Platform(s): Xbox 360
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
ESRB: Teen [Blood, Language, Violence]
Tenchu Z is to the Tenchu series as Tomb Raider Legend was to the Tomb Raider series. It’s a stagnant, even tragically failing series that has received new revitalization from a game that isn’t necessarily great, but it proves that the series still has legs, and the potential for greatness in coming iterations.
This may be hard to believe upon first beginning the game, because to be honest it doesn’t make a very good impression at all. The graphics, while sort of passable, are pretty much Grade-A crap compared to what we’ve come to expect from an Xbox 360 title. While the graphics are busy making you throw up a little in your mouth, you’ll then get to experience the fighting and platforming which will then make you lose it and spew all over the place. The fighting is wooden and never makes you feel like a nimble ninja. The platforming is imprecise and will often times get you caught when you didn’t deserve to be.
By now you’re probably thinking, “hey I thought you said this game was good!” I did. And I meant it too. The parts that make up the whole do not add up to a fun game, but yet for some reason Tenchu Z remains a solid stealth action title and a fun game. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what it is that makes it fun. It’s actually disappointingly simple. The reason this game is fun is because ninja’s are really f****** cool. No ifs', ands' or buts' about it. So, while nothing about this game is singularly spectacular, it’s all decent enough, and then your ninja fantasies will take over and turn the decent, into good.
In fact, many of the things that are wrong with this game, bizarrely end up working in its favor. The slow, wooden fighting system I mentioned earlier makes you want to make sure to take enemies out with stealth kills because it’s just more fun. After all, if we wanted really awesome swordplay we could just pop in Ninja Gaiden: Black, but this is a stealth game.
The controls, while a little stiff and a bit complex allow you to pull of some really cool ninja maneuvers. None of it really matters that much though as the driving force of this game is simply the fact that you’re being given the chance to be a ninja. There’s a mission about a third of the way through the game, and for me it was really the moment where the game won me over. I had been on the edge about whether I liked it or not. The previous missions are all of the “Go here, kill this/Go here, Steal that,” variety, but this one charges you with entering a village inhabited entirely by enemy ninjas. A sort of home away from home for professional murderers. You have to go in and kill every last one of them. The feeling of cool that rushed over me after having gone in and silently dispatched an entire encampment of highly trained killers was immense.
Adding to this coolness, is that the game lets the player create his/her own ninja/ninjatress. It adds to the experience a lot because you’re not some random, poorly voiced, blonde ninja as in past games. I’m sure they thought Rikkimaru was cool, but I’m pretty sure no one else did.
It is worth mentioning though, that the sound in this game is absolutely atrocious. Absolutely…atrocious. As in, it is an atrocity. The sound effects all sound like characatures of the noise they’re meant to portray, and not the actual noise. Every time you jump into three feet of water, it sounds like somebody’s uncle just went off the high dive, beer belly first. In some areas with water in it, the water noises echo as it would in a chamber containing water, but nothing else does. Your footsteps nor your sword adapt their sound to that setting and so it just ends up sounding stupid. Beyond that though, the sound actually compromises gameplay at times. When sneaking up on an enemy, there is no way to quietly take out your sword and so the character just whips it out to extremely loud, metal on metal effect. This in turn gives away your position and gets you killed. Dumb. The rest of the sound is just as bad too. The music is the same annoying high pitched ancient Japanese music offered in every single game about ancient Japan...I guess that makes sense, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. Also, until Tenchu I'd never experienced voice acting that was so bad I didn't even need to understand the language it was being spoken in to know that it was terrible.
Tenchu Z also offers a cooperative mode for up to four players. It's a nice idea, but it feels like an after thought considering the missions don't differ, it's just sticking more people in the same missions. When games like Splinter Cell make the effort to exclusively tailor levels to the mechanic, it just seems silly when it's slapped together in a game like this.
Like I said, Tenchu has really fallen from grace in the gaming arena over the past ten years or so. Where once it was seen as the alternative to Metal Gear Solid, it’s recent games have played far fourth fiddle to genre mainstays Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid, and Hitman. However, with Tenchu Z making such a surprising showing it may finally be ready to be recognized right alongside the other stealth action superstars. Propelled by pure and simple truth that stabbing through a paper wall to kill your target, or attacking from beneath the floorboards is just so universally fun, Tenchu Z is definitely worth a rental if you're interested in the subject matter.