get into the missions, they’re actually pretty fun. Sure, they all follow a similar format, and you can get through each one relatively easily, stealthily taking out enemies is just plain fun. Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I just never get tired of sneaking up on enemies and executing my honed skills. Of course, if you crave varied gameplay, this one definitely isn’t for you; I will warn you now. But if you want a quick run-through of massacring foes while remaining undetected and hopping on rooftops, then you’ll probably enjoy Tenchu Z’s brand of ninja action.
Controls, once you pick them up, are pretty straightforward and don’t require too much practice to master. However, as you progress in the game and unlock new abilities, the controls become more and more complex, and a little too much for the average gamer. But for the astute gamer, I suppose the increasingly complex control scheme won’t be too much of a problem.
Visually, the game is satisfactory. It features some very nicely detailed cutscenes and environments, and looks beautiful if you’re looking at it just by itself. But if you consider some of the other Xbox 360 games out there, you can quickly see the difference. Now I’m not one to really dwell on graphic specifics, but the claim has been made that the graphics on this title are extremely bad, and I just don’t believe that. Sure they’re not the best you’ve ever seen, but they get the job done, and they don’t look bad, so that’s all I really ask for.
Sound quality, however, was nearly spot-on in my opinion. The dialogue is completely in Japanese and I think that facet makes this game really cool. When you keep the original language of the game, you eliminate so many problems like weird dubbing and bad mouth timing, and I’ve always found that when you have the native language enabled on a game, it makes it a tad more credible. It could be just my opinion, though. The background music is very subtle, and that’s probably the way it should be when you’re playing a game centered around being silent and stealthy. Sound effects are a tad repetitive, and do tend to get annoying at times, however, and that’s where the sound scheme really misses the mark.
Overall, I liked this game, but I feel like it could have been better than it was. The story was completely disjointed, and the graphics were only satisfactory, but the gameplay was really fun, and the soundtrack is good, so I’m not going to hate on this one too much. I just know that there’s definitely some room for improvement, and I’m excited for the Tenchu series to really pick up the ball from this one when their inevitable follow up does come out!
They’ll Never See You Coming
March 5, 2007 – Throughout the years, fans have been waiting for a Tenchu that they can enjoy as much as the original. So far, they have been disappointed in their dream, but come May 2007, Microsoft Game Studios hope to change that with Tenchu Z.
Tenchu Z brings us back to the beloved setting of ancient Japan where you will play as a custom made character, rather than Rikimaru as you have in the past. He will be your master as he guides you through over fifty missions throughout the story. You must use every tool at your disposal, such as grappling hooks and cloaking techniques, to eliminate the enemy. As you complete each mission, you will learn new techniques for the elimination of your adversary.
Unfortunately, your adversaries are shockingly dim-witted and immensely easy to eliminate even if they manage to glimpse you before you can kill them which takes away from the excitement and tension of sneaking around. One might even go so far as to say that you could probably run through the streets in a toga and nobody would so much as draw their sword at you. Equally disheartening is the shocking lack of actual hand-to-hand combat sword combos. After watching four different clips containing gameplay footage, I only saw one combo used in all four. Combine this with the fact that it takes a two button sequence to do something as simple as drawing your sword and you may have a problem.
On a positive note though, the graphics, while not entirely next-gen, have received a sizeable upgrade in regards to detail. Also, the cinematic sequences are stunning. It is unfortunate that the beautiful detail did not carry over into the gameplay. Although the game will be in HD, it has not yet been made known what resolutions will be supported.
As mentioned earlier, the controls, which have a notorious history, don’t seem to have been improved by a noticeable margin. Based on hands-on demos, the controls only flow together once you have mastered them, which is quite difficult to do, and the camera controls seem pretty nonexistent as I stated before. There was one instance I remember where the player was standing on a wall and the camera was looking straight up, which is not good news considering the fact that your enemies are on the ground below you. Not to mention the very unpleasant experience of having the camera looking up the male character’s robe. Not a pretty picture.
Also on the sketchy side of things was the sound. While I did enjoy the music in the cinematic sequences quite a bit, the actual sound effects were slightly repetitive and unimpressive. Sound effects include swords clashing together and grunting from the character as they execute the same combo over and over.
Now don’t get me wrong, even with so many things up in the air, there were quite a few things that caught my attention in a good way while studying Tenchu Z. The kill moves are pretty awesome looking and there is quite an array available, although there was no information available to determine whether the player has any control over which one they use or if it is simply based on the character’s position in relation to his enemy. Another thing that impressed me was the Create-a-Character feature. This feature allows the player to create their own character (there is of course a female model for the ladies of gaming out there), which they will use in the single player story mode. You have the option of customizing all of your character’s attributes, from choosing the color of their hair to choosing how much agility they have.
So far, I have found no confirmation that there will be a multiplayer option, whether on Xbox Live or with your friends at home, but there is a cooperative option of up to four players in the Japanese version. This has led to speculation that there will also be a co-op option in the U.S. version although this has been neither confirmed nor denied by Microsoft Game Studios.
All things considered, I honestly believe that this game will likely only appeal to gamers that are already fans of the franchise and possibly may attract particularly curious gamers, but it does not seem to me that many new players will pick up copies of their own. In my opinion, it doesn’t appear that Tenchu Z will actually be a bad game, but when compared to such heavy hitters in the Stealth genre as Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Assassin’s Creed, it’s likely that most casual gamers will simply not notice it on the shelf or may not be willing to part with their hard-earned cash when there are other options that appear much more enticing. Only time will tell if Tenchu Z will be a smashing hit in the franchise’s next-gen debut, or if it will simply fly in under the radar and remain unknown to the casual gamer.