Sneaking along a rooftop, peering down as a guard walks underneath you. In one motion, you roll off the roof, slide your sword around the guards neck and send a crimson spray into the night air….and no one is the wiser. Is there anything cooler than that….I mean seriously. Tenchu Z, the latest in the Tenchu series (and the first to make the jump to next gen), attempts to capture the utter cool of being a ninja. While it doesn’t revolutionize the genre, it is a fun (yet very flawed) way of walking a mile in another man’s super cool ninja outfit.
Rikimaru, the series primary character, has taken the hint from his prematurely greying hair and is sitting this one out. This time, he’ll be giving a some young guns (Young Swords?…doesn’t have the same ring to it) a chance to get their throat slitting on. Z allows you to create your own ninja, customizing their look, dress, and attributes. This customization is limited at first, although as you progress through the game you’ll earn the opportunity to purchase new clothing, items, even skills and combo’s. This “RPG lite” addition, while limited in scope, does add a welcome new wrinkle to the traditional Tenchu formula which future games in the series should hopefully improve upon.
Visually, it’s hard to view Tenchu Z as anything but a disappointment. Textures are muddy, character models (while a step up from past games in the series) lack the detail that is traditionally present in next gen titles, and there is some slight pop in. Level design is pretty standard for the series. Considering the architechure of the game has remained nearly identical through all the games in the franchise, there should have been plenty of leftover resources to beef this game up visually.
The gameplay will feel instantly familiar to fans of the series, as not much has changed. This is both a good, and bad thing. The good news is the great stealth kills that the series is known for have returned, and are better than ever. Nailing a passing enemy into a wall with your katana never fails to be a blast, and some of the newer animations are positively brutal. You can now sheathe/unsheathe your weapon, which expands your movement and stealth kill possiblities. Approaching an enemy from behind with a sheathed sword will give you the ability to choke him and pull him where you want to, so you can kill him away from light/prying eyes. This is a good addition in theory, but due to some questionable AI, is not always as useful or neccesary as it seems. Some new moves add to your ninja’s mobility, including the incredibly useful ability to peak over the edge of roofs.
One of the problems that has plagued this series is a questionable camera. Unfortunately, Z does not do an adequate job fixing these problems. The camera, while slightly better, still has a tendency to feel floaty and out of control at times. In a series that is based on stealth, sneaking, and remaining out of sight, this is a huge negative.
As I mentioned above, the AI is a little suspect. Often guards will walk right up to another guards dead body and not be alarmed at all. They are on set patrols, which of course is pretty standard for the genre, and are on pretty simple patterns of behavior. Guards also seem to need a little ginko biloba, considering you can attack them…run away and hide….and pretty soon they’ll forget all about that silly looking man that tried to cut them with a sword. On the plus side, guards are now more sensitive to smell and sound. For example, if you fall into a big ole’ pool full of nasty ™, you better take a swim to wash it off before you go trying to sneak around.
The single player mode offers 50 missions, sure to keep fans busy for a while. The missions are also no longer all “Find this guy, kill him” either. Over the course of the game, you see escort missions, extermination missions, collection missions and others, in addition to the traditional assassinations. This does provide some variety to the gameplay, although different missions of a similar type tend to be a bit repetitive. Tenchu Z also offers online multiplayer, including a 4 player co-op mode, which should add a ton of replay value assuming some issues with lag get straightened out.
Overall, Tenchu Z has to be seen as a slight disappointment. The series continues to stagnate, and Z does not offer a considerable jump from earlier titles in this series. The addition of some light RPG elements, however, as well as some of the improvements to the control scheme and mission structure make me optimistic for the future of the franchise. Despite the flaws, I’d recommend at least a rental to fans of the series or genre. While it’s certainly not perfect, there is still a lot of fun to be had with this game.
Stealth kills never get old, and the variety of mission types help to break the same old same old. There’s also a lot of fun to be had with the online multiplayer. If you’re looking for the perfect next gen experience, you’ll be incredibly dissapointed. However, if you’re a fan of the series, or just looking for a fun escape, you can do much worse than Tenchu Z.