Tenchu Z (Xbox 360) review
"For all its faults, Tenchu Z is something all games should be but are increasingly often not: it is fun."
At the risk of seeming to invoke a meme, Tenchu Z is Tenchu.
From what Iíve seen, Tenchu Z generally doesnít score very well in reviews. I can understand why. The AI is one step above oblivious, the graphics look about a generation behind, and the plot is pretty much nonexistent. Add to that some finicky controls and very shoddy voice acting, and it doesnít take a great leap of deduction to work out why people donít like it.
I, however, do like it.
The reason I like it is pretty much summed up in the first sentence of this review: Tenchu is Tenchu, and I like Tenchu. This sounds like nostalgia, and I wondered for a while if it might be, but Iíve come to the conclusion that nostaligia alone doesnít account for the enjoyment I get from this game. I think that, for all its faults, Tenchu Z is something all games should be but are increasingly often not: it is fun.
Back in the days of yore (or so I sometimes feel), just before the release of Metal Gear Solid, I played Tenchu: Stealth Assassins on PS1. This game was unlike anything I had played previously. Casting me as a ninja in the appropriate period of history (although substituting the names of real countries for fictitious analogues), it required me to be quiet, stay hidden as much as possible, and move around by running along the tops of walls and jumping from rooftop to rooftop simply to avoid detection. While unnoticed I could eliminate any enemy in one deadly attack, but once they knew I was there they became titans of strength and fortitude. In short, I was forced to avoid everyone, and that was new to me. I frequently spent ten to fifteen minutes sitting on a rooftop, just watching the guards walk their routes until I knew exactly where everyone would be and which moment would be the best to dash across the open ground. I crept from shadow to shadow, picking off one enemy and ducking away again, to create little blind spots in their coverage that I could use to my advantage. Tenchu not only offered the opportunity to play in a new way Ė it demanded it.
This sort of stuff is nothing out the ordinary now, though. With Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Thief, Hitman and others all offering stealth-based gameplay, there isnít really anything to make Tenchu stand out from the modern crowd on that front, particularly since its stealth mechanic has changed very little in the last thirteen years. So why bother?
Well, itís certainly true that by todayís standards Tenchu Zís enemies seem to be scarcely conscious. In some cases you can be barely concealed by the edge of a doorway and they wonít notice you. You can sprint up behind them and theyíll think nothing of it, presumably attributing the sound of pounding feet not to the anticipated hostile intruder but to some sort of spontaneous hallucinogenic episode. They are berks.
And thatís ok.
We donít always need maximum realism. In the last few years games have held realism up as the ultimate goal, but I would take fun over realism any day. You know what has a lot of realism? Reality. And you know what is often notably short on fun? Also reality. Sometimes I donít want to deal with enemies who can hear my breathing from two rooms away. Sometimes I donít want to be given away by the slight flicker of my shadow in the corner of someoneís eye. Tenchu Zís enemies may be stupid by the standards of real people but I donít want to try and creep my way past well-armed real people. Thatís difficult and frightening and not much fun. People donít join the SAS because they think itíll be a good laugh.
Tenchuís enemies may be singularly obtuse by real world standards, but theyíre just the right level of alert for the game. If you sit in a well lit area, they will notice you. If you hide behind some flimsy grass, they'll notice you. If you leave the mauled carcass of their best friend lying in the street, they will actually be quite put out and understandably try to cut your head off.
I havenít played a Tenchu game in years, but this is where Tenchu 2: Birth of the Stealth Assassins fell down. In order to hide from an enemy in that game, all you had to do was sit on top of a box at the height of their face, while they were looking in your direction, and you were apparently completely invisible. I donít know if people had complained that Tenchu 1 was too hard or something, but itís never made any sense to me that the sequel would have worse mechanics than the original. Anyway, thatís a review for another time.
Tenchu Z may not have advanced its stealth component very much since 1998′s Tenchu 1 but it at least doesnít ape Tenchu 2. It has added a few more features since then too (though I havenít played the intervening games, so these may not be new at all). Most of these features are either useless or cosmetic, but theyíre nice to have nonetheless. You can upgrade your ninja with a selection of abilities, some of which sound good but never really get much practical use (camouflage against a wall, cling onto the ceiling) and others of which have some minor benefits (telescopic vision, display of enemy health bars). You can also buy an assortment of ninja gear Ė a returning feature from the old games that now includes far more items. Mostly youíll just want health potions and the odd grenade for boss duels - which, incidentally are as clumsy as they ever were, fought using Tenchu's stealth-centred control scheme, but mercifully they're also uncommon. The most fun of these new features is also the most pointless: you can buy and wear new clothes. Some are authentic-looking Japanese period garments, some are anime-style ninja garb, and some are utterly ridiculous, but whichever you go for itís just nice to be able to dress your hardened killer to suit your mood.
Tenchu Z, then, isnít subtle or clever: its graphics are rough, its RPG-like flourishes are futile, its script consists of ďwe need you to kill some peopleĒ, the boss duels are just as unwieldy as they were in 1998, and the enemy AI is at times almost laughably shoddy. But if you donít expect spectacle, complexity or a simulation itís actually quite fun. The enemies are just bright enough to keep you on your toes, but just stupid enough that with a bit of care and skill you can pick them off like the ninja badass the game depicts.
Iíve had my fill of clever, gritty and realistic. I want fun. Tenchu Z provides it.
Community review by SamildanachEmrys (May 08, 2011)
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