Tenchu: Dark Secret (DS) review
"You’ve got your back against the wall, and your heart is pounding. Around the corner from where you stand, a guard is restlessly pacing back and forth down the corridors, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons. You’ve been watching him for three minutes now, trying to figure out the man’s movement patterns. Will he turn right and exit into the adjacent hallway? Will he make an abrupt U-Turn and head back toward your position? Doesn’t he realize that he’s being watched from an enemy less than thi..."
You’ve got your back against the wall, and your heart is pounding. Around the corner from where you stand, a guard is restlessly pacing back and forth down the corridors, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons. You’ve been watching him for three minutes now, trying to figure out the man’s movement patterns. Will he turn right and exit into the adjacent hallway? Will he make an abrupt U-Turn and head back toward your position? Doesn’t he realize that he’s being watched from an enemy less than thirty feet from him? None of it really matters anyway; failure is not an option. The guy finally has his back completely turned to you. It’s time to make your move. You glide silently over the floor, with the grace of a ballerina and the intent of a homicidal maniac. Two more steps forward and an attack later, and the guard is laying facedown in a puddle of his own blood. You can’t stop to enjoy the moment, though; you’ve got a game to beat.
If you’re a fan of the stealth gaming genre, you’ve probably found yourself in that kind of scenario on numerous occasions. But while the Metal Gear and Splinter Cell series have enjoyed an unprecedented amount of success, there are a few other stealth titles that lay hidden in their shadows. While many of the most popular games are based in contemporary and futuristic environments, the Tenchu series takes us back into feudal Japan, when there were no bipedal weapons of mass destruction, glowing night vision goggles, nanomachines, and all that other technical jargon that we’ve grown to love. Instead, these heroes are equipped with swords, shirukens, and many other weapons common to the era. The series follows the exploits of two highly skilled ninjas and their peacekeeping duties for their homeland. But for those of you that are already familiar with the Tenchu series, you’ll find that Tenchu: Dark Shadow does it little justice. With only a few storyboard cutscenes and Japanese-only dialogue, non-savvy importers are going to left in the dark as to how the story plays out.
Translation issues aside, the game is remarkably easy to pick up and play. You’ll get to choose between a male ninja with slower speeds and more powerful attacks, or a femme fatale with slightly faster movements and a less lethal offense. Once you’ve chosen one of the game’s multiple missions, you’ll find yourself standing at the edge of a massive map. Should you venture forward a little bit, you’ll eventually notice a tiny red arrow suddenly appear on the map featured on DS’s bottom screen (hooray for original ideas!) and watch it move around the playing field. Even if you don’t understand a word Japanese, the goal of the mission should be pretty clear: kill every single baddie you come across. However, you shouldn’t charge at him head on; should the guard see you, he’ll yell out for some of his samurai cronies to come help him and start hacking away. Considering that you’re outnumbered in nearly every mission, you’ll have to find craftier ways of killing your foes undetected. This will usually consist of you watching your enemy’s movements, hiding behind a conveniently placed wall, sneaking up behind him, and dishing out some old school ninja punishment.
There’s just one problem, though: the game is too damned easy. Beating the missions in Tenchu: Dark Shadow requires almost no thinking or effort whatsoever. You know all the hardened samurai guards you’re supposed to kill left and right? They all follow incredibly small and predictable patterns, which makes stealth kills a breeze. Some of the guards won’t even notice you standing right next to them, let alone ever hear you strolling up behind them. An enemy can be killed by a single slash to the back, nothing more. Even if you decide to let them see you and call in some reinforcements, pressing the oh-so-handy block button can deter many of your enemy’s attacks. Even if you’re horribly outnumbered, your foes can usually be taken out with a few quick sword attacks. But in case you get bored of such simplistic swordplay (roughly five minutes into the game), you can choose among a small variety of weapons and items to use against your enemies. You’ll start off with simple traps like bamboo shoot proximity mines and explosives, but you’ll be able to purchase throwing stars, distracting food, and a few other handy tools. But considering how easy it is to kill these guys, you probably won’t need them; you can finish most of these missions in mere minutes. Once every enemy has been slashed, burned, drowned, or just plain killed, you’ll receive a message congratulating your success and be whisked back to the main menu, where there will be some more missions for you to choose, kill everyone, choose again, kill again, and rinse and repeat the same horribly boring cycle a few dozen more times. Not quite the kind of replayability I had in mind.
In a last ditch effort to make up for the incredibly pathetic gameplay, the game includes online connection capabilities. But just like every other aspect of this game, the Wifi Mode has been horribly botched. Once you get onto Wifi and actually find someone to connect with (yeah, good luck with that), you’ll discover that the game lacks any kind of combative multiplayer whatsoever. Instead, it’s replaced by a remarkably crappy bartering system, which allows you and the other gamer to view and purchase personally customized weapons and traps. But again, there’s no incentive to trade any of these specialty items; the game’s utter lack of difficulty and quality will make beating all the missions with little trouble. Sadly, the Wifi feature comes as too little, too late to save this horrendous piece of trash.
The failure of Tenchu: Dark Shadow doesn’t end with the gameplay, either. The game makes little use of DS’s graphical abilities, featuring some of the most uninspired presentations ever seen on the handheld. The music is bland selection of Oriental instrument mixes, adding absolutely no emotions or intrigue to the game. While your characters are supposed to be sleek ninja assassins, they blunder around the field with only a few movement animations and meek attack screams. You can barely make out their horribly bland Oriental robes, let alone see anything more than a cluster of colored polygons. The fact that the camera is set at an overhead perspective doesn’t help, either; you can barely discern your character the poorly rendered ground. Most of the levels aren’t too fun to look at, either. They usually consist of muddy forestland with small patches of grass and a bunch of rocky outcroppings and walls jutting out here and there. Sure, there are multi-leveled areas for you to climb onto (sans grappling hook, for curious Tenchu veterans) and move around. However, the birds-eye camera perspective doesn’t do much in the way of depicting them; you’ll have to rely on the overly simplistic map on the bottom screen to really understand the layout of the level. That won’t take very long, however, considering how you’ll play through some maps several times and memorize how they are designed. The only thing even remotely redeeming about this game is the actual combat. Should an enemy see you, he’ll let out a soul piercing “OYYYYYYE!!!” and start swinging, offering a variety of grunts, clangs, and death moans. You’ll even be treated to a small drawing of how your enemy died. Yeah, like I really want a picture of some pathetic samurai dude getting sliced a new one.
You know what the sad thing is? Unless you can find a good bargain on this game, Tenchu: Dark Shadow is usually sold for fifty dollars. I wouldn’t touch this game for fifty cents. It lacks every aspect necessary for a quality game. The characters have no personality whatsoever. The missions are a joke; the ridiculously horrible AI makes beating every objective a five-minute walk in the park at best. Though the game sports a Wifi connection, it has been implemented so poorly that it serves as nothing more than useless add-on for a seemingly useless game. The terribly rendered graphics will make you squint down at your DS screens, and the sound will make you cringe in discomfort. Sorry, Tenchu fans, but this game isn’t worth looking into, let alone the DS cart it’s programmed onto. If you’re in the need for some quality imports, look elsewhere; this game should have never left the drawing board.
Community review by disco (May 22, 2006)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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