Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Developer – K2 - From Software
Publisher - Microsoft
System Link: 2-4
Online Multiplayer: 2-4
72 KB to Save Game
Tenchu Z arrives for the Xbox 360 and if anyone is keeping count this is the eighth game in the series. I have to admit that I am familiar with the name of the games, but I have not had the chance to sit and play any of them in detail until this recent review. So of course my first thought when I received this game was, "What is a Tenchu?" After a bit of research I discovered the title is a Japanese term whose literal English translation is heaven's punishment, with (ten) meaning heaven and (chu) meaning death penalty.
In this most recent instalment of the Tenchu franchise the game takes a slightly different direction than those that came before it. You can now create your own Ninja warrior, and build his skills as you play through the game. This latest instalment also features 4 player co-op and has been advertised as the largest game in the series to date. Many Tenchu fans have been heavily anticipating the release of this series on a next-generation platform, and the Xbox 360 is the first one to get it. Overall Tenchu fans will be pleased with the first effort on a next-generation console but I can't help but think that so much more could have be done with this instalment of the franchise.
As far as the visuals are concerned, Tenchu Z is not what we have come to expect from a next-generation console game. My first area of concern is that the character models come across as somewhat average as nothing really stands out with them. On a positive note, when selecting your characters in the menu screens there is lots of variety and the available costumes look good. However after that it just appears something visually was lost from the character set up screen to the actual single player gameplay. Granted some of the facial expressions when setting up your character are very unique and detailed, however during the single player campaign nothing is jaw dropping or inspiring. When comparing this game to such games such as Rainbow 6 - Vegas or Gears of War, Tenchu Z seems to fall a bit short.
Another area of concern is that character movements are not that smooth. As your on-screen character moves about the various levels the movements are choppy and do not seem to flow as they should. Again, Tenchu's character movements don't even compare to the likes of character movements we have seen in Gears of War or GRAW 2, which is somewhat confusing to me as the Xbox 360 has been around for awhile now and developers should have an understanding of the hardware. Also worth noting is that the enemy AI characters are very robotic and seemingly follow the same path over and over again. The enemy AI characters also have little to no facial expressions or lifelike movements and this takes away from the visual aspect of the game. I hate to say it but given that we are well into the next-gen era I expect a little more from the enemy AI characters.
On a more positive note the draw distance and environments are very good. You will notice during the single player campaign that you can see quite far into the horizon which really made me realize how good the draw distance is. The game's environments also offer up lots of detail and look crisp on an HD display. I found some of the ancient towns, villages and even the boats were all well done. Additionally, I was impressed with the blood splatter. Being a fan of any horror or slash-em up movie I found that there was nothing more satisfying than sneaking up on your enemy, slashing him up and watching his blood platter everywhere. I found that it gave Tenchu Z an almost Tarentino type of movie feeling. Granted, all of the blood splatter effects were similar and lacked in the variety department, but nonetheless I enjoyed them. Overall what is visually available in this first stab (Editors Note - Pun Intended) on a next-gen console certainly sets the stage for some major improvements for the next instalments release.
As with the graphics, the sound effects are somewhat average and a bit of a disappointment. The Japanese music was not surprising and is something we have come to expect from any similar type ninja based action game. It does create an effective atmosphere and it blended nicely with the setting and gameplay. The opening tune to the game is very good and does deliver a sense of good things to come, but after that the music was more of a let down then something that got me excited. When playing Tenchu Z the music changes to a more upbeat tune but it is simply not that impressive or that inspiring. The sound effects and character voices are very clear and crisp but again nothing is particularly innovative. The Japanese dialog sounds pretty good but my comments should be taken with a grain of salt in this aspect as I don't speak Japanese so I have no way of knowing if what they are saying makes any sense. I would have to assume that it probably does as the game was developed in Japan, so they do understand the language. The sounds effects of the game are also pretty standard but there are some great elements to them. For instance, the sounds of the swords clanging and bombs going off do sound good, especially in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Additionally the sounds of the animals walking in the grass and water running (e.g. babbling brooks) are nice little touches for adding more atmosphere to this game. Overall the audio manages to do its job, but as I stated before, just don't expect anything "over the top".
As far as the Tenchu Z story is concerned, you are essentially a ninja that belongs to the Azuma clan. You take your orders from Rikkimaru who assigns you to perform different missions. Tenchu Z for the Xbox 360 consists of approximately 50 missions and there are different difficulty settings and objectives for each. While completing the assigned missions you uncover a plot to destroy the new found peace that Lord Goda has established. That in a nut shell is the whole crux of the story. Overall, I found the story somewhat engaging but at the end of the day it is not that memorable.
Your characters have different attributes such as strength, agility, and health and each of these can be altered to make your own personal ninja tailored to your liking. The game's character edit features are quite in-depth and it are certainly a strong point of the game. These features allow you to use gold obtained in the missions both in single player and multiplayer. Gold is used to purchase new aesthetic styles for your ninja, new abilities and items to use during missions, and different special attacks to use in combat. There is also ability for you to take part in some combo-editing to make combat that much more personalized.
As should be expected with any stealth game the gameplay in Tenchu Z can often seem slow. I found this game very comparable to the likes of Splinter Cell and Th3 Plan. Throughout the missions I found myself attempting to be very 'stealth-like' as I would sneak up on the enemies and kill them. For the most part it is enjoyable and if your enemy does notice you it is not the end of the world as it just takes a bit more time to finish them off. An interesting element included in the game is when you are playing you have to be mindful of how much noise you make and how much blood is on your clothes. The enemies will notice the blood and animals can smell you and alert any enemies who happen to be in the area. The game requires a considerable amount of patience and time so if you like the run and gun type games Tenchu Z is not for you as it requires some planning and stealth gaming skills. If there is really any negative to be found here it is that the game does become repetitive as you will basically be doing the same thing over and over again to get through the majority of levels.
One of my biggest concerns with the gameplay is unfortunately the enemy AI. They are very predictable and not too smart. For instance, if you are detected all you have to do is run away and they quickly give up on you. This makes for a pretty easy game and at the end of the day it won't take you long to figure out how to master the intelligence of the AI found in the game and you will get to the end of the missions without much difficulty. That being said, the boss fights on the other hand are rather difficult and it is essential you use your techniques to get through these fights. Your progression through the game unlocks special techniques and weapons and these become critical in some of those boss fights which occur later in the game. They were tough enough that I found myself having to make several tries before I finally got past some of them.
The Tenchu Z multiplayer arena is very enjoyable and may be the best aspect for Tenchu gamers as this is a new aspect to the game. Going online and seeing the different ninja combinations people create while doing the cooperative missions is a lot of fun. There are a variety of missions to undertake online with up to four players and I found that this certainly gives the game some much needed replay value.
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