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A decent game is stealthily hidden somewhere in here
Tenchu Stealth Assassins (PS)
Member Name: Wolfzilla
Tenchu Stealth Assassins (PS)
Advantages: Good idea
Disadvantages: Graphics, Voices, Control
When it comes to the word ‘Ninja’, there are two stereotype images. One is the bouncing off walls, somersaulting while taking out hordes of enemies with a handful of shirukens image, while the other is the more sinister, sneaking in the shadows and killing with surgical precision image. When it comes to videogames, the former is well represented in titles like the Revenge of Shinobi for the Megadrive, Ninja Gaiden for the NES and such. But the latter has been a much more rare, or you could say stealthier, beast to track down in the gaming world.
Activision changed all this in the late 90s, with the release of their game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. Tenchu was released onto Sony’s PlayStation console, where it caused quite a stir, due to the fact that your Ninja often decapitated enemies, and was to all ends an assassin, keep in mind this was about the time a big fuss started kicking up about videogame violence and such.
The game has a fairly simple story, you are in Feudal Japan, and take on the role of one of Lord Gohda’s Ninja assassins, Rikimaru or Ayame. They both have their qualities and weaknesses, Ayame is faster, but she is weaker etc. you are sworn to serve Lord Gohda, and you must take out all who oppose him, be they human, canine, undead or Demon. Slight story details vary depending on whom you choose, but not enough to qualify them as totally differing stories.
As you may have guessed from the title, the idea of the game is to kill by stealth.
This means that you must sneak up on your enemies, and return to hiding before another one arrives and finds the body. But being spotted isn’t the end of the world; you can still fight to the death with your sword.
To aid you in your missions, as well as your trusty sword, you also have a variety of tools at your disposal. These range from Crimson Blades (Shirukens) to poisoned rice to feed to enemies to make them easier to kill.
The game’s graphics, it has to be said, are pretty bad. While the character models and stages look great from a distance, as you get closer, it becomes clear that they really aren’t all that great, and it made me realise why I often play more of my 16 Bit games now than I do my 32 bit ones – the 32 bit 3D is really blocky and horrible. While Ayame should be a sexy femme fatale, she looks more like a terrible children’s toy, complete with lines where the joints are. The fact that you cannot see more than 3 feet in front of you is also incredibly annoying.
While the blood was quite a thing in its day, and the game even carries an 18 rating, the blood effects are pretty rubbish. Better than Mortal Kombats red beanbags, but hardly lifelike.
The controls boil down to these: the D-Pad moves your Ninja around, with Square being used for attacking, Triangle to use your selected item, Circle is for crouching, or hugging the wall and X is used to jump. L1 serves the same purpose as Circle, R1 allows you a bit of control over the camera and R2 and L2 scroll right and left through your available items. Select lets you look at a stage map.
While on paper these sound fine, in execution they are another matter. The D-Pad is horribly unresponsive, forcing you to hammer it down, only for that to send your character plummeting off a rooftop after half an hour of careful manoeuvring. When throwing Crimson blades or aiming the grappling hook, you get a first person view, which is quite useless seeing as you cannot really aim to any great level of specificity.
The gameplay is both the game’s best and worst point. There is absolutely no denying that pulling off a level successfully with lots of stealth kills is a great feeling, its just performing so that is such a bother.
To perform the game’s patented one hit kills, you have to sneak up on an enemy, when they are totally unaware of your presence. You can tell this by looking at an icon next to your character’s lifebar. If the icon is a blue circle with a ‘?’ they are totally unaware of your presence. Pink ‘!?’ means they have found a body, and are actively hunting you. A yellow ‘!’ means that they have seen you, but do not know if you are friend or foe and finally red ‘!!’ means you have been seen. Run.
While these work great, some of your enemies have a brilliant ability of seeing through buildings/walls/trees and detect you despite the fact that them doing so defies explanation. Your Ninja also seems to have this ability, only it seems to only work in useless situations.(that was sarcasm by the way, In referring to the great PS1 game habit of parts of walls disappearing and appearing where they shouldn’t.)
When you do get seen, or are taking on a boss, and slashing is your only answer, you would expect a highly trained Ninja to be a master of his sword. Not in Tenchu. Prepare for a limited arsenal of pathetic slashes that deal little damage to enemies.
In a similar vein, despite the fact that they are Ninja, the game’s main characters jump like old men. The fact that Ayame runs like a woman in high heels and a skirt and not a warrior in Ninja garb is further hilarity.
The sound, while clear, gets old. The voices range from horrifyingly terrible to hilariously terrible. My favourites are Echigoya, who sounds like a South Park impersonation of Adam Sandler impersonating a Japanese accent, and his bodyguard, who is clearly trying to do a Jean Claude Van Damme impression.
I guarantee you will despise the phrase “where are you” should you buy this game.
A lot of the music sounded more like Indian music than Japanese to me. It's not particularly bad or annoying, it just seems rather out of place for a game set in feudal Japan.
The enemies themselves are pretty comical as well. The core samurai/ninja enemies are all right, its when it comes to the cult, whose ‘Zombie-like members’ look like the little guys from the cover of Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water doing Pete Townshend impressions that I couldn’t resist a giggle.
While I seem to have done nothing but slag Tenchu, it really isn’t terrible. Its actually quite fun, it is just incredibly frustrating due to stupid faults. A lot of my complaints have actually been ironed out in the two and a bit sequels that have followed, so the only real reason to play the original Tenchu is if you are limited to a PS1. Buried beneath the irritating faults is a decent game, and it has kicked off a new wave of Ninja videogames.
A point worth noting is that the motion capture for this game was partially performed by actor Sho Kosugi, who shot to fame in the 80s in Ninja movies, which is a really cool little touch.
Before I finish I'd also like to pose a question, if Ninja are to keep their face from being seen, why doesn’t Ayame wear a mask?
Review also posted on Epinions.com
Summary: For Ninja fans. It's of interest, more for influence than actual fun though