Regardless of your standing on the ninjas versus pirates debate, you must admit that ninjas are pretty darn cool. They can slide in and out of the night with ultimate precision, remove a human being from existence without disturbance, and take out an entire squad of soldiers (as Shaun put it in the latest NZGamer podcast) efficiently. So it was a fantastic joy when Tenchu Z was put on the table to review – we ninja fans at NZGamer.com have been eagerly awaiting this game since the mysterious trailer was unveiled at the X06 expo. And now we test our ninja skills against the best that Tenchu Z has to offer.
The game begins as is tradition – with you in a training area. All the basic techniques and arts are taught with very snappy text prompts that display which button to press to unleash pure ninja awesomeness. After around ten minutes learning the delicate skill of stealthily eradicating human life you are then greeted by our old friend 'Rikimaru' from the previous Tenchu titles. Rikimaru is your ninja master, who you report to before each mission, and who will occasionally provide words of wisdom that will aide you in your next challenge. This time around in the Tenchu series your next lot of missions are laid out and you decide what next to undertake.
The mission-based system of Tenchu Z creates a real sense of being a ninja. Instead of a loading screen appearing after completing a level then rolling onto the next players are treated to the choice of what to do next. Certain missions in the game must be completed to unlock the next series of missions available to you. Players can choose to either do the side missions or stick strictly to the story-based levels. It is recommended that players complete each mission because one other cool feature about Tenchu Z is the customization. By completing missions players earn money that they can spend on new items, skills, or clothing.
The three areas that players can spend their money on provide a certain level of freedom of choice. If you decide to spend your hard-earned cash on new threads then you may be left without a vital skill or item that will make the next mission much easier. But if you spend your money on a skill you are left looking like a homeless ninja with no items to use – even though you will kick some serious butt. All the available skills, items, and clothing are not available to the player from the very beginning – it is based on a system where the more the player challenges themselves the more they are rewarded.
Completing missions on an easier difficulty provides less money to spend and fewer unlockables. The harder the difficulty and the more missions you complete mean that you are rewarded fairly with vast amounts of money and plenty of new stuff to tinker around with. It is also a matter of what the player relies upon to get the job done. Whether they rely on items to remove themselves from difficult situations or upon their basic skills and cool new shoes, players are encouraged to pick their style – as well as their appearance.
Tenchu Z is a pretty cool game for the die-hard ninja fan but it lets itself down by being graphically backwards and largely unpolished. The graphics for Tenchu Z are the worst that have been seen on the Xbox 360 yet and it takes a few minutes to get used to the fact that there are no interesting graphical areas in the game whatsoever. It is very disappointing for fans to see that the developers have not put any effort into producing a game that is fit for a ninja. Even the original Xbox could push out better graphics than the ones used for Tenchu Z
The game is also let down by repetitive gameplay and shabby AI. It takes almost no effort to stake out an enemy and stealthily execute them, but it is made all the more frustrating that the AI do nothing about shurikens flying past their head or body parts laying around. Even on the hardest difficulty setting an eight-year-old could outsmart an enemy ninja. The only challenging parts of the game are the boss battles and the fights you get in if you are discovered.
Multiplayer in the game is merely a co-op mode. If you decide to take your ninja online and face more challenges then you will be extremely disappointed. The only mode that players can participate in is a 2-4 player co-operative mode where it is the same missions and same objectives - just a few more ninjas added to the mix. The game would have really benefited from a deathmatch or capture-the-flag mode which would add to the few challenges in the game.
It took us over 50 hours to complete the game on all difficulty settings, but even after the long hours that went into it we were sitting there wanting more. And since co-op mode consists of the same missions and same enemies we decided to put it into the cupboard – never to be seen again. But if you are a hard-knuckle ninja fan who decided to buy an Xbox 360 rather than a new katana, then we suggest you get your swift hands on this game. In the meantime keep your ninja senses attuned to the spiritual flow of NZGamer.com – we will return with more missions for you and your skills one day.