f I worked at From Software I’d have my house on 24-hour surveillance, because a clan of ninjas may strike at any time to prevent me from further sullying the great Tenchu name. The classic stealth franchise has fallen into such disrepair that the self-respecting shadow warriors of the world may be sharpening their katana blades as we speak with revenge on their minds.
If you’ve played one of the recent Tenchu games, then you already know what to expect with Z. As the resident ninja errand boy (or girl), your job is to infiltrate sparsely populated Japanese villages, exterminate the guards on patrol whilst avoiding the sole civilian, and assassinate a shady character your clan deems expendable. Tenchu Z tries to mix things up with the occasional trailing mission or “boss fight,” but the majority of the 50+ missions offer the same stale gameplay.
The graphics and gameplay are also stuck in last-generation ruts. Instead of arming this stealth title with high dynamic range lighting to give you the real feeling of hiding in the shadows, the game takes no advantage of the Xbox 360’s technical power. Navigating your ninja through these boring environments feels exactly like it did five years ago. The new stealth kill animations create Lone Wolf-like blood baths, but the basic swordplay drags woefully behind Ninja Gaiden, the high benchmark of ninja titles.
The two areas where From Software added new elements – character customization and co-op mode – succeed modestly. The co-op mode allows you to slash and sneak your way though missions with up to four friends. It’s great watching your fellow ninja (who happens to have bright purple hair) spring from a behind a box to slay an unsuspecting guard urinating over the edge of the dock. But like Rainbow Six Vegas, the game doesn’t showcase the storyline or cutscenes when playing with friends, which takes away from the overall experience.
Tenchu also needs a serious upgrade to its enemy AI. It’s hard to imagine that a developer would release a game in this day and age where if you climb up to a rooftop or crawl under a building while an enemy is taking a swing at you, he completely loses track of you.
Ninjas deserve better. Let’s hope the ‘Z’ indicates that this is the last of these titles we’ll have to suffer through.