Tenchu: Return From Darkness Review

This is the first Tenchu game I have played. Yes, I know that may be blasphemy, but it is true. I read all about the first two games that came out for Playstation, but I never went out and picked one up. Tenchu: Return from Darkness (aka Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven on PS2) is my first experience with the series and I’ve been left unimpressed by this entry, making me feel I may not have missed anything in the other titles.

There are some things about this game that are cool, but there are many things that destroy any promise this game may have had. Let’s take a look.

Not knowing how good the graphics were on the Playstation 2 version, I’m at a loss about what they might have done better in the port over to Xbox. The graphics I do see are of the okay to good variety. Rikimaru and Ayame (there is a 3rd unlockable character as well) look pretty good, although Ayame is the far more fetching of the two.

Rikimaru and Ayame have some nice moves that animate well. The best animations are of course the Stealth Kills where they go up behind an enemy and pull off a wicked death move on the enemy.

There’s really nothing spectacular about the graphics (unlike the recently released Ninja Gaiden) and I didn’t see any special touches that would differentiate this game from the original Playstation 2 one. There’s a lot of blood that spews out Japanese anime style (which is cool), but the textures and enemy characters are just not done very well in my opinion.

Not too much to say here, although the theme song is quite nice in the opening animation. The anime style blood splatter sounds just like it came out of Ninja Scroll (a Japanese anime movie) and the sword and weapon sounds are nothing to write home about.

Thankfully Activision has given us the option of turning on Japanese voices instead of the generally horrid English voices. I have no idea how much better the Japanese voices are, but I’m pretty sure they’re better than the English ones. The sad thing is that this game has a pretty good storyline that is pretty much ruined by much of the voiceovers.

Since this game is a stealth game at heart it is not surprising that there is not much in the way of music or sound in it. You are trying to be a silent ninja after all.

I hate to say it, but the controls are pretty bad. The easiest thing to do in the game is pull off a Stealth Kill. All you have to do is walk (or run, I’ll talk about that later) up to an enemy and hit the X key and Rikimaru or Ayame will pull of a close-up Stealth Kill that will shoot out lots of blood from the victim. The rest of the controls are not as tight as they could be.

If you happen to not pull off a Stealth Kill and are seen by the enemy you go into the usual ninja style battle where you slash and block. Blocking isn’t easy though, especially when confronted with more than one enemy. You are immobile when in the blocking position and unlike Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden you can’t block almost every strike thrown at you. Instead you have to block, release, turn around, block and hope you’ve blocked both strikes. Chances are you will not have though and then you’re in for a world of hurt by the multiple enemies. Luckily for you the enemies are dumb as rocks (more on that later) and you can run away and reset yourself up for a Stealth Kill.

Jumping is pretty easy as well and you even have a double jump at your disposal. The problem is that these are ninjas, but they are vertically challenged in their jumps. Generally ninjas are able to jump high up, not these ninjas. They can only jump up a little bit, but if you double jump they can jump up a bit higher. Sometimes you will totally miss a platform jump and fall to your death. Such is the nature of jumping in this game.

Along with those abilities you also have an inventory where the available item can be switched with the d-pad. You then use the Y key to use the item. Items such as healing potions, shurikens, bows and staffs can be found here. Your key inventory item is the grappling hook. With it you hold down the Y button and if the crosshair lights up you let go of the Y key and your character will grapple up to that spot. This is easily your most useful accessory because it can get you out of tight situations by just grappling up to the top of a house or wall. It’s not such a great accessory when you’re in confined spaces though, but that is to be expected.

The controls are overall a bit too clunky, but that also has a lot to do with the next section.

This game has a lot of promise, but the camera and enemy AI destroyed anything nice. The camera is just horrendous. It does fine and well in wide open spaces when it is automatically following your character, but once you get into confined spots (I’d say this is a vast majority of the game) the automatic camera no longer helps you, it hinders you. While you are in these spots you are busy controlling the camera with the right analog stick (the default camera control on 3rd person games). You can do a free look with the white button, although much like blocking your character is left immobile. So if an enemy walks up to you there won’t be time for you to react.

Even on the first level for both characters I found myself frustrated by the camera. Many times it was difficult to see exactly where the enemies were so I could get the drop on them and perform a Stealth Kill. This is where the white button becomes useful as long as you know there is no enemy that can attack you around. When things go to a confined space the camera becomes even more unwieldy. You do have the ability to shimmy on a wall, but the automatic camera doesn’t want to show you what is ahead of you around the corner, instead you have to control the camera itself to look around a corner. Problem is that you’ll never get a good enough angle for your tastes in this situation.

The other major problem with Tenchu: Return from Darkness is the moronic enemy AI. In the Control section I talked about that you could run up to an enemy and perform a Stealth Kill. As long as you aren’t in the enemy’s line of sight you can run right up behind him and give him the old sword through the head. In most cases the enemy is deaf; however they are also very blind at times as well.

Let’s say you get into a combat situation with an enemy. In wide open spaces you use your trusty grappling hook and go to higher ground. Soon enough the enemy stops searching for you and goes back to strolling around. You then have the opportunity to drop in on him and do a Stealth Kill. In confined spaces things are a bit more confusing. You may fall upon an enemy while going through the corridors. He will be alerted to your presence and will start to follow you. If you go around the corner and wait he won’t follow you unless you are in his static walking path. Wait for him to lower his weapon and then sneak (or run) up behind him and perform a Stealth Kill. The enemies just aren’t quite at the level of Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid here unfortunately.

These problems hurt what is otherwise a pretty good game. The story is certainly interesting and it will keep you interested in the game while cursing at the stupid enemy AI. Both Rikimaru and Ayame have different stories, although some of their levels overlap with different goals for each. It is pretty cool to go through the game twice and see the story from both sides. You’ll constantly be swearing about how stupid the enemy AI is, but you will enjoy the thrill of pulling off Stealth Kills.

New to the Xbox version is Xbox Live compatibility. I was very interested in the Co-op section where one person can play each character. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone online when I checked multiple times to play Co-op with. I think it would be cool to go through the game with another person. Maybe you could play tricks on the enemy and have one run right up to his face, run away and have the other sneakily come up behind him and pull off a Stealth Kill. I didn’t get the chance to see this in action though.

The other Xbox Live section is a Versus mode where you go into a Bushido Blade type of fighting game (although minus the one-hit kills). You can choose characters, including bosses in the game. This mode isn’t all that exciting and is more of an afterthought than of a full-fledged Street Fighter type game. It’s a fun distraction for a little bit, but nothing to write home about.

Putting aside the stupid enemy AI and bad camera problems for the moment, this game is actually worth it to play through at least twice so you can get the side of the story from both Rikimaru and Ayame’s perspectives.

As I said above, the game is indeed a fun game to play. However it is very hard to overlook the key problems in the game. The addition of some extra levels (although I don’t know which ones) and the Xbox Live play don’t necessarily make this a reason to pick this game up. You should pick it up because it has a great story and pulling off Stealth Kills is exciting.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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